The 5- minute sucker

When your baby is a tiny newborn, breastfeeding just seems to take ages, doesn’t it? They usually start off with a bit of a sucking frenzy, move into some slower, more leisurely sucks, a few light fluttery ones with a bit of a doze, a nappy change between sides, some burping time, then much of the same on the other side. Before you know it, more than an hour has passed. By the time bubs is settled to sleep, and you can draw breath, it’s time to start unpacking your boobs for the next one.

It’s not like this forever. Your baby outgrows this newborn feeding phase, and gets bigger, stronger, and more efficient at removing milk from the breast. Sometimes those long, long feeds can suddenly be cut quite, quite short. This can come as a shock to some parents, who worry that their 4-month-old 5-minute sucker can’t possibly be getting enough. They try to put the baby back on. She jacks up and cries. The mum feels her breasts and they are quite soft and feel quite empty. She worries, again, that her milk has suddenly ‘dried up’.

Luckily for us, this is all a natural part of the breastfeeding process. It’s almost as if our bodies want our boobs to return to their normal pre-baby size (and prettier bras, too). When your milk first ‘comes in’, your breasts are usually in oversupply mode. They can become basketball-hard and engorged at the slightest hint of a longer sleep by your baby. Both the newborn and the mother are still learning, so breastfeeding takes a long time. As they both get better and better at it, it becomes quicker. The suck-swallow-breathe action your baby has learnt becomes easier. She becomes super efficient and works out how to remove the same amount of milk in record time. Fantastic studies done by Professor Hartmann in Western Australia (an Australia Day honouree!) show that over 24 hours, babies aged between one and six months take in a very consistent amount of milk. Day after day after day, they drink the same amount. On average, this is about 750ml a day. At first, this is taken in small amounts at short intervals throughout the day, and as they get older, they take in larger amounts in less time, with bigger gaps between feeds. Clever huh?

Around the same time all this is happening (commonly around 3-4 months), your breasts have worked out a new system too. They also become more efficient. They work out precisely how much your baby is taking and they make that much, no more, no less. This is why that full feeling you used to have between feeds diminishes. Like your baby suddenly reverting to those 5-minute power feeds, this change can come as a surprise. No, your milk is not gone, but like us mums, your breasts have just become accomplished multi-taskers, conquering the supply = demand equation and allowing you more time in the day for other things, like, er, housework. You don’t have to say thank-you.