What is normal breastfeeding?
Many new mums are interested in whether their baby’s development and their own breastfeeding performance are in the normal range. But the truth about breastfeeding is that every baby – and every mum – is different.
New research from leading lactation researcher Dr Jacqueline Kent from the University of Western Australia outlines the boundaries for normal breastfeeding. Dr Kent’s findings confirm that there is no breastfeeding norm. It takes a few weeks for your milk supply to become established, so you should not be concerned if milk production appears ‘low’ in the first few weeks.
Read on and put your mind at rest: instead of wondering if your breastfeeding patterns are better or worse than average, take a look at these fascinating breastfeeding facts to see the ‘range of normal’.
Download the handy "What is normal when it comes to breastfeeding" infographic (PDF, 96 KB).
There is almost no such thing as ‘too often’ or ‘too long’
Many new mums are amazed by the voracious appetite of their little one. Dr Kent says that it is not unusual for babies to feed with surprising frequency and duration. According to her study, babies breastfeed between 4 and 13 times per day, with a duration ranging from 12 to 67 minutes per feeding session.
So whether your baby is latching on for short, intense, frequent nursing sessions, or prefers fewer but longer sessions, either extreme or anywhere in between is ‘normal’ as long as the baby is thriving and gaining weight.
Babies are efficient feeders
Sometimes it seems that your baby is not consuming much milk, but their little mouths are more efficient than you might realise. They will take as much as they need as long as it is available. It is important to remember that a mum’s milk supply adjusts to the baby’s needs, not the other way around. Also, for the first few weeks, a baby does not need a lot of milk to fill their stomach, which is rather small.
The normal range for the amount of milk consumed during a breastfeeding session is 54-234ml. Your breast is never emptied completely in one session, so do not worry that your baby has not had enough to drink. In fact, if you decide to pump after a nursing session, do not be surprised if you are able to pump out some more.
A baby’s needs define milk production and it takes time to adjust and increase the supply so that you can express more than what the baby needs to drink. If your baby is nursing constantly and voraciously and you feel like you never get a chance to get up from the rocking chair or do anything else, take heart: as infants get older their feeds tend to become shorter and less frequent, even though they are still getting the same amount of milk.
Do not force both breasts
Many mums wonder whether their baby should be nursing equally from both breasts. The reality is that many babies have an individual preference. According to Dr Kent, 30 per cent of babies always take just one breast per feeding session, 13 per cent always take both breasts and 57 per cent like to mix it up. Follow your baby’s lead and do not feel that you have to ‘force’ the baby to nurse from both breasts.
Because of this preference, you will likely find that you have one breast that tends to be more productive than the other. After all, for breastfeeding mums, ‘the kitchen never closes’. Research shows that 64 per cent of babies need to breastfeed day and night, and only 36 per cent of infants do not feed at all between 10 pm and 4am.
Boys and other factors
One of the intriguing breastfeeding facts identified in Dr Kent’s study was that baby boys drink around 76ml more breast milk every day than girls. However, the ‘range of normal’ is still quite wide for boys and girls: between 478ml and 1356ml per day.
Important additional factors that affect the amount of milk needed are your baby’s age, their metabolism and their genes. You should not expect your baby to need as much milk as a baby whose parents are Olympic athletes. But they still might…
The normal range
Hopefully you will feel reassured to know that whatever style of breastfeeding your baby prefers, it is all within the normal range as long as the baby is healthy and developing according to target guidelines for growth.
A healthy-looking, alert baby with good muscle tone and good skin elasticity who is producing at least six to eight wet nappies per day is a good indicator of adequate intake. However, if you are not sure or your intuition tells you that something is not right, you might want to talk to a healthcare professional.
For most mums and babies who are in good health, breastfeeding can result in a wide range of experiences, challenges and loving moments of daily connection – but it is all ‘normal’ and natural in the end.