Breastfeeding: How long should you nurse?

Whether you’re breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or using formula, feeding time is an important way to bond with your little one and make sure they get all the nutrients they need to grow up healthy and strong. But how often should you feed your child? And for how long should you breastfeed or bottle-feed?

The answer depends on a variety of factors including your baby’s age, their behavior and whether they are eating solids yet.

Likewise, every parent is unique! While breastfeeding may be best for some parents, bottle-feeding, using formula or a combination of methods might be best for others. There’s no shame in switching to formula or using it to supplement your baby’s diet. Some moms don’t produce enough milk, or choose not to nurse for other reasons, such as taking medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding or schedules preventing regular breastfeeding. 

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, every infant has its own schedule, and the most important thing is to pay attention to your baby’s needs. However, there are some general guidelines based on the age of your child.

The frequency with which your baby needs to eat will likely change over time. In their first few days of life, babies’ stomachs are very small, which means they can’t consume very much milk during a single feeding session. As a result, newborn babies need to eat more often than older babies (often as much as every one to three hours).

As they get older, babies’ stomachs grow, allowing them to consume more food and eat less frequently. Over the course of the first few months of your baby’s life, they may go from eating every one to three hours to every two to four hours. Then, once they begin eating solid foods, they will need to breastfeed even less frequently. 

In general, experts recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life. Once they reach 6 months, babies may begin eating some solid foods, while continuing to breastfeed until they are at least 1 year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Experts recommend breastfeeding up until 2 years, but this number is subjective and there is no official limit on how long parents should breastfeed, according to La Leche League. As long as both parent and child continue to enjoy nursing, it is appropriate to continue breastfeeding. 

For parents who are bottle-feeding or using formula, the same general guidelines apply. 

Another important factor to consider when determining how often to breastfeed is your baby’s behavior. In general, parents should breastfeed when their baby exhibits signs of hunger, and continue to feed until their baby is full. 

Some signs that your baby might be hungry include restlessness, lip movements, and, of course, crying, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Signs that your baby is getting enough food, meanwhile, include regular bowel movements, steady weight gain and alertness. 

For parents of newborns, it is common for breastfeeding sessions to last as long as 30 minutes as both parent and baby become accustomed to breastfeeding. This amount of time generally lessens as babies become more used to nursing. 

Ultimately, how long you should nurse depends on your own needs as well as your baby’s. If you have any concerns about how long or frequently to nurse your baby, you should consult a doctor. And remember, the most important thing is that your baby is being fed regularly and is receiving the nutrients it needs.

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