Questions parents have: How long should I breastfeed my baby?

Over the next few posts I will try and answers some common questions most parents, who come to the Breastfeeding Clinic, have ;-).

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

Let us first look at this question in terms of minutes: Remember I said in a previous post, when feeding baby it is better to be guided by your baby’s hunger than by the clock? How often do we eat and drink? At least every 90 minutes!! What about baby? Does s/he have a choice? How long do we eat, 10 minutes or an hour? What about baby? Is it fair to force her/him into a schedule then?

When baby is feeding nicely, one can hear the swallows frequently as a whispered “kuh”, more during the first 5 - 10 minutes of feeding and less frequently thereafter. Baby may feed actively with that long-drop-in-the-jaw movements (described in part 1) for ± 15 – 40 minutes per feed, possibly on the same breast and may drain the first breast before taking the second breast, or not (start with that one next time).

Ilse, 5 minutes old, started breastfeeding within a few minutes after birth.

Ilse 5 minutes old

Each baby has a unique style of feeding (see Some infants get right down to business, suckling vigorously and efficiently without much hesitation. These “barracudas” contrast sharply with the “gourmet” feeders, who take their sweet time, playing with the nipple at first, sampling a meal, and then eventually getting started. Some babies rest every few minutes, as if savouring their feeding, or even fall asleep during the feed – these “suck and snooze” babies can / may exasperate moms who do not have all day to feed, here breast compressions*(2) works well to get baby started again. So you see why we should let baby finish the feed at the first breast before offer the second? (*For tips on breast compressions:

At the beginning of a feed baby may need a minute or two to stimulate the milk ejection reflex (or let-down), if taken away or switched to the other breast after a few minutes – baby may not get the high calorie milk to satisfy her/his hunger, only the lower calorie milk to quench the thirst and a little main meal. This baby will stay hungry, not gain weight and not have pooh nappies (but will have a lot of wet nappies). Let baby feed until s/he is satisfied, if s/he is interested in more food you can offer the other breast. Maybe get help with baby’s latch, if baby still seems unsatisfied after that time and / or after offering the other breast.

Letting baby feed on one breast as long as s/he wants, before offering the other side helps baby get to the “hind milk”, (remember the three course meal?) and they tend to have less colic, less reflux and be more content.

Now let us look at this question in terms of years ;-): breastfeeding is not all or nothing, chant with me: “some breastmilk is always better than none”. La Leche League says the breastfeeding relationship should continue until the child has outgrown the need. The decision how long to feed should not be made on basis of guidelines of 3rd parties (grandmothers or friends advising mom on the subject etc.). Breastfeeding is such an intimate experience that it should be MOM AND BABY who decide when this time should come to end it.

Ilse, in pic above as a newborn baby, here 17 months old, still breastfeeding.

Yup still breastfeeding

Most women do not start out breastfeeding their babies with a three or four year stretch in mind. Most women might start out, with an idea of a few weeks or months, then before they know it, that major activity of the early weeks has become a minor activity and a way to, not only nourish their baby but also sooth their baby when s/he is anxious, tired, over stimulated, sick or hurt. It makes parenting so much easier. It becomes a way of mothering through breastfeeding. Research(3) done by Katherine A. Dettwyler, show the durations of breastfeeding that are physiologically normal for humans are between 2.5 years to 7.0 years.

Ilse, in pic above as a newborn baby, here exactly 4 years old, still breastfeeding.

Feeding a child at the breast is like a “fix”, same as we adults need our morning coffee or evening cocktail, but without the “caffeine jitters or bleary aftereffects”. When you talk to mothers whose toddlers breastfeed, they will confirm their children do not need to suck on thumbs, hair, clothes or other objects to calm or cope. Toddlers breastfeeding learn trust and dependence on other humans, to go to a person for comfort, Norma Jane Bumgarner(4) calls it “like sitting down to a cup of tea with a sympathetic friend”, now doesn’t that make you feel good?




3. Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D. (August 1994). A Time to Wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts, Volume 14, Number 1, pp. 3-4.

4. Norma Jane Bumgarner. (2000). Mothering Your Nursing Toddler. Schaumburg, Illinois: La Leche League International

#Breastfeeding #howlong

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