Breastfeeding: Should you nurse until your breasts are empty?

I am breastfeeding my seven-week-old daughter and read that you should nurse on one breast until it is emptied and then switch. I can't seem to nurse until one side is empty though. Also, I have never felt my milk "let down." What exactly does this mean and how will I know when it happens?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

You can't 'empty' your breast because milk is being produced continuously, so don't worry about this rather vague advice. And not all breastfeeding moms experience the let-down feeling (a rushing, tingling sensation) as their milk ejects. This doesn't mean it isn't happening or that you have an insufficient or overabundant milk supply.

Here are some signs that your milk has let down:

  • A change in your baby's suck/swallow pattern - You may hear baby swallowing after every suck, or even gulping.
  • Milk dripping or spraying from the other breast
  • Pins and needles feeling in your breast
  • A feeling of relaxation

If your baby is nursing well -- your breasts soften and feel less firm following a good feed, she wets at least five to six diapers each day, has regular, substantial bowel movements and is growing normally (gaining four to eight ounces each week), I wouldn't be concerned that you aren't experiencing let down.

Follow your baby's cues when breastfeeding. Allow her to nurse on one side until she comes off on her own. Then offer her the other breast (possibly burping and changing her diaper in between sides.) She may have had enough after nursing on one side, or she may still be interested in nursing.

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