The 20-Minute Suckling Rule for the Adult Nursing Couple

I recently received an very nice e-mail from a reader who asked a very good question about the “20-Minute Suckling Rule”, and I thought it would make a terrific post. I know I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy receiving questions and feedback from others, and I do. Often, these inquiries and comments lead to informative articles that may help to clear up nursing confusion and allow me to research a topic further to better guide others along the way. So, thank you to Ms. D for taking the tine to get in touch! 🙂

“Can my husband suckle for 20/25 minutes in intervals, or does he need to suckle non-stop per breast?”

When hoping to induce lactation–or build and/or maintain a growing supply of milk–it is important for the nursing partner to be on each breast for a minimum of 20 minutes, but he doesn’t have to do this all at once.

Suckling can be physically taxing, especially for the new-to-nursing partner, and can lead to jaw fatigue, which is sometimes described as a tired, weak, or overworked, achy sensation in the face, and nursing for a solid 1/3 to 1/2 of an hour is very challenging–and unpleasant. The experience should never be uncomfortable or painful for either partner.

To make suckling easier, your partner can nurse in intervals or “sets”.

After latching to the first side, it’s a very good idea to suckle for five minutes without stopping (if possible) to properly trigger the let-down reflex. Even if you aren’t yet producing, this is still a very important part of the process, as it tells your body to “release that milk”. (Remember, you can’t make milk if your body doesn’t release it.)

After the initial five minutes, he can rest if he feels he needs to. During the rest, he can either remain on the breast, or come off of it and apply gentle massage and compressions. A lot of men find that it’s helpful to rest for about five minutes before they resume suckling. It doesn’t have to be five minutes, of course, but these 300-second increments can make it a little easier to keep track of suckling time.

He can also switch sides during the 20-minute period of time. After suckling from the first breast for five minutes, he can then latch to the second breast to trigger let-down, and repeat the back-and-forth process for the length of the nursing session. This switch is helpful for two reasons:

1. It allows him time to rest and regroup
2. It often encourages milk production and flow by giving each breast time to replenish and “refuel”

Rests do not count as suckling time. Regardless of how many breaks he required to ensure his comfort, your partner will need to actively suckle for at least 20 minutes per breast.

Rests aren’t necessary, and they don’t have to be taken every five minutes. If a partner has found a comfortable suckling rhythm and doesn’t feel the need to rest, then, by all means, stay on that breast. 😉 He should rest when he feels the time is right; just be sure to keep general track of his rest time to be sure that he has suckled for a total of 20 minutes.

Rhythm and routine are important, so try to keep these sets in sync, matching them as closely as you possibly can to each breast.

An example of this would be:

Trigger let-down, rest for five, suckle for five, continue.

You should repeat this on the opposite breast. No matter how you nurse, the length of the session, or how many rests are needed, just be sure to suckle for the same amount of time on each breast.

Always remember, there really isn’t a perfect A-B-C, 1-2-3 method to nursing; don’t be overly concerned with clock-watching and time-keeping–that takes a lot of the fun out of nursing. Use your own instinct . Relax and enjoy your time together as a couple. Very soon, this will be second nature to both of you. 🙂

I hope this helps! Happy Wednesday to you!


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