It seems incredible that we haven’t done this blog entry before, because one of the most common questions for any mother who starts breastfeeding is: should I feed from one side or both sides at each session?
We have two breasts, and there are a few things you should know before we begin to give answers: each breast has its own independent milk production, us mothers and our baby will prefer one of our two breasts, each breast can produce an extra 33% and a baby can maintain breastfeeding from one single breast side for weeks, months and years. So let’s begin!
One or both breast sides at each feeding session?
If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, you can help her by performing breast compressions, when you see that the sucking motion is not continuous, so she will get milk more easily.
My baby is asking for both breast sides at each feed!
If your baby lets go of one breast and asks for the other side, you can certainly give it to her. As we’ve said, if your baby is less than 3 months old, with one alternate breast side, she should have plenty to spare, but there are times when she may need to breastfeed from both sides. If your baby asks for it and needs it, go ahead!
How do I know if my baby “asks” for the other breast?
If your baby lets go of your breast after a while on its own and falls asleep, the feeding session is probably over. If she wakes up after a very short while, you can offer her the same breast side again. If she doesn’t want it or seems uncomfortable, try the other breast.
And if your baby gets restless or seems to be fuzzing at the first breast side during the feed, you can try the other side.
Later, from when your baby is 3 – 4 months old, it will be easier for you to tell which breast she wants.
What to do during the baby’s first few days?
During their first few days, babies can have different behaviours. A common one is to stay at one single breast side for a long time, but they may also need to go from one breast side to the other continuously. Both are normal, so the important thing is to see what your baby wants to do.
The key is not to force anything: you don’t have to change breasts after a certain time, nor should you take your baby off the breast randomly.
However, it’s also important to check how your breasts are doing and to give priority to the breast you feel fuller or where you may have discomfort.
But what about the foremilk and hindmilk?
There’s a lot of talk about both types of milk, and the importance of babies getting to the fat at the end. Your breast is not transparent and there is no way for you to know at what point your milk is.
No one but your baby can tell at what point your milk is, so it is not necessary that you worry about it. Let your baby decide when to let go of your breast. Don’t try to feed according to a schedule or routine and don’t limit the time your baby feeds at each breast, as you could deprive her of being able to get the milk in the composition she needs.
And if you want to latch your baby on one breast and she refuses it, don’t hesitate to offer the other side.
My baby never comes off the breast on her own
Some babies never let go of the breast and spend more than one hour at each feed, never seem satisfied and their weight gain is slower than it should be for their age. In this case it is absolutely key to check the baby’s latch at the breast and to rule out that your baby doesn’t have any oral difficulties like tongue-tie by an expert lactation consultant and/or health care professional.
My breasts both feel empty, which side should I offer my baby first?
Just because your breasts feel empty, this doesn’t mean you don’t have milk anymore. Breasts work like a factory and not like a warehouse, so it’s normal to have a feeling of empty breasts. From around three months onwards your breasts will not feel so full anymore, compared to the beginning. Touch and feel by yourself, to see which side is fuller and needs emptying first: if both of your breasts feel the same, you choose which breast you want to offer your baby. If your baby rejects that side or gets upset when you put her to the breast, you can offer her the other side and see if she accepts it.
Both of my breasts feel very full, which side should I offer my baby first?
This situation of feeling both breasts full is usually quite common in the first weeks of breastfeeding, since there is an overproduction of milk, which will gradually regulate itself with time.
If at the beginning of the feed your breasts feel very full, you should try to relieve both of them. Firstly, choose the breast side you want to feed from, then perform some little reverse pressure on the areola area and latch your baby to feed.
And the other side?
You have to assess what to do. If that breast hurts or there is an area that is painful to you, don’t hesitate to express a little milk by hand or pump and apply cold to sooth it. Chose this side first for the following feeding session.
When do babies start to “choose” the side of the breast?
Up to 4 months of baby’s age it is us mothers, who will choose which breast side to offer the baby. From 3 – 4 months onwards, it is the baby who starts to choose which breast it wants to feed from. You may offer one side of your breast and your baby may refuse it, because only they know the composition of your milk and only they know whether they are hungry or thirsty, so just try to listen and observe what your baby wants.
In summary, when asked if you should feed from one alternate side of the breast or from both sides per feeding session: it is best to feed from one (alternating) side of the breast per feed until your baby signals otherwise. You should give priority to the breast side that feels fuller, if you can tell a difference in fullness. Remember that breastfeeding works on demand precisely because of this, so that breasts regulate their production according to the needs of the baby and the mother.