Breastfeeding on Both Breasts Each Feeding

Recommendation, Reasons, and Tips

Mother breastfeeding her newborn in bed
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Is it better to offer both breasts at each feeding, or should you breastfeed from only one side at each nursing session? Well, there really isn't a right or wrong answer when it comes to breastfeeding and alternating breasts. Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for you and your child. There are certainly times when nursing from one side is a better option (or the only option), but there are plenty of reasons to breastfeed from both sides within the same feeding, as well.

Reasons to Breastfeed From Both Sides in the Same Feeding

Here are some of the reasons you may choose to alternate breasts and breastfeed from both sides in the same feeding.

  • It helps to build up your breast milk supply. When you first have your baby, the recommendation is to breastfeed from both breasts at each feeding. When you switch sides during each nursing session, it allows both breasts to receive stimulation at least every two to three hours. The frequent nursing on both sides helps to encourage a healthy supply of breast milk.
  • You want to try switch nursing. If you're struggling with a low breast milk supply, you can try switch nursing. With this technique, you start on one breast, then when the baby stops sucking, you offer the other breast. Each time your baby stops breastfeeding, you switch breasts. This technique is helpful during the first few days postpartum when you're building up your milk supply. It can also be useful when your baby is going through a growth spurt. However, switch nursing should not be used for an extended period. Once your milk supply begins to increase, you should go back to changing sides only once per feeding.
  • You have a sleepy newborn: When you have a sleepy baby, it may be helpful to offer both breasts at each feeding. The baby is more likely to wake up between sides and begin breastfeeding again. Burping your baby, or changing his diaper between breasts, may also help to rouse him from his sleepy state so that he may nurse better.
  • You're experiencing breast engorgement. During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, your breasts can become engorged as your milk supply adjusts to your baby's needs. If you breastfeed from only one side at each feeding, you are more likely to experience the pain and pressure of breast engorgement in the breast that hasn't been nursed on. By alternating breasts within a feeding, you will be removing the breast milk from both breasts every two to three hours. It can help to lessen the pressure in your breasts between feedings.
  • Your baby is gaining weight slowly. If your baby is gaining weight slowly and only breastfeeding on one side at each feeding, you may want to try offering both breasts at each feeding. Switching breasts within the same feeding may provide your baby with more breast milk at each nursing session.  

Tips for Breastfeeding From Both Sides at Each Feeding

Newborns breastfeed at least every two to three hours. Look for the signs that will let you know when your baby is hungry and put your child to the breast very often. Frequent breastfeeding from both breasts will help to build up your milk supply and ensure your baby is getting enough breast milk to be satisfied and gain weight well.

 Here are some tips for nursing on both sides at each feeding.

  • Don't watch the time, watch your child. Breastfeeding isn't a timed activity, so it doesn't have to be exactly ten minutes on each breast. You can follow your baby's lead and let him nurse for as long as he wants on each side. When he's ready to switch, he may give you a sign such as falling asleep, letting go of the breast, or moving around restlessly. 
  • If your baby is actively sucking, let her continue. You don't want to stop her in the middle of active sucking to switch breasts. Wait until your child stops on her own. Then, once she stops, gently break the suction of the latch and take your baby off of your breast. Before you switch to the other side, you can change the diaper and try to burp her. These actions may help your baby nurse better on the second breast. 
  • Keep track of which side you started breastfeeding on at the last feeding. Start the next feeding on the opposite side. For example, if you began the last feeding on your right breast, start the next feeding on your left breast. Your baby removes more milk from the breast that he starts to breastfeed on compared to the one that he finishes breastfeeding on. So, when you alternate the breast you begin each feeding on, each side gets an adequate amount of stimulation.  
  • You may be able to figure out which breast you last nursed on by how full each breast feels, but sometimes it's not that easy to tell. If you need a reminder, you can try using a pin, a hair tie, a bracelet, or another one of these tips for remembering which side to start the next feeding.
  • If you're dealing with an overabundant supply of breast milk, breastfeeding from both sides at each feeding can cause symptoms of colic and excessive weight gain in your baby. When you take your child to the doctor for her well-baby visits, the doctor will check her weight to be sure that she is gaining and growing appropriately. If she's gaining too much weight too quickly and having abdominal issues, you should discuss your concerns with the doctor. You may also want to try nursing on only one breast at each feeding to see if it helps to lessen those symptoms.

If you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding your baby or when to alternate sides, contact your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group for more information. 

Sources:

ABM clinical protocol# 7: model breastfeeding policy (revision 2010). Breastfeeding Medicine. 2010;5(4).

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

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.