How Long to Breastfeed on Each Side: There is No Perfect Time
Learning how to breastfeed your new baby can be quite a daunting task. You are recovering from birth and are overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions. If you have never breastfed before, you are going to encounter some questions and concerns during these first few weeks.
One of the most common questions is how long to breastfeed on each side. It can be hard to know if you are spending too much time or not enough time on each side. Here is some information I have learned to help decide how long to nurse each breast.
5 Things to Know About Breastfeeding
1. Pick the Breast You Want to Start
Typically, I start with the breast I ended with at the last session. Most of the time, your baby will drink less on the second breast than the first.
2. Foremilk and Hindmilk
Your breasts don’t make different types of milk. The names foremilk and hindmilk indicates whether it is the milk at the start or the end of a feeding. If you have ever pumped, you will notice a difference in color if you allow the milk to settle.
The thinner, often blue tinted, milk is called the foremilk, which is what comes out of the breast first as you baby begins to nurse. Foremilk doesn’t lack nutrients, but it is lower in fat content.
Next, comes the hindmilk. The time that it takes to get to the hindmilk will differ from baby to baby. This is why it is important to not set a strict time limit on each breast.
Some take a bit longer than others to reach this. The typical advice will tell you a baby reaches the hindmilk by 15 minutes, yet some can reach it in less than 10 minutes.
The one thing we do know is that hindmilk does take longer to leave the breast than foremilk because it is naturally thicker due to the higher fat content.
As the feeding goes on, the milk will get fatter. The best way to imagine this is your milk goes from skim milk to 1%, to 2%, whole
A lot of mothers think their breasts are empty at the end of the evening because babies tend to spend much longer breastfeeding in the evening. Your breasts are never empty, but the milk is much thicker in the evening. Your baby has to spend longer drinking all the thick, delicious milk than he does earlier in the day.
3. The Length of Time at Breast
You are going to receive a lot of contradicting advice on breastfeeding. Some well-meaning friends will tell you to switch sides at 20 minutes. Some friends may tell you to spend 45 minutes on one breast.
It can be exhausting for new mothers to determine what advice to follow. The amount of time your baby will spend on each side is going to depend on your child, not some arbitrary period set by an adult.
For example, my second child spent a lot of time at the breast, especially in the beginning months of his life. It was common for him to nurse for 45 minutes on one side before needing the second breast.
Upon the birth of my third child, you can imagine my surprise when he was finished nursing the first breast within 20 minutes. At first, I was worried my supply was lacking, but his weight gain indicated a great growth pattern. My third child breastfeeds differently than my second child; this is very normal!
4. One Breast or Two Breasts
Often, new mothers worry whether their baby actually needs to breastfeed from each side. Their doctor asks how long the baby is nursing on both sides, and they become worried they are doing something wrong.
It is so important to understand your breastfeeding relationship with your child is unique. There is no strict rule for breastfeeding, and it is truly best for your child for you not to try to follow a strict rule of switching breast.
Some babies could only need to nurse from one breast before they are full and content. Others may need to nurse from both sides. There is no right and wrong way to breastfeed your baby.
5. How to Determine
As your baby nurses on your first breast, you are going to notice the amount of swallowing will slow down.
They may seem drowsy, which is a great time to break suction and burp your sweet baby. If it has been over 20 minutes of time at the breast, offer your second breast. If the baby is full, he won’t take it.
A baby, who is happily nursing on the first breast and is content, should continue to nurse and not removed. He may unlatch himself and decide he is full. Here
- Baby’s body is relaxed
- Baby is calm
- Baby falls asleep
- His hands are open
- He may have a wet burp with milk dribbling out of his mouth.
You will have a few weight checks within the first weeks of life. If your baby is not gaining enough weight, encourage nursing the second breast if you are not already.
There is No Perfect Time Rule
The most important “rule” to remember is there is no perfect rule for the length of time at each breast.
Spend some time watching your baby is his or her first weeks of life. You will notice their hunger signs and how he acts when he is very full. You can use his signs of hunger and fullness to determine his average length of time on each side.
While the most common advice will tell you to offer each breast for 15 minutes, this is not accurate for every baby. Some will require longer or shorter time frames. Babies need time to drink through the foremilk and reach the hindmilk, which can take some time. Remember to let your baby finish the first breast first. The second breast isn’t always necessary.
As a nursing mother, what did you experience? Did you find your baby nurse each side or only one? We would love to hear your experiences in the comment section.