Thursday, January 20, 2011

Feeding a Newborn: How Long Is a Feed?

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The question of how long a baby should eat is at the forefront of every newborn mother's mind. Even experienced moms run through the question since every baby is different. This is especially true for breastfeeding moms because they have no idea the number of ounces baby is eating. There are variables of how much milk mom has, how fast it comes out, how fast baby can drink, how strong of a sucker baby is, and how much baby needs. How do you know?

My friend who is a lactation consultant at our hospital says the only way to know for sure if baby is getting enough is to get a scale--an accurate scale--and do weighing before and after feeds. Of course, most of us can't afford said scale, so we need other guidance. 

As you might suspect, Tracy Hogg, aka The Baby Whisperer, has some guidance.

20-40 Minutes
Hogg says that for the first 6-8 weeks, an average-weight baby's feeding will take 20-40 minutes (The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, page 99). Lactation consultants say to aim for at least 10, but preferably 15-20 minutes per side initially. Those numbers are in sync with what Hogg is saying for amount of time spent feeding.

Sleep Is Not A "Full" Sign
A baby falling asleep is not a sign that the baby is full--especially in a breastfed baby. Most breastfed babies will fall asleep about 10 minutes into a feeding because of oxytocin (page 99). 

Count Sucks
One sign that baby is done with one side is how many sucks she takes before swallowing. I read somewhere, and I think it was in a Baby Whisperer book but I don't see it so I am not sure, that if baby is sucking more than 4 or 5 times before swallowing, you can switch sides. After the initial letdown, the baby will start to "suck, suck, suck, swallow." If baby is just sucking with no swallowing, then she is asleep. If she is sucking a lot of times before swallowing, then it is time to switch sides. 

Watch Growth and Disposition
One of the best ways to know if your baby is getting enough food is to watch growth patterns and also your baby's disposition. If she is content and sleeping well as well as growing, then she is eating long enough. If not, then she is either having a growth spurt or she needs to spend more time eating.

Conclusion
The good news is that while it takes some time to figure each individual baby out, you will get there and will be able to feed your baby with confidence. You don't need to be an expert immediately. Have some patience with yourself. Pay attention to your baby and you will be able to figure things out.

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28 comments:

The Normans said...

I went to a lactation support group with my baby boy. It was great - weigh him before nursing, weigh him after nursing, know that in 8 short minutes on one side, DS can chug a full 8 ounces. HIGHLY recommend something like this if you breastfeed - check your hospital to see if they have something similar. Also met some of my best mom friends there!

LeighSabey said...

My mom said that a couple generations ago, one of the major gifts that you would hope to receive at a baby shower was an infant scale. She said that most new moms had one. I would have loved to have one but I didn't even know that they were available!

Amanda said...

We have an infant scale, a hand-me-down from my aunt whose daughter is 1 year older than Tobias. I love it and it's pretty accurate too.

Laura said...

I had the same experience as the first person. These time frames simply did not work for my baby. Beginning at 1 1/2 weeks, she drastically cut the time she nursed to 10 minutes TOTAL. I tried so hard to push her to nuse for a longer period as I wanted to make sure she had a full feed. I quickly learned to not push her to eat more when she was clearly not interested beecause she began to throw up after the times I tried feeding her more. I brought her in for a couple weight checks at the doctor to make sure she was gaining weight appropriately. It was stressful for me to compare her to the "ideal nursing length," as she nevcer met those time frames.

She is now 7 1/2 weeks old and gaining weight exactly as she should. She now nurses for between 7 and 15 minutes.

rachel hockey said...

My firstborn would eat on both sides at each feed, about 15 minutes or sometimes more per side. When my son came along 6 weeks ago, it concerned me that he would only eat 7 minutes on one side and then he was done - he would be awake but wouldn't want anymore or the other side. But he started gaining weight quickly - by 4 days old he had gained 5oz from birth. Now at 6 weeks he has gained 4 pounds - still eating just as quickly but only eating every 2.5-3.5 hours (4 at night). Just shows how different every baby is.

