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How long should you feed for?



One of the most important things that you need to know is that your baby is feeding, growing and developing effectively.


Knowing how long your baby should be feeding, is not the only thing you need to look out for.

It's all about quality, not duration.


But definitely keep in mind that your baby's feeding duration can be a clue as to whether your baby is feeding effectively or not.


Here's what you need to look out for:

  • Is your baby thriving?

  • Is your baby mostly contented between feeds?

  • Is your baby happy in general or grumpy & difficult to settle?

  • Is your baby sleeping soundly and waking up in a good mood?

  • Does your baby have enough wet & dirty nappies? Is your baby's tummy comfortable?

  • Is your baby calm & comfortable whilst he or she feeds?

  • Are your baby's feeds generally prolonged (> 1 hour) or short (<20-30 minutes)?

We will discuss all of these factors so that you know what to look out for to ensure that your baby's feeding, growth and development is on point.


Is your baby thriving?

Most parents & health professionals will look at baby weight gains as being the main indicator of a baby's overall health & well-being.


Di you know that weight gain is just one of many signs that indicate your baby's state of wellness?


It is very much possible for babies to be gaining enough weight and still not be well.


For example, if a baby is gaining 250g per week & under 3 months of age, but not:

  • sleeping soundly

  • comfortable whilst feeding

  • happy in general

  • needing lots of hands-on help to settle

This baby is not robust, who's quality of health is optimal.


It is really important to find out why this baby is not sleeping well, not happy in general and needing extra support to settle. This baby is trying to convey that they are struggling and need help to be happy and healthy.


Is your baby mostly contented between feeds?

Healthy babies settle well and are contented between feeds most of the time.


Infant sleep needs to be restorative which is important for emotional regulation (neuroregulation), growth hormone release as well as circadian rhythm development & wellbeing in general.


We know that adults who don't have restorative sleep are at increased risk of health issues related to their mental, cardiac and metabolic health. We know that it affects their overall day to day function and wellbeing overall.


Infants are no different in that sleep is just as important for their health, wellbeing & development.


Is your baby happy in general or grumpy & difficult to settle?

Healthy babies are happy and robust in general. They often get grumpy when they are tired and may have some difficulty settling at times.


However, babies with an unstable mood who are ok sometimes, but generally difficult to settle are babies that have difficulty with self-regulation (neuroregulation)


There are many reasons why babies are like this, it may be because their sleep quality is poor, they may not be feeding well enough or they could also be physically uncomfortable. These are just 3 of many examples of why babies tend to struggle.


There are lots of great options to explore to help support your baby into being happier and healthier.

However, it is important to work out the actual cause of your baby's behaviour for great outcomes to occur.


You need to find a health professional that is specifically trained & experienced in infant behaviour, feeding and sleep. Usually this may be an IBCLC like myself or a Paediatric Occupational Therapist or Speech Therapist with a special interest in Infant feeding & sleep. GP's and Paediatrician's are not trained specifically to deal with personalised infant feeding & sleep support as their role is focused on General and Paediatric Medicine, which doesn't focus on infant feeding, sleep & infant behaviour unless they are specialist GP's or Paediatricians.


Is your baby sleeping soundly and waking up in a good mood?

Healthy infants tend have comfortable & sound sleep, then slowly waking themselves and demonstrating subtle hunger cues such as licking their lips and feed seeking. They then proceed to having a feed with comfort, without fussing. Following their feed, they often have periods of interaction, play & engagement. When tired, they will demonstrate tired cues such as disengagement, yawning, rubbing of the eyes. They will usually sleep soundly in arms loving lots of contact naps and not want to be put down to sleep.


Older infants will mostly wake up in a good mood, feeling great to start their next wake period with what may be a comfortable & happy feed, then some play. They will then demonstrate tired cues such as disengagement, yawning, irritability & clumsiness. They then usually will settle into a sound sleep that is undisturbed. Some older babies may not need as many contact naps, but a lot still do.

Some infants will settle into their bassinet or cot with more ease than they previously had prior.


Sleep breeds sleep and good sleep breeds a healthy baby.

If we sleep well and sleep well regularly, we wake up feeling recharged to face the day ahead.

Infants are no different.

If they can't sleep well, they can't feed & eat well.

If they can't feed & eat well, their tiny tummies aren't being fuelled with the neurochemicals needed to create a happy mood.


