Years ago the recommendation was to ‘watch the clock’ and switch breasts after 15 minutes of nursing. That is no longer the recommendation and here’s why. Every mom has a different milk storage capacity AND every baby empties the breast at a different rate. One baby may empty her mamas breast in 5 minutes while another baby may need 20 minutes. So how do we know when a breast is empty and it’s time to switch sides?
1. Get in the habit of feeling your breasts before and after a feeding. A full breast will feel harder and an empty breast will feel softer.
2. Listen for swallowing. If baby slows down at the breast and you’re not hearing swallows anymore, give yourself a few breast compressions to fully empty the breast. When baby stops swallowing after breast compressions or comes off the breast after nursing for a while, it’s probably time to switch.
3. When baby comes off the breast, give it a squeeze. If the milk sprays, comes out easily and looks clear-ish/watery, the breast still has milk to offer. Put baby back on this breast to finish. If the milk is just a droplet or two (not spraying) and it looks creamy white, the breast is likely on the emptier side. You can switch breasts at this time.
Keep in mind some babies will only need 1 breast per feeding to be satisfied. It’s better to completely empty one breast than to nurse on both breasts. An emptier breast offers fattier, creamier milk (hind milk) that is helpful for weight gain and reducing gas.
Need some relief on the opposite breast? Hand express until you’re comfortable and offer that breast at baby’s next feeding.