One of the most common questions new mother’s ask about breastfeeding — “How long do I feed my baby on each breast?” While the answer used to be a simple “15 minutes on each side,” recent information says this isn’t always the case. Which opens the door to other questions: How do you know when your baby’s had enough to eat? When to switch breasts during feedings? Or if switching is even necessary?
Newborn Feeding: Consistency Is Key
According to Kids Health, it’s important to get newborns used to latching and feeding. There are plenty of opportunities to do so at that age with a feeding schedule that kicks in approximately every two two hours, or eight to 12 times per day.
This is important for lactating mother’s, too, because the more you feed your baby initially, the better your milk supply. For the same reason, it’s recommended you don’t skip feedings until your milk supply is fully established at around two to three weeks.
In these early days, feeding your baby from both breasts is suggested. And, instead of watching the clock, paying more attention to your baby and your breasts is advised. Depending on how fast of an eater your baby is, they could be satisfied in 10 minutes, or take up to 15 or 20 minutes. Setting a timer may tell you all you need to know.
How do you know when your baby’s finished eating? The Bump says to watch for signs, such as when the baby stops sucking and swallowing.
If they’re sleepy, try to stimulate them by rubbing their feet or around their mouth. When it appears your baby is no longer interested, you can gently compress your breast to see if they’re truly finished, and to ensure you’ve released all your milk supply on that side.
You should also pay attention to your own body. When your breasts have released all their milk, they become softer to the touch. The more you breastfeed, the easier it will be to read both your baby’s and your own body’s signs that it’s time to switch.
Once Your Milk Supply Is Established…
While there’s a general agreement that switching breasts at each feeding is important in the early stages, that’s not always the case once your milk supply has been established.
According to WebMD, research shows benefits to single breastfeeding, as it ensures babies receive both foremilk and hindmilk when feeding. Echoing this is research from Baby GooRoo, which says each breast can provide a full meal.
Foremilk is what babies get when they initially latch. It’s watery and hydrates your baby, while providing minerals, sugar and protein.
Hindmilk, which is released later in the feeding process, is essential to babies’ growth as it’s fattier and provides more nutrients. Switching breasts too quickly in the middle of feeding may cause your baby to miss out on hindmilk completely.
If choosing the single breast method, you can either start with the next breast at the next feeding, or express your second breast to relieve any discomfort and keep supply up.
Is There a Right or Wrong Way?
So, how do you know what’s right for you and your baby? Trial and error combined with whatever works for your family. If your baby is eating regularly, sleeping regularly, has four to six wet diapers and regular bowel movements — you’re doing it right. If you’re confused or need reassurance, check with your pediatrician or contact a lactation consultant (check United States Lactation Consultant Association).
As with most skills, practice makes perfect, and the more you and your baby breastfeed the more comfortable and confident you’ll be.