Breastfeeding provides a number of health benefits for a baby, including providing him with vital nutrients as well as antibodies that can protect him against infection. Since newborns need to nurse as often as 10 to 12 times a day, it can feel like you are constantly breastfeeding during the first few months. Knowing how long your six-week-old baby should nurse on each side -- and watching for signs he is getting enough milk -- can provide additional reassurance that his growth is on track during the early weeks of breastfeeding.
A Few Variables
The length of time your baby will nurse at each feeding depends upon a variety of factors, including whether your milk let-down occurs quickly or takes a few minutes, the flow of your milk and the positioning of the baby on the breast. Since six-week-old babies are small and relatively new to breastfeeding, Sutter Health Network suggests that a nursing session might take between 20 to 45 minutes.
A Few Considerations
The American Academy of Family Physicians urges breastfeeding moms to allow their babies to nurse for as long as they want, as often as they want. The frequent nursing will build your milk supply. Your baby should appear satisfied after his feedings. He should have about six to eight wet diapers each day -- and from two to three dirty diapers. You can expect him to gain weight steadily after the first three to seven days after birth.
Long-lasting nursing sessions and “cluster” nursing sessions, through which your baby exhibits wants to nurse frequently, might seem to indicate that your baby isn't getting enough milk. This is not usually the case, according to international board-certified lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata.
On her breastfeeding advice website Kellymom.com, Bonyata offers reassurance that both of these patterns are normal during the first two to six weeks of breastfeeding. Many of these cluster feeding or marathon sessions occur in the evenings, a normal fussy time for many newborns. Your baby might need the comfort nursing provides or he might be building your supply to accommodate a growth spurt.
Keep It Going
If your baby falls asleep frequently while nursing, which can lengthen the duration of his nursing sessions, you can try unwrapping his blankets or tickling his feet to keep him awake. You might also remove him from the breast once he starts to fall asleep and change his diaper and burp him. After he wakes during the diaper change, you can put him on the other breast to finish his nursing session.
As your baby grows older, he will grow stronger and more efficient at nursing. Dr. Larissa Hirsch, a medical editor at the Kids Health from Nemours website, suggests that an older baby might finish a nursing session in as little as 5 to 10 minutes compared to the 20 minutes a side he might have needed as a newborn. He will also decrease the number of times he nurses in a day, but drink more at each feeding.