Do I need to switch sides when breastfeeding?

“Switch sides when breastfeeding” is one of those pieces of advice that tends to be more important during the early days of breastfeeding, especially the first 4–6 weeks. 

During the newborn phase, you need to feed your baby often, at least 8-12 times in each 24-hour period. Because your baby’s stomach is small, frequent feedings ensure that he gets the nutrition he needs in amounts that are comfortable for him to digest. Also, frequent feedings ensure that your body repeatedly gets the message: “make milk.” 

A mother’s body makes a “supply” of milk in response to the “demand” of stimulation, usually provided by a baby or a breast pump. Both breasts need to receive the “make milk” message frequently in order for a good milk supply to be established. 

During the early phase of milk-making, it’s important to offer your baby both breasts at each feeding. Breastfeed as long as your baby wishes on the first breast (the amount of time will vary given that every baby is different—some suck fast, others suckle very slowly). Watch for his cues (of hunger or fullness). When he stops suckling and swallowing, or when he falls asleep, you’ll want to switch him to the other breast. 

If he hasn’t released the first breast, simply slip your finger into the corner of his mouth to break the suction (and protect your nipple) before removing him from your breast. If your baby has fallen asleep, wake him gently (try tickling his toes or stroking his face), burp him, and offer the second breast. Even if his eyes remain closed, you may have some luck getting him to latch on by gently tickling his lips with your nipple. 

Offer both breasts at every feeding—but don’t worry if your baby seems content after just one breast. Each breast can provide a full meal. Try to feed him again sooner rather than later (as soon as you see those early signs of hunger). Begin the next feeding on the breast that he fed from last (or missed feeding from altogether), in order to establish or maintain comparable milk production in both breasts. 

If your baby is satisfied after only one breast, you may experience fullness in the other breast. If necessary, hand-express or pump to soften that breast and relieve the fullness. 

Once your milk supply is well-established, simply follow your baby’s cues—signs of hunger, signs of fullness—rather than the clock. Before you know it, your breasts will be making not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of milk!

Last updated February 28, 2021

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