Linda said...

I was worried about this, too... my 4 week old is eating about 10 minutes, maybe 15 tops, from one side only at each feeding. I kept thinking it should be longer, but he seems completely satisfied and refuses to nurse any longer. Today I weighed him (using a kitchen scale that zeros out, and a cookie sheet to lay him on :) ), and he's getting a good 4 oz. with each feeding, so he's doing fine!

By the way, I just wanted to say thanks for all you've done with your blog. This is my 4th child... I did BW with my first but not my other 2, and with this one I was so busy and had so many health issues that I wasn't even thinking about life after the baby arrives. After 4 weeks of "I can't do this, I'm feeding every 1 1/2 hours!", a friend reminded me about BW and suggested I get my book out. I did, and then found your blog, and WOW what a difference! In just two days my son is in a full 3 hour schedule, with barely any crying when I put him down for naps (before, I was nursing him to sleep). All of a sudden, life is MUCH easier. Now I'm confident that I WILL have a life again when this LO is sleeping through the night in a few weeks. A thousand thank you's for the fabulous resource you've created!

thesprian said...

This is one of the big reasons I ended up pump feeding my first son. Once I worked through the latching issues, he would only want to eat 5-7 minutes total. I thought he was probably getting just enough to take the edge off. But then when he would cry before nap I was too insecure that he was probably starving and so felt like I couldn't confidently do the BW routine AND breastfeed. He still ate breast milk for 10 months but boy did I do a lot of work for it. I think I'll buy an infant scale for the next!

Michael and Natalie said...

4 minutes. I am not kidding. She ate 4 minutes. Total. She would not really eat from the second side. I had no idea she was supposed to eat for 20 minutes until several weeks after her birth. I don't know how I missed it since it's in every baby book, but I think I was so exhausted and focused on sleep training that I didn't even realize about the feeding time. She grew well and fast, and spit up an unearthly amount but had the right amount of wet and dirty diapers. She stopped nursing on the second side when we realized that she was getting a hindmilk/foremilk imbalance and it was affecting her digestion, so we just nursed from one side . Even writing this, I can't believe it was only 4 minutes. I think one time I remember it lasting for 7 minutes. I always wanted her to nurse longer so that it would take up more time. I had her fed and changed and then had a baby to entertain for 50 minutes. Sometimes that was hard.

Leah said...

Totally dealing with this right now. Thanks for posting this. I think I might look into an infant scale!

Amanda said...

My first was a very slow eater....30-45 min at first. My second was a VERY FAST eater...3-7 mins TOTAL on one side only...she gets mad at me if I try to get her to eat more. Every child is different for sure!

Plowmanators said...

Normans, great idea, thanks for sharing that!

Plowmanators said...

Wow Leigh! I don't think I know anyone with a scale.

Plowmanators said...

Oh, except for Amanda :)

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for sharing that Laura. That is a great point to take baby to the doctor for weigh-ins as often as you like. My pedi lets me do that whenever I want to.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for that Rachel. Every baby is different for sure!

Plowmanators said...

You are most welcome Linda! I am glad the blog is useful to you!

Plowmanators said...

Wow thesprain! That is a lot of work! You should definitely invest in a scale next time :)

Plowmanators said...

Wow, Natalie, that is very fast for a newborn.

Plowmanators said...

You are welcome Leah!

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for adding your experience Amanda!

Tyler & Annette said...

Good to read that other babies only eat for less than 10 minutes total. I was just starting to feel like quitting BW because my 5.5 month old doesn't eat normal.

Anyone ever dealt with a baby who just does not like to eat?! He fights me every time I go to feed him EXCEPT if he is too tired to fight. He wakes up in the morning and will not eat. He refuses. Until 2 hours later, he finally gets so hungry that he eats, but by that time, he is tired because it's nap time, and falls asleep. Then he wakes up 2 hours later and is not hungry. He gets hungry again around his next nap time. And he only eats for 3 or 4 minutes per side when he is awake and eating, and refuses to eat for longer.

