Babies aren’t typically known for having strong opinions on many things (toddlers, on the other hand… ), but one thing you may notice early on if you’re breastfeeding is that your infant seems to prefer one breast over the other. Still, unless you want to feel like one of your boobs is going to explode, they're going to have to take turns. So how often should you switch breasts when breastfeeding?
Babies favor one breast over the other for a few reasons. One main factor is milk flow. “[A supply that is] too fast or too slow can make a baby choose the other breast,” certified lactation consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper. Or, one side may be more comfortable to your little one because of muscle strain or a condition known as torticollis which stiffens the neck muscles, causing the heads to tilt down or twist to one side (making latching uncomfortable).
“If a baby is favoring one breast, this could be an early sign of a feeding struggle emerging," certified lactation consultant Danielle Downs Spradlin tells Romper. “Sometimes babies have muscle strain from birth or sleep positioning that's making latch on difficult on one side. The good news is an experienced lactation consultant can screen your baby for asymmetric range of motion and help you correct it at home with targeted movement." If you're primarily feeding from one side, that breast can become more stimulated and make more milk, according to O’Connor.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to switching breasts during breastfeeding, and the best way to know is to listen to your own body and follow your baby’s cues. Downs Spradlin recommends asking yourself at the beginning of each feeding which side feels fuller and starting on that side. “When baby comes off, offer the same breast for a second feed to keep it well-drained," she says. "Then offer the second breast when baby comes off again. No catastrophe can happen by not tracking which side the baby is fed from,” she adds.
There is one situation in which you may not want to switch breasts in the same feeding. If you have an abundant milk supply, it may be best to nurse on one side per feeding, "so as not to overwhelm the baby with too much milk [or] overstimulate the milk production,” O’Connor says.
It’s also totally normal to have different milk outputs in each breast. In fact, most people are asymmetric when it comes to how much milk each breast makes. “[This] can be subtle or quite dramatic,” O’Connor says. You may have heard that eyebrows are, “sisters, not twins,” which means they’re similar but not identical. As it turns out, the same is true of breasts. “One breast usually produces more milk,” she says. “It's normal. It's not something that needs to be corrected.”
In the first month or so after your infant is born, however, switching breasts may help prevent “some of the common problems of breastfeeding such as breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and mastitis,” per Verywell Family. If you do want to try to even out your supply, “you can start feedings on the lower producer to try to stimulate more milk, but often it’s a losing battle,” O’Connor says. She adds that you can also pump the lightweight breast to try to catch it up.
Ultimately, you know what’s best for you and your baby, and you’re on this sweet and wild journey together. “Breastfeeding is a relationship,” Downs Spradlin says. “It's okay to ask the baby to nurse more to relieve your engorgement. It's okay to ask the baby to put some work in for maintaining your breast comfort. You're a team.”
Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC
Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC