How long should a breast feed last?

P. W. Howie, M. J. Houston, A. Cook, L. Smart, T. McArdle, A. S. McNeilly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Patterns of milk flow were studied in 50 mothers who were breast-feeding normal birth-weight babies on days 5-7 of the puerperium by progressive test weighing at 5-min intervals during two consecutive feeds. Compared with a regime in which mothers attempted to feed for 10 X 10 min on altemate breasts, a regime of 5 × 5 × 5 × 5 min increased the amount of milk taken in the first 10 min but did not influence the final milk intake or the suckling-induced prolactin release. The wide variation of breast-feeding patterns between mothers was demonstrated in respect of the duration of the feed (mean 17.3 min; S.D. ± 3.1; range 7-30 min), the initial rate of milk flow (mean 6 g/min; S.D. ± 4.2, range 1-14 g/min) and the final milk intake (mean 70.9 g; S.D. ± 20.5; range 42-125 g). The advice to breast-feed for 20 min was inappropriate for the majority of mothers because the nutritive feeding time was 15 min or less in 75% of the feeding episodes. The milk intake correlated with the initial rate of milk flow but not with the duration of the feed, the infant's birth weight, or the time since the last feed. It is suggested that the duration of a breast feed should be determined by the infant's response and not by an arbitrary time schedule.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-77
Number of pages7
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1981


  • breast feed duration
  • milk intake
  • prolactin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology


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