I have tried pumping after he eats for a few minutes, and there's nothing. So he must be draining me and getting everything he needs! I do have a fast let down. And he is growing, gaining weight, making wet diapers, and is healthy. But I just hate fighting with him every feeding. Anyone else deal with this and any suggestions to get him to eat when he's supposed to?

Plowmanators said...

Annette, the only time I have heard of a baby fighting is 1) reflux or 2) baby is old enough that he would rather play than eat.

If it is 1, talk to a doctor.

If it is 2, try nursing in an area without any distractions--or as little as possible. My mother-in-law always talks about how she had to go into a dark room to nurse some of her kids because they got distracted too easily.

Mark and Janna said...

My first baby was pretty textbook, nursing 15 minutes on each side, and pretty much ate every 3 hours from birth. My second is now a week old (I know I shouldn't be stressing about this because she's only a week old) but I'm really trying to prevent the "snack" eating. She nurses for about 10-15 minutes on one side and then refuses to nurse at all on the other. Sometimes if I pull her off around the 10 minute mark she will suck a minute or two on the other side. Also, if I wait about 15-20 minutes, she will usually take the other side willingly. She's not asleep, she's just refusing to nurse. Do I keep waiting 20 minutes and then retrying? Or just let her have the one side if she's satisfied? Weight gain is great, and she will usually go about 3 hours between feedings. But I'm worried about my milk supply and my nipples are too sore to pump.

Mark and Janna said...

ok update from my last comment...she is still only taking one side at each feeding, and on the rare chance she does nurse on both sides, she throws it all up, so I'm guessing she is getting plenty from just one side. It's just hard for me to think she's getting a full feeding because BW stresses the 15 min per side, and she only nurses from one side for about 10 minutes. Right now she is doing about 9 feedings in a 24 hour period, which would be normal for her age. She has started to wake up for feedings on her own around the 2.5 hour mark instead of needing to be woken. At night she goes 3 hours, usually 11, 2, 5, and 8. Then 2.5 hours pretty much all day. Should I continue to offer the second side? I don't want to force it but I'm afraid she won't go to a 3 hour schedule without eating from both sides.

Plowmanators said...

Janna, it is pretty common for a newborn to be satisfied with one side. The baby whisperer actually advocates single-side feedings.

Personally, I would offer the second side after she is done with side one, but I wouldn't stress if she doesn't want it.

Bennett said...

My 4 week old has recently started waking early from almost every nap and eating only 25-30 minutes when he has been eating 40-45 (he is BF only). I've had him on a good schedule until now and I don't know how to get him back on track. Right now he gets 8 feedings a day and wakes every 2.5-3 hours. Should I switch him to a 3 hour schedule with 7 feedings a day? He was only eating once around 2:30 am but now he's waking me 2-3 times a night to feed, yet he falls asleep after 20 minutes and wont wake up despite all my efforts. Please help...this is so frustrating and exhausting for us both!!

Katherine Moody said...

My daughter is 6 1/2 months old and has almost always only nursed for 3, 4, or 5 minutes at a time. I have a strong letdown so once she guzzles that, she's done and refuses to eat more. During her first couple months, I met with a lactation consultant who would weigh her before and after a feeding. She was taking in 2-3 oz in just three minutes. I'm not sure if she's still taking it that amount, but she usually is hungry before 3 hours. I feel like this may be what is primarily causing her "schedule" to be all over the place. I give her bottles every now and then but she doesn't seem to like them or take in much more with that either recently. Any ideas? I know a full feeding is key to getting eat/wake/sleep. I'm beyond ready to get a good routine down and not sure what I should do. Thanks!

Katherine Moody said...

By the way she's a healthy 22 pounds so she's clearly gaining enough weight :)

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