What’s “Normal” When it Comes to the Frequency of Breastfeeds May Surprise You!

Many new mums are interested in whether their baby’s development and their own experience as a breastfeeding mum are in the range of “normal.” But the truth about breastfeeding is that every baby is different, and every mother is different. So what does that mean? It is more confusing than ever...

New research from leading lactation researcher Dr. Jacqueline Kent, outlining the boundaries for “normal” breastfeeding, was presented at Medela’s 9th International Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium in Madrid, Spain in April 2014.

Dr. Kent’s findings confirm that there is no breastfeeding norm, no specific pattern of breastfeeding that infants should be expected to adopt, and no set of rules that benchmark the one “right way” to breastfeed. It takes a few weeks for your milk supply to be established, so you should not be thrown off if milk production appears “low” the first few weeks.

You can 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” for moms and their baby.

There’s Almost No Such Thing as “Too Often” or “Too Long”

Many new mums are amazed by the voracious hunger of this little person who attaches themselves to her body. Dr. Kent says that it’s not unusual for babies to feed with surprising frequency and duration. According to her study, infants 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, longer sessions, either extreme, and anywhere in between, is “normal” as long as the baby is thriving and gaining weight. But don’t worry, the research shows that as your baby gets older and better at breastfeeding, the frequency and duration of feedings decrease. So yes, you will get to sleep again!

Babies are Efficient Feeders

Even if it seems like your baby is not consuming much milk, their little mouths are more efficient than mums might realize. They will take as much as they need as long as it’s available.

It’s important to remember that a mother’s milk supply adjusts to the baby’s need, not the other way around. Also for the first few days, a baby does not need a lot of milk to fill their stomach.

The range of normal for the amount of milk consumed during a breastfeeding session ranges from 54-234ml. Your breast is never emptied in a session so don’t worry that your baby has not had enough to drink. In fact, if you decide to pump after a breastfeed, don’t be surprised if you are able to pump out some more.

A baby’s need defines the mother’s milk production and it takes time to adjust and increase the supply so that she can express more than what the baby removes due to his needs.

If your baby is constantly, voraciously nursing 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 feeding times tend to become shorter and less frequent – even though they are still getting the same amount of milk.

Don’t Force Both Breasts

Many mums wonder if it is important that their baby nurse equally from both breasts. The reality is that many babies have an individual preference. According to Dr Kent, it turns out that 30% of babies always take just one breast per feeding session, 13% always take both breasts and 57% just like to mix it up. Follow your baby’s lead, and don’t feel obligated to “force” the baby to feed 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”. It turns out that 64% of babies need to breastfeed day and night, and only 36% of infants don’t feed at all during the period between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Boys Drink More Milk

This is not a myth. One of the intriguing breastfeeding facts identified in Dr. Kent’s study was that baby boys tend to drink around 76 mL more breast milk every day than girls. However, the “range of the normal” amount of milk is still quite wide for boys and girls with babies drinking between 478 mL and 1356 mL of milk per day.

Some important factors to remember on this relate to age of your baby, your baby’s metabolism, and his genetics. We shouldn’t expect our baby to need as much breast milk as the baby from parents who are on the Olympic rugby team. Though, he still might…

Hopefully, mums will feel reassured to know that whatever style of breastfeeding their baby prefers – whatever the timing, frequency or intensity of the feeding sessions – it’s all within the range of “normal” as long as the baby is healthy and developing according to target guidelines for growth.

A healthy-looking and alert baby with good muscle tone, good skin elasticity and producing at least six to eight wet nappies per day is a good indicator of adequate intake. However, if mums are not sure or their intuition tells them that something is not right, they might want to enquire with a healthcare professional.

For most mothers and babies who are both in good health, breastfeeding can present a wide range of experiences, challenges and loving moments of daily connection – but it’s all “normal” in the end.

Do you have any questions about what is “normal” with it comes to breastfeeding? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below or join the conversation on our Medela Australia Facebook page.

NOTE: The original sources for this breastfeeding research are: Kent, J.C. et al. Volume and frequency of breastfeeds and fat content of breastmilk throughout the day. Pediatrics 117, e387-e395 (2006) and Kent, J.C. et al. Longitudinal changes in breastfeeding patterns from 1 to 6 months of lactation. Breastfeeding Medicine 8, 401-407 (2013).