Switch Nursing: A Breastfeeding Technique

What is it and when should you try it?

Breastfeeding newborn
Switch nursing can keep a sleepy newborn breastfeeding longer. Ed Freeman/Getty Images

What Is Switch Nursing?

Switch nursing is a breastfeeding technique that involves alternating breasts multiple times during a feeding. When you use this breastfeeding method, your baby breastfeeds for a few minutes on one breast, switches over to the other breast for a few minutes, then switches back to the first breast again and so on.

When Would You Use the Switch Nursing Technique?

If your baby is latching on and breastfeeding well, you shouldn't stop him to switch breasts.

Let your child finish breastfeeding on one side, then offer the other breast. However, if your breast milk supply is low, your baby is sleepy at the breast, or your little one is gaining weight slowly, the switch nursing technique may be helpful.  

Switch Nursing for a Sleepy Baby

Switching breasts frequently during a feeding may help to keep a sleepy baby sucking longer. Each time your baby slows down, stops sucking, or starts to fall asleep, changing side can wake him up and encourage him to start sucking again.

Switch Nursing for Slow Weight Gain

If you baby isn't gaining the expected amount of weight, switch nursing may help to increase the amount of breast milk that he gets at each feeding. By switching back and forth between breasts, it could encourage your baby to suck for a longer period while stimulating the let-down of breast milk from your breasts to occur multiple times.

Switch Nursing to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply

If you have a low breast milk supply, you can use switch nursing to try to boost it up.

The extra stimulation to both breasts from changing sides a few times throughout a feeding can lead to an increase in the supply of breast milk.

Monitor Your Baby While You're Switch Nursing

If you have a low breast milk supply, a sleepy newborn, or a baby who's gaining weight slowly, be sure to keep in close contact with your child's health care provider.

While you're working on getting breastfeeding established and going well, the pediatrician can make sure your baby is healthy and that he's getting enough breast milk.

You can also monitor your child at home by keeping track of his wet and dirty diapers and watching for signs of dehydration.

When to Stop Switch Nursing

Switch nursing may work well during the first few days of breastfeeding or when your child is going through a growth spurt, but it's not meant to be used over an extended period of time. Once your breast milk supply goes up, your baby is more alert, and breastfeeding is going well, you do not need to change sides more than once a feeding. You should be able to breastfeed your child on one side until that breast is emptied before switching to the other side for the remainder of the feeding. Some newborns will even be happy and satisfied with just a single breast at each feeding. Just remember to alternate the breast you begin each feeding on so that you can keep both breasts stimulated and making breast milk.

The Downside to Switch Nursing 

One of the issues with switch nursing is that a baby may not breastfeed long enough on either breast to get to the hindmilk. Hindmilk is the high fat, high-calorie milk that mixes into the breast milk a few minutes into a feeding. A baby who's only breastfeeding for a few minutes on one side may only get foremilk on that side. Then, when he switches over to the other breast, he gets foremilk again. So, while a child may get more breast milk from switch nursing, he may not be getting the fat and calories that he would be getting if he were to breastfeeding longer on the same breast.

Where to Find More Information or Assistance

If, at any time, you're worried that your little one isn't getting enough breast milk or that she's too sleepy for most feedings, notify your baby's doctor. The doctor will check your child's weight and health. You can also talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local La Leche group to learn about other techniques or get answers to any questions you may have about building and maintaining a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby.

 

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 Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

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

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