One Breast or Two?

Many of my clients run into difficulty when they follow a rule-based approach to breastfeeding. Unfortunately, breastfeeding books and websites are often full of rules. “Always breastfeed on both sides each feeding.” or “Baby should only have one side per feeding.” There are scary warnings about baby not getting enough “hindmilk” and details about how many minutes to spend on each breast. Really? How do other mammals (and humans) do this without watches and books?

I have seen problems on both sides (pun intended) of the issue: Babies not gaining enough weight because mom read that one sided feeding is “correct.” I’ve also seen babies struggle with gas, reflux and poor sleeping because someone told the mom to nurse a prescribed number of minutes on each side.

What the many books and websites fail to address is the fact the some moms make just enough milk for their babies. Some moms seem to have enough milk for the neighborhood. In addition, babies are not all the same size, nor do they all grow at the same rate. So how can you know what is correct for your baby?

The answer is…there is no one answer for every mother/baby pair. Every nursing dyad is unique. You already know that your baby is unique. So are you. You can search the world and still not find a book that was written about you and your baby. It’s just not possible.

I know you want to know the “right” way to breastfeed. You want to know whether to nurse with both breasts or one. You want to know how many minutes on each side. Here is my best answer: Watch the baby.

When your baby is breastfeeding well, you will hear rhythmic, frequent swallows with, perhaps, some short pauses in-between bursts. This is how you know your baby is getting milk. He is drinking. Learn what a swallow sounds/looks like. If you don’t know, ask your lactation consultant to show you with YOUR baby.

As long as your baby is happily swallowing frequently, he can remain on that side. (Would you like your dinner plate removed before you were finished?) He may stay on that side and swallow frequently for quite a while, then pull off and be done! That’s fine. But some babies need more. If the swallows slow down and you notice your baby is sucking with only infrequent swallows, you can break the suction and take him off. Give him a chance to burp, and offer breast number 2. If he’s full, he won’t take it.  It’s likely that your baby will fill up after a short time on the second breast and doze off. If not, you can offer breast number… 3!

Some babies get plenty from one breast. Others need 2 or more. As long as your baby is comfortable and gaining well, you are “doing it right”!

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