Should You Alternate Breasts While You're Breastfeeding?

Switching Sides: One Breast or Both Breasts at Each Feeding?

Mother breastfeeding baby.
Should you switch sides while you're breastfeeding?. Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Should You Breastfeed From One Breast or Both Breasts?

The decision to offer one breast or both breasts at each feeding is a matter of preference. As long as your baby is getting enough breast milk and growing at a healthy, consistent pace, it doesn't matter if you nurse from one breast or both breasts at each feeding. You should go ahead and choose the method that is the easiest, most comfortable, and most convenient for you and your baby.

What Do the Professionals Recommend?

In the first few weeks after your baby is born, the recommendation is that it's better to breastfeed from both sides at each feeding. Breastfeeding on both sides will help to stimulate the production of breast milk while you're establishing your milk supply. It can also prevent some of the common problems of breastfeeding such as breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis. After about four to six weeks when your milk supply is well established, and your baby is gaining weight well, you can then choose the feeding method that works the best for you and your child.

As your baby grows, the recommendation is to follow her lead. You can let your child breastfeed on one side for as long as she wants. Then, when she stops breastfeeding, you can remove her from your breast, burp her, change her diaper, and offer her the other side. If she wants to nurse more, let her.

If she only needs to nurse on one breast to feel satisfied, that's OK, too.

Alternating Breasts at Each Feeding

There are definitely benefits to offering both breasts at each feeding. Besides helping to build up a healthy supply of breast milk, alternating breasts in the same feeding can keep a sleepy baby nursing longer, provide more breast milk at each feeding to a newborn who needs to gain weight, and it may even help to keep your breasts from becoming too uneven.

Offering Only One Breast at Each Feeding

Once you've established your milk supply and your baby is growing well, it may be more convenient to breastfeed from only one side at each feeding. If you have an overabundant milk supply, breastfeeding on only one side at each feeding can help reduce the milk supply in the opposite breast. Breastfeeding from only one breast per feeding may also reduce gassiness, fussiness, and symptoms of colic in your baby.

Then, there are times when you might not have a choice but to breastfeed from only one side.  If you have an issue on one breast, and it needs a rest to heal, you have only one breast that makes breast milk or your baby develops a breast preference and will only breastfeed from one side you may not be able to switch breasts during each feeding, or at all.  However, even if you can only breastfeed from one side, it's still possible to make a healthy supply of breast milk for your child. You can continue to breastfeed your baby from just one breast for as long as you wish to do so.

Where to Go for Help

As long as your baby is breastfeeding well and gaining weight, you don't have to worry about whether or not you're switching breasts at each feeding. But, if you feel that your child isn't breastfeeding well or not getting enough breast milk, you should seek help as soon as possible. Whenever you have questions or concerns about alternating breasts or breastfeeding your baby, you can reach out to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group for more information and assistance.

 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

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