How Long Should a Baby Nurse?

FAQ

Table of Contents

When it comes to nursing a child, sometimes it can be difficult to determine how long a session should be. For new parents, understanding how long a baby should nurse is very important. We know that it can be stressful at first, but there is absolutely no need to panic.

That’s why, today, we’ll be taking a look at exactly how long a baby should nurse for. We’ll be breaking everything down into easy-to-read sections – this way you can jump around if you need to.

 Here is a look at what we’ll be discussing today:

  • The amount of time a baby should nurse for
  • How many times (daily) a baby should nurse
  • Other factors that influence how long a baby should nurse for
  • When to call a doctor

Now, let’s dive right in and take a look at the facts.

The amount of time a baby should nurse for

Nursing a baby can seem strange at first, and if you’ve been doing this already, you know that it can also be a bit uncomfortable at times. While this may be true, there are actually a few good ways to determine how long a baby should be nursing during each session. Let’s take a look.

Using age as a guideline

The age of your baby is the best way of determining how long they should nurse for. This is due to the fact that older babies tend to require less nursing time, and the opposite is true for younger babies. Therefore, while a newborn may need a 45 minute nursing session, a baby around 6 months may only need half that time.

Here is a quick guide to reference for the age of a baby:

  • A newborn baby will require frequent breastfeeding (around every 3 hours), and should spend about 15 minutes on each breast.
  • A baby that’s around 3-5 months old may only take about 15 minutes in total, and using the baby’s weight is a good indication as to how healthy they are.
  • Once a baby reaches the 6 month mark nursing should take less than 15 minutes, but you should also be exposing your child to a healthy solid diet at this point as well
  • As a toddler, nursing is well and good, but your baby should be on a well-rounded diet at this point

Put simply: the older the baby, the less time you’ll need to set aside for their nursing needs.

Using a baby’s weight as an indication

Your baby’s weight is another great indicator of how much you should nurse them. For example, if a baby is too light in weight, they will require a bit more nursing time than a baby that’s growing well.

If you notice that your baby is not growing at the rate it should be, you might want to consider allocating more time to nursing. Conversely, if your baby is a bit on the overweight side, you can actually dial your nursing back a bit.

How many times (daily) a baby should nurse for

The next thing that needs to be looked at is the frequency of nursing. Every baby is going to be different, and while knowing how long to breastfeed a baby for each session is a great start, this is not going to be a once a day thing. So let’s take a look.

Newborns

As you might expect, newborn babies are a bit more high maintenance than older babies, and this shouldn’t really come as too much of a shock. As a new mother, you can expect to nurse your baby every 2 or 3 hours.

This is enough time for your beasts ample time to recharge, and will actually train your body and your baby. The reason that nursing is so frequent for newborns is due to the fact that breastfeeding will likely be their only source of nutrients.

Although nursing every 2 or 3 hours can be a bit overwhelming, it’s important as it will help your baby grow at a normal pace.

3-4 months

Once you hit that 3-4 month mark, your baby will be less demanding. Therefore, when nursing a 3-4 month old, you’ll want to add an extra hour or two between nursing sessions.

6-9 months

Once your baby is around 6-9 months old, you should be providing your baby with solid food as well. This means that you can actually limit breastfeeding to about once or twice per day. Not only will this give you a much needed rest, but it will slowly wean your baby off of depending on nursing for nutrition.

So when it comes to the frequency of nursing, you need to keep the age of the baby in mind. Younger babies will require frequent breastfeeding, while older babies will only need to be nursed one or two times per day.

Other factors that influence how long a baby should nurse for

Before we let you go, there is still a bit more you need to know about nursing a baby. Here are some tips to follow and some things to look for while breastfeeding. Let’s take a quick look.

Growth spurts

Nursing a baby is not always going to be a consistent thing. Babies will tend to grow rapidly at different times, so you’ll need to look out for growth spurts. We would love to pinpoint when this occurs for your baby, but every baby can be a bit different. Now, with that being said, here are some good time frames to pay attention to:

  • Around weeks 2 or 3 growth spurts are very common
  • Growth spurts are also known to occur around week 6 or 7
  • The final growth spurt will usually occur around 3 months of age

Now, keep in mind that this depends on the baby, but if you notice that your baby is nursing longer than usual around these milestones there is no need to panic.

Using a bottle versus using your breast

If you’ll be using a bottle to nurse your baby you’ll notice some key differences. The first thing you’ll notice is that most babies will actually get through the bottle quicker than a breast.

Why does this happen? Because the flow of milk from a bottle is going to be a bit more steady than the flow of a breast. For example, it could take an infant 20 minutes to finish nursing a breast, but a bottle could be finished in half that time.

Each baby is going to be different, and some babies will struggle with the bottle, which will cause the nursing time to go up.

Short feedings versus long feedings

A short nursing session may feel like a relief, but this is not exactly the case. If a baby does not feed during the let-down phase, it will not get the hindmilk. Hindmilk is important for a few reasons, but the main one is that hindmilk has a higher fat content than normal breastmilk which contributes to a baby’s early development.

Now, while this may convince you that a longer nursing session is better, this is not always the case. For example, if you notice that your baby is nursing for upwards of an hour, this can actually be a cause for concern. If your baby needs nursing for over an hour in one session, contact your doctor to assess what the issue might be.

A nursing session should never be on the extremes of either side. If a nursing session is too short -or too long- it can be a sign that your baby is not getting enough milk.

Let the baby take control

As a new mother, your instinct may be to guide your baby on their nursing journey. While this may be helpful at times, it’s actually a good idea to let your baby set the nursing schedule. This will help your baby understand the concept of latching, and can begin to establish a nursing routine for you to follow as well.

When to call a doctor

Sometimes nursing does not always go well, and we understand this can be concerning. This is why we’ve created a simple list for you to look at in order to determine whether or not you may need to consult with your doctor.

Here are some common reasons for reaching out to a doctor for nursing related issues:

  • If your baby is sleeping too often during nursing, ask your doctor about it.
  • When a baby is irrational after a nursing session (crying), chances are there can be an issue.
  • Over long or short nursing times.
  • If the nursing session never seems to go well, or if your baby has trouble latching, it might be time to call a doctor to assess what the issue is.

Nursing is a vital part of a baby’s early development, and although there can be variations in how a baby takes to nursing, it’s best to talk to your doctor if you have any undue concerns.

Recap

There’s quite a lot of information in this guide, but we’ve broken it down for you so you can use it as a reference when it comes to nursing your baby. Despite the stress, you and your infant will soon settle into a healthy routine with nursing and it’ll become a great time for you to bond with your baby.

What nurse time really comes down to is simple. If a baby is younger, make sure that you nurse your baby frequently, and for longer intervals. As your baby grows a bit older, you’ll want to slowly reduce nursing, while supplementing breastfeeding with a solid diet.

Babies do vary from the standard, but if you are ever unduly concerned, contact your doctor who will be able to help you.