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Timing breastfeeding: Is it best for baby?

Monday, February 15, 2021

There are many baby tracker apps available for mobile phones. Most have a built-in breastfeeding timer. They are tempting to use in an effort to understand your baby. Are they getting enough to eat? What is their feeding pattern? How can you get in some type of schedule?

But, timing breastfeeding is NOT in the best interests of moms and babies! We will explain why in this post.

The pitfalls of timing breastfeeding

If you are timing breastfeeding, there is a  chance you may end a feed before your baby is fully satisfied. It is easy to rely on the timer rather than your baby’s behavior. Not only will this result in an unhappy baby but it can affect his weight gain and your milk supply.

Your body’s supply of breast milk  is regulated on a supply and demand principle. The more often the breasts are drained, the more milk you will produce. Conversely,  the less milk your baby drinks from the breast, the less milk you will make.

If baby does not take in enough milk for his growing needs, his weight gain can falter.

Time does not tell us how much milk baby drank

The length of time your newborn is at the breast does not tell you how much milk your baby received. Just like adults, babies have their own feeding preferences. Some prefer to linger over their meal, while others are eager to feed and finish quickly. Your baby may take forty minutes to drink the same amount of milk another baby took in just ten minutes.

Don’t expect every feed to take the same amount of time. Sometimes your baby may only need a snack and a cuddle. Other times, they may be ready for a three-course meal! This is no different than adult feeding patterns.

How to know baby has had enough milk

So if time is not a good measure, how can you know when a breastfeed is finished? Over time you will get to know your baby and recognize their feeding cues. In the meantime, we’d suggest the following:

  • Feed your baby on the first breast. If your baby becomes sleepy and is not actively nursing, try some breast compressions. (This simple technique can help him to continue nursing and to take in a little more milk.)
  • Once your baby is no longer feeding, despite breast compressions, burp, then offer the second breast. Your baby may take the second side but this can vary from feed to feed.
  • If you are uncertain whether your baby has finished feeding, snuggle him against your chest. If he begins to stir and make sucking motions or searches with his mouth, return him to the breast.

Signs your baby has had enough milk:

  • Baby unlatches himself.
  • He no longer sucks actively, despite breast compression.
  • His arms and hands relax. (A hungry baby often has his hands tightly fisted.)

Note: It is unusual for feeds to consistently last longer than an hour. If long feeds persist over time, consult an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Ask to have your milk supply and baby’s latch assessed.

There are more ways to know your baby is getting enough milk. See this post for details about how you can use your baby’s ‘output’ (wet and dirty diapers) and weight for reassurance.

Timing breastfeeding is not always best for babies.

Feeding patterns change as your baby gets older

Older babies tend to finish nursing in a shorter time. The length of their feed will depend on their age, personality and hunger level, as well as your milk supply. It continues to be important to let your baby decide the length of the feed.

You may be expecting the length of time between feeds to increase as your baby gets older but this is not always the case. Don’t be alarmed if your baby continues to feed every couple of hours. Frequent feeding can continue for months, both during the day and night.

Watch your baby not the clock

Rather than focusing on the TIME baby takes to feed, watch what your baby is doing at the breast. Is your baby actively nursing? Are you hearing swallows?

The best feeding pattern is the one that is right for YOUR baby. Watching your newborn and following his cues will lead to a happier baby (and a happier mom!)

There are many ‘unknowns’ with a baby. You can feel confident breastfeeding your newborn.Sign up now : Simply Breastfeeding from Day One.

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As Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, we’ve helped over 30,000 new families settle in with their newborn.

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References:

  1. Bonyata, K., “Breastfeeding your newborn — what to expect in the early weeks.” KellyMom.com. 01 Mar. 2016. https://kellymom.com/hot-topics/newborn-nursing/
  2. Daley, S.E., & Hartmann, P.E. “Infant demand and milk supply. Part 1: Infant demand and milk production in lactating women”. Journal of Human Lactation, 11, 21 – 26. 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7718102
  3. Kent, JC., et al. “Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day”. 2016 Pediatrics, 117(3), e387‐e395.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16510619
  4. La Leche League Canada “Establishing Your Milk Supply.” lllc.ca. 2014. https://supportingbreastfeeding.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/establishing-your-milk-supply/
  5. La Leche League Canada “Weight Gain and Knowing Baby Is Getting Enough Milk.” lllc.ca. https://www.lllc.ca/category/faq-categories/weight-gain-and-knowing-baby-getting-enough-milk
  6. Leclerc, C. and Stockham, J. “Breastfeeding a Newborn-Getting Started – Newborn Nurses: Cindy and Jana.” Newborn Nurses | Cindy and Jana, 2020, https://cindyandjana.com/breastfeeding-getting-started/
  7. Newman, J., MD, FRCPC, and Kernerman, E., IBCLC. “Breastfeeding – Starting Out Right”, 2017. https://ibconline.ca/information-sheets/breastfeeding-starting-out-right/

*Post updated August 2, 2019

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