A family comes in for the newborn visit. Like many families, they are tired and overwhelmed, and have received too much information to process at one time. Breastfeeding advice has been plentiful and often contradictory. One of the most common questions- “How long should my baby breastfeed from each side?” The hospital physician said 10 minutes, a nurse said 20 minutes. Longer must be better, right? After all, we want to get to the hind milk, and we want to stimulate the milk supply in the mother.
Not necessarily. A study published in 2008 by Walshaw et al, showed that babies who breastfed for approximately 10 minutes on each breast gained more weight and breastfed exclusively for longer than infants who spent more extended periods of time at each breast.
On the other hand, some women have a greater supply and may need to feed longer on each side to properly drain the breast. In extreme cases, known as Hyperlactation, a mother produces such a volume of milk that the infant receives too much foremilk and therefore too much lactose. Symptoms resemble lactose intolerance and may include gas, excess spitting up, or green, frothy explosive stools. These babies may need to feed exclusively on 1 breast for several feedings in a row to drain the breast and receive a more balanced feed.
So the short answer may be “10 minutes is average for most babies”. But as with all things breastfeeding, it is important to consider signs and cues from mom and baby. Mother’s breasts should be soft at the end of the feed. Baby should be relaxed and sleepy, and rest periods will be greater than suck swallow bursts. Of note, babies will begin to suckle at the breast while being removed. It is a reflex, not necessarily a sign they are still actively feeding.