Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Nursing Honor Society.
Rebecca Agi, MS, IBCLC is a board-certified lactation consultant and founder of Best Milk LA, a lactation consulting service.
Switch nursing is a breastfeeding technique that involves alternating breasts multiple times during a feeding. When you use this breastfeeding method, your baby breastfeeds for a few minutes on one breast, switches over to the other breast for a few minutes, then switches back to the first breast again and so on.
There are situations when switch nursing can come in handy, but it has its downsides, too. Here's what you need to know about this breastfeeding technique.
When to Use the Switch Nursing
If your baby is latching on and breastfeeding well, you do not need to stop him to switch breasts. You can let your child finish breastfeeding on one side, then offer the other breast. However, switching breasts multiple times during a feeding may be helpful if:
- Your baby is sleepy at the breast.
- Your little one is gaining weight slowly.
- Your breast milk supply is low.
Switching breasts frequently during a feeding may help to keep a sleepy baby sucking longer. Each time your baby slows down, stops sucking, and starts to fall asleep, you can try to wake him up a little and switch sides.
The movement of changing sides, plus the change in the flow of breast milk from one breast to the other may encourage him to keep breastfeeding.
Slow Weight Gain
If your baby isn’t gaining the expected amount of weight, switch nursing may help to increase the amount of breast milk that he gets at each feeding. By switching back and forth between breasts, it could encourage your baby to suck for a longer period while stimulating the let-down of breast milk from your breasts to occur multiple times.
Increase Your Milk Supply
If you have a low breast milk supply, you can use switch nursing to try to boost it up. The extra stimulation to both breasts from changing sides a few times throughout a feeding can lead to an increase in the supply of breast milk.
If you have a low breast milk supply, a sleepy newborn, or a baby who's gaining weight slowly, be sure to keep in close contact with your child's health care provider.
While you’re working on getting breastfeeding established and going well, the pediatrician can make sure your baby is healthy, getting enough breast milk, and gaining weight.
You can also monitor your child at home by keeping track of their wet and dirty diapers and watching for signs of dehydration.
When to Stop Switch Nursing
Switch nursing may work well during the first few days of breastfeeding or when your child is going through a growth spurt, but it’s not meant to be used over an extended period of time. Once your breast milk supply goes up, your baby is more alert, and breastfeeding is going well, you do not need to change sides more than once a feeding.
You should be able to breastfeed your child on one side until that breast is emptied before switching to the other side for the remainder of the feeding. Some newborns will even be happy and satisfied with just a single breast at each feeding.
Just remember to alternate breasts when you begin feeding so that you can keep both breasts stimulated and making breast milk.
When Switch Nursing May Not Work
Switch nursing may not work well for:
- A premature baby
- A baby who has an illness
- A baby who has a sucking issue
In these cases, talk to your doctor and your baby's doctor about the best feeding methods for your child.
Downside to Switch Nursing
One of the issues with switch nursing is that a baby may not breastfeed long enough on either breast to get to the hindmilk. Hindmilk is the high fat, high-calorie milk that mixes into the breast milk a few minutes into a feeding.
A baby who’s only breastfeeding for a few minutes on one side may only get foremilk on that side. Then, when he switches over to the other breast, he gets foremilk again.
So, while a child may get more breast milk from switch nursing, he may not be getting the fat and calories that he would be getting if he were to breastfeeding longer on the same breast.
Where to Find Assistance
If, at any time, you're worried that your little one isn't getting enough breast milk or that she's too sleepy for most feedings, notify your baby's doctor. The doctor will check your child's weight and health.
You can also talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding mother’s group to learn about other techniques or get answers to any questions you may have about building and maintaining a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby.
This article was co-authored by Lisa Grossman, RN, BSN, PHN, IBCLC, CLC, CLEC. Lisa Grossman is a Lactation Consultant, Registered Nurse, and the Owner of South Bay Baby Care, a business focused on prenatal, breastfeeding, lactation, and CPR classes and services. Using years of experience working with mothers and babies, Lisa started South Bay Baby Care in 2018 with the goal of sharing her knowledge and expertise with expectant and new parents in the areas of newborn care, breastfeeding & lactation, sleep routines, postpartum care, and CPR + First Aid. Lisa holds a BSN from Mount St. Mary’s University, is a board certified Registered Nurse (BRN RN-BSN), an International board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a Certified Lactation Counselor (ALPP), a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC – UCSD), and a Member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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Breastfeeding can be a powerful way to bond with your child and give them the nutrients necessary to grow. Making sure that your child has a good latch makes milk transfer more efficient and effective. Not only does this help ensure that your child is getting enough milk, but it also decreases your risk for nipple soreness or pain. If you’re struggling to get a good latch, consider seeing a lactation consultant for breastfeeding education, guidance, and hands-on support.  X Expert Source