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When Should I Alternate Breasts When I'm Breastfeeding?

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Updated June 10, 2014

Question: When Should I Alternate Breasts When I'm Breastfeeding?

Not that long ago, breastfeeding mothers were told to breastfeed for 10 minutes on one side and then to switch to the other side for 10 minutes. This is no longer the case. Those babies were not gaining weight sufficiently, and were not satisfied for long stretches of time. We now know why...

Answer:

Let the baby finish one breast entirely before offering the other!

When your milk comes in and you feel full, your breast is filled with foremilk, which is thin and watery, like skim milk. As the baby nurses, the milk turns thicker, similar to whole milk, then finally, cream, which is the hindmilk. This is the goal. Babies need hindmilk, which is best for their weight gain, brain development and stooling. Alternating breasts on a timed schedule is not recommended. If you breastfeed the "old-school" way, your baby will be getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. In addition, the foremilk is high in lactose and the hindmilk is high in fat. It is essential that the baby obtains the perfect balance of the lactose and fat. Otherwise, you may end up with an uncomfortable, painfully gassy baby because of the high levels of lactose he is receiving.

Are there times when you should be alternating breasts?

There are definitely times when switching may be beneficial:

  • If you have a sleepy baby and you've tried all tips and techniques to awaken her, to no avail, it may be time to try some "switch nursing." In these cases, constantly switching breasts when the baby begins to fall asleep may keep her more alert during the feed.
  • Your baby is going through a growth spurt. During these times, it may seem as though she's nursing all day, all night. This is normal, but you may feel as though you're running low on supply. Switching breasts will help both of you along. She'll be much more satisfied and your supply will be stimulated.
  • It's that "cluster-feeding" time of the day. Similar to growth spurts, you may find that your baby is nursing for hours on end, sometimes beginning in the late afternoon and ending in the late evening. Once again, this is normal as it is the time of the day where your supply is lowest. Switching breasts during this time will help both of you get through it as comfortably as possible.

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