Many moms are confused about when and if they should switch breasts while breastfeeding. Like so many breastfeeding and baby care questions the answer is, it depends. Today we’re sharing when you should switch breasts while breastfeeding and when you should not.
Both of your breasts produce milk but that doesn’t mean your baby needs to drink from both sides during every feeding. Your baby is the best gauge for whether you should switch breasts while breastfeeding because only your baby knows when she is satiated or not. Unlike adults, babies don’t over-indulge in milk. Rather, they drink until they are full and then they stop.
You may want your baby to switch breasts while breastfeeding to ensure you get relief from both breasts if they are full. If a baby drinks mainly from one side, it could leave a mother in pain and lead to engorgement. However, there’s a good reason not to prematurely switch sides.
The composition of fat in your breast milk changes during a feeding. Slowly the early milk in a feeding, called foremilk, increases in fat content as the feeding progresses. The later stage of a feeding yields hind milk. Fat builds up in milk ducts and over the course of the feeding dislodges into the milk flow as the breast empties.
With that said emptier breasts express fattier milk so if you feed more often, the fat content in your milk may be high even at the beginning of a feeding. Also, breast compressions can help squeeze the fat into the milk.
In order for your baby to benefit from the essential fats in your breast milk, it is important for her to continue breastfeeding on one side until the fat content increases. It’s impossible to know for sure when this is happening since it is undetectable and gradual. However, if your baby drinks to satisfaction on one breast, she is probably getting to the fattier milk. You will know when your baby is full because she will pull off the breast or her suck and swallow pattern will slow or halt.
Once you’ve burped your baby you can determine if you should switch breasts during breastfeeding. Your baby may or may not want the second breast. If she does, do not force her to drink longer than she wants. If you feel too full after she completes the feeding, pump or hand express milk to your comfort level.
If you pump milk you may notice the sticky fat layer that rises to the top of your storage container. You can even do an experiment to see when the fattier milk starts showing up by switching containers half way through your pumping session and then comparing the containers after refrigerating them for a day.
Switching breasts while breastfeeding can also be helpful if you tend to get plugged ducts, need to keep your baby awake or want to encourage more let-downs. However these reasons should not deter you from allowing your baby to get through to the fattier milk on at least one breast per breastfeeding session.
Also remember to start with the opposite breast with each feeding to ensure you are draining your breasts equally and fully. This not only prevents engorgement, but also stimulates your milk production.
The bottom line is you need to read your baby. With knowledge about the fat make-up of your milk and by following your baby’s cues, you’ll know when and if to switch breasts while breastfeeding.
Sources: Kelly Mom, Parenting Science and BabyCenter