Does your baby have enough wet & dirty nappies? Is your baby's tummy comfortable

If your baby is getting enough breastmilk or formula milk during feeds, they should have at least 5 or more heavily pale wet nappies per day. This is a sign that your baby is well hydrated.

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Breastfed babies will usually pass between 2-12 yellow, loose to soft, curd stools daily.

Formula-fed infants may pass a stool after most feeds or as infrequently as up to 10 days.


However, regardless of being breast or formula fed, it is important to look out for these signs & get your baby checked by a health professional:

  • Is your baby comfortable between poos?

  • Does their tummy get distended & firm between poos?

  • Is your baby's poo offensive to smell? For example, gassy or acidic like vinegar?

  • Is there regular & consistent mucous in your baby's poo?

  • Is there blood or foam in your baby's poo?

  • Is your baby passing lots of wind?


Is your baby calm & comfortable whilst he or she feeds?

Babies should be calm & comfortable during feeds.

If during feeds, you see your baby regularly :

  • Squirm

  • Wriggle

  • Struggle to feed in certain positions

  • Struggle to feed on both sides of their body

  • Back arch

  • Detach from the breast or bottle teat & cry

These are signs that your baby is struggling to feed with comfort and it is important to get it checked out early. Ongoing feeding discomfort can lead to:

  • Long-term feeding fussiness

  • Feeding refusal

  • Feeding aversions

  • Stunted growth

Some infants may be placed on a 4-week trial of medications such as Losec or Zantac.


Studies have indicated that using these medications may lead to an increased risk of:

  • increased risk of community-acquired pneumonia

  • increased risk of gastroenteritis

  • increased future fracture risk

  • micronutrient deficiencies


Based on the best available evidence, the Royal Children's Hospital Guidelines recommend that these be medications be used as a last resort.


The other thing that is important to be mindful is, that most people, in general, will blame excess baby crying on Colic or Reflux when in reality, we have assessed infants with the following:

  • Head, neck, and back pain

  • Fractures sustained from birth injuries

  • Infections/sepsis

  • Poor growth when previously advised that growth was fine

  • Lip tie, tongue tie

  • Excessive air intake (aerophagia)

  • Food intolerances


This clearly demonstrates, the importance of not being complacent about your baby's health & wellbeing.

It's important for your baby's discomfort to be blamed on a developmental milestone that he or she "will grow out of".


Are your baby's feeds generally prolonged (> 1 hour) or short (<20-30 minutes)?

Babies usually should take close to 30 minutes to 1 hour to feed regardless of being bottle fed or breastfed.


In general, over a period of 24 hours, not all feeds will be the same in duration with regard to breast and bottle feeding. Some feeds will last longer than others.


Some babies will only breastfeed one side, some will always feed from both. Some babies will breastfeed one side at some feeds and at others feed from both. Some breastfeeds may last 5 minutes, others may last 20-45 minutes.


Some babies will bottlefeed 60-80ml per feed and have 120-150ml at other feeds. Some feeds, they may only take 40ml. It is what your baby feeds within the 24-hour period in total that counts to ensuring your baby thrives.


Breast and bottle-fed babies also 'cluster' their feeds. That is, they have periods of short intervals between feeds, which is important to receive extra calories during growth spurts or to quench their thirst.


I know this sounds vague, however, what is important to be mindful of is:

  • Is your baby actively engaging in feeding, or are they sleepy and need prompting?

  • Does your baby self wake for feeds?

  • Is your baby feeding quickly, taking less than 20 minutes to feed and is consistently uncomfortable or still hungry after feeds?

  • Is your baby taking longer than 1 hour to feed? Is your baby sleepy? Is your baby waking within an hour of feeding and still hungry?


If you have concerns about your infant's feeding, sleep & wellbeing, give us a call.

Kellie Eason is an Infant Feeding & Lactation Specialist with over 25 years of experience working as a former Nurse & Midwife. She has worked with several thousand healthy as well as unwell babies and their families in partnership to achieve happy & healthy babies.


Kellie provides In-Home Consultation for families living within the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne as well as via Telehealth.


For more information, check out www.milkearlyparentingsupport.com.au


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

At MILK early parenting support, I strive to be your go-to source for all your parenting needs – from pre-birth to post-birth. I'm a passionate and experienced International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I love empowering expectant and new parents with all the knowledge and support they need to make the right decisions for their family.

Whether it’s helping you find the best feeding and sleeping strategies, or ensuring that your baby is getting the nutrition they need for optimal growth, I'm here to make sure that you and your baby get the best start in life.

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