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Do I Need to Breastfeed from Both Breasts at Every Feed?

Monday, February 15, 2021

Parents frequently ask us “Do I need to breastfeed from both breasts at every feed? If I do, how do I know when to switch sides?” Great questions! There is no one right answer for all babies. Here are some principles to help you decide.

Should I breastfeed from one breast or both each feed?

Our recommendation for one breast or two depends on a couple of factors.

  1. The age of your baby

In the first few days of your baby’s life, try to offer both breasts at each feed. Frequent feeding stimulates your breasts to begin producing more milk.

Burping and changing the diaper between breasts will help to keep your newborn awake enough to take a little more milk.

Once your baby is an alert and vigorous feeder, you can reevaluate the ‘two breast strategy’.

  1. Your milk supply

Some mothers have an abundance of milk and their baby fills up on just one breast. Other women need to feed on both breasts every feed for their baby to be satisfied. Each mom and baby pair is different.

Start by feeding on the first breast. When baby seems done (i.e. appears relaxed, releases the nipple, relaxes the hands), burp and change the diaper. If he seems interested, try offering the second side. If he takes it, great. If he doesn’t, no problem. Start on that breast at the next feed. Aim to nurse approximately the same amount on each breast by the end of the day.

How do I know when to switch sides?

Watch your baby. When you see these signs, he is probably ready to switch to the second breast.

  • Restlessness.
  • Letting go of the breast.
  • Falling asleep.
  • Sucking for a long time without swallowing milk.

Warning!

There are some popular pieces of advice on this subject that you should IGNORE.

  • “Feed on one breast a feed to make sure baby gets the hindmilk”

Some mothers have been advised to feed on only one breast per feed (despite baby showing ongoing signs of hunger) to ‘make sure baby gets the hindmilk’. Please don’t be fooled by this advice. All breast milk is good milk. If you are concerned about whether your baby gets enough hindmilk, please know that there are only a few situations where it deserves your attention. These are very specific situations, centered around a problem (e.g. a very low birth weight baby or a very gassy baby who is gaining quickly and has consistently green stools.) Consult with your healthcare provider or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant if you have concerns.

  • “Breastfeed for 10 minutes on each breast.”

Mothers may be told to breastfeed for a specific amount of time on each breast. Please ignore this advice as well. Timing breastfeeding is not the best choice for moms or babies. Learn why we don’t recommend timing feeds in this post.

Do you need to breastfeed from both breasts at every feed? Watch your baby and you will discover what is right for you.

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As Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, we’ve helped over 30,000 new families settle in with their newborn.

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References:

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. “How Often To Breastfeed.” HealthyChildren.org, 2015, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/How-Often-to-Breastfeed.aspx.
  2. Baby Friendly NL. “Starting to Breastfeed”, babyfriendlynl.ca. 2016, https://babyfriendlynl.ca/app/uploads/2018/09/baby-friendly-your-babys-first-days.pdf
  3. Daley, S.E., & Hartmann, P.E. “Infant demand and milk supply. Part 1: Infant demand and milk production in lactating women”. Journal of Human Lactation, 11, 21 – 26. 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7718102
  4. International BreastFeeding Centre, “Once Sided Feedings or Two?” Iblonline.ca, 2018, https://ibconline.ca/one-side-or-two/
  5. Public Health Agency of Canada. “10 Valuable Tips for Successful Breastfeeding”. www.canada.ca. 2009, https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/hp-ps/dca-dea/stages-etapes/childhood-enfance_0-2/nutrition/pdf/reasons-raisons-eng.pdf

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