What is the range of ‘normal’ when it comes to breastfeeding?

Through her work, Dr Jacqueline Kent (University of Western Australia) has succeeded in redefining the boundaries for ‘normal’ breastfeeding. There is a wide range of ‘normal’ when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding with respect to how long infants feed, how long each breastfeeding session takes, and how much milk the infant takes in each breastfeeding session.

Interview with Dr Jacqueline Kent (2014)

Researchers have demonstrated that breastfeeding mothers and infants show a wide range in breastfeeding behaviour. This work redefines the range of ‘normal’ when it comes to breastfeeding.

The studies measured the 24-hour milk intake of healthy, exclusively breastfeeding infants, aged between 1 and 6 months of age that are growing appropriately according to the WHO growth charts. 

The number of breastfeeding sessions each day ranged from 4 to 13 among the infants. Each breastfeeding session could last between 12 and 67 minutes, and during that time the infants consumed, on average, 54 mL to 234 mL of milk. This resulted in a total daily milk intake of between 478 mL and 1356 mL.

A breastfeeding session can be a feed from one or two breasts, or even a cluster of feeds when the infant goes back to the first breast after finishing on the second. Some infants (30%) always feed from one breast only, a minority (13%) always feed from both breasts, while the majority (57%) sometimes feed from one breast and sometimes from both breasts.

Key findings

By conducting a longitudinal study, Dr Kent could determine if the variation was due to differences in infant age. Between one and three months of age Dr Kent showed a decrease in both the average frequency of breastfeeding sessions (from 7.6 to 6.6 per day), and the average duration of each breastfeeding session (from 36 to 29 minutes), and a concomitant increase in the average amount of milk consumed (from 106 to 126 mL).

Between three and six months the frequency and amount of milk consumed during each breastfeeding session remained constant, while the duration of each breastfeeding session decreased to 23 minutes. However, during the whole of the period of exclusive breastfeeding from one to six months the total amount of milk consumed each day remained constant.

Relevance to practice

normal breastfeeding

This research can be used to help mother’s feels more confident with their breastfeeding behavior. Variation in breastfeeding behavior within this reported range was suitable for these infants to grow appropriately. Additionally, it is of interest that infants do not increase their daily milk intake between 1 and 6 months.

Download the infographic here: "What is the range of 'normal' when it comes to breastfeeding?".

Study abstracts
Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day

We aimed to provide information that can be used as a guide to clinicians when advising breastfeeding mothers on normal lactation with regard to the ...

Kent JC, Mitoulas LR, Cregan MD, Ramsay DT, Doherty DA, Hartmann PE (2006)

Pediatrics 117, 387-95
Longitudinal changes in breastfeeding patterns from 1 to 6 months of lactation

The most common reason given for discontinuation of exclusive breastfeeding is perceived insufficient milk supply. Breastfed infants show more variation in feeding frequency than bottle-fed ...

Kent JC, Hepworth AR, Sherriff JL, Cox DB, Mitoulas LR, Hartmann PE (2013)

Breastfeed Med, 8, 401-7
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