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Babies’ feeding patterns and the volumes of milk consumed at each feed vary considerably. These variations are perfectly normal and are due to the multitude of needs babies have and how these needs change. 

Breastfeeding should be baby led to ensure that all of their needs are being responded to. Babies feed for nutrition, hydration, comfort, immune support and many more reasons. Sometimes they require a quick drink, a short cuddle or a full meal – meaning the time they spend at the breast and the sucking patterns will vary.

In this post we explore what the research says about some of the common questions on feeding patterns and volumes.


How does breast milk change?

Breast milk will move through three stages as it matures, the milk at each of these three stages is classified into different types of milk.

At the beginning breast milk exists in the form of colostrum. Colostrum is also known as liquid gold. It is rich in immune boosting proteins and has lower concentrations of fat than later milk. 

After a few days, milk composition changes to translational milk. This milk is in the transition period between colostrum and mature milk. It is becoming higher in energy, fat and carbohydrates. 

When baby reaches 10-14 days old, milk is deemed fully mature and the composition has settled. Mature milk has the highest concentrations of fat and carbohydrates and the lowest concentration of proteins of all the types of breast milk. 

Milk also changes as a feed progresses. At the start of a feed, or when breasts are full, milk contains a lot of water alongside the other nutritional components. As the breast is drained, fat concentrations increase, milk becomes higher in calories and therefore more satiating for baby.


How often should babies breastfeed? 

Babies should be allowed to feed as often as they want. The number of feeds per day will differ depending on what age baby is and if they have anything else going on (e.g. growth spurts, illness etc).

Studies on exclusively breastfed babies show the amount of time babies spend feeding reduces between 1 and 5 months of age, this includes time spent burping, settling and switching between breasts. They also found that babies tend to feed more frequently at 1-3 months than they will at 3-6 months, however, this was not observed in all babies.

Babies between 1 and 6 months breastfed on average 11 times per 24 hours in one study, the range of feed frequency was 6-18 per day. In another study, babies aged 2 weeks fed between 3 and 11 times during the day and 1 to 5 times during the night. 

Furthermore, the time between feeds tends to increase as babies get older, with the average interval between feeds at 3 months proving to be significantly longer than the interval between feeds at 1 month. This shows babies are more likely to settle for lengthier stretches between feeds as they grow.


How long should feeds last?

As mentioned above, babies breast feed for many reasons and sometimes they only require a quick drink whereas other times they will be hungry for a full feed. This means the duration of breast feeds will vary. 

Babies may not always drink from both breasts which will impact feed lengths, they should always be allowed to decide this for themselves.

Some babies may be slower on the breast compared to others and this can be normal. Slower feeding can be due to a multitude of different factors, some of which may be temporary (small baby due to pre-term delivery) and others may be present throughout the breastfeeding journey (baby has a condition affecting muscle tone such as Downs Syndrome).

If you are concerned about the length of your baby’s feeds or need support with a slow feeding baby, reach out to a lactation consultant or your midwife.


Should we always offer both breasts?

Yes. Always offer both breasts at each feed. Wait for them to come off the first breast themselves so that they can have as much of the higher fat milk as they need, this tends to come after they have drained most of the breast. Then offer them the second and again wait for them to come off the breast themselves.

Research shows that most babies do a mixture of feeding from one breast and feeding from both, around 30% exclusively feed from one breast per feed, 13% always feed from both and 57% do a combination of the two.


How much milk do babies need per feed?

The research available on feed volumes has also been completed in exclusively breastfed babies. It shows that feed volumes vary a lot. 

In one study the average breastfeed volume was 76g (this translates to roughly 76ml) but that volumes ranged from 0 to 240g in babies between 1 and 6 months old.

A recent systematic review collated data from 167 studies that reported breast milk intake. Of the studies that focused on exclusively breastfed babies they found the average milk intake per day was as follows:

  • 624ml per day at 1 months of age
  • 735ml per day at 3 months
  • 729ml per day at 6 months

The average breast milk intake per day across all infants was 670ml and the range recorded per day was 84ml to 992ml. The authors found that baby age, weight and breastfeeding patterns influenced the amount of milk consumed.




Hörnell, A., Aarts, C., Kylberg, E., Hofvander, Y., & Gebre-Medhin, M. (1999). Breastfeeding patterns in exclusively breastfed infants: a longitudinal prospective study in Uppsala, Sweden. Acta Paediatr, 88(2), 203-211. 

Kent, J. C., Hepworth, A. R., Sherriff, J. L., Cox, D. B., Mitoulas, L. R., & Hartmann, P. E. (2013). Longitudinal changes in breastfeeding patterns from 1 to 6 months of lactation. Breastfeed Med, 8(4), 401-407. 

Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-395. 

Rios-Leyvraz, M., & Yao, Q. (2023). The Volume of Breast Milk Intake in Infants and Young Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Breastfeeding Medicine, 18(3), 188-197.