Many women have asked if they can train their breasts (and their child) to nurse on a single side per feeding. For many women, single side feeding seems like a nice convenience – not having to switch sides, especially in public, seems like a major simplification of a sometimes confusing early period of breastfeeding. Sometimes, single-side feeding is recommended as a solution for overactive letdown or other feeding issue (see my related article, linked below). Sometimes, babies will only take one breast per feeding before losing interest or falling asleep and mothers wonder whether this is ok.
In general, the answer I prefer to these questions is – sure… you can feed on one side per feeding *if* your baby goes along with it, and *if* the baby continues to gain weight at a reasonable rate. Trying to start or stop single-side feeding is one of those occasions (like so many in parenting) where we may try to exert control when we may be better off surrendering to what is. That's not to say that you can't try to influence your situation, but consider it more of a nudge than a full-fledged offensive.
If you are interested in trying single-side feeding, know that as a trade-off, you may need to feed more often. My second baby nursed on only one side per feeding, but she did it 20 or so times a day! If you want to give it a try, I'd wait until the milk supply is established and latch or other serious issues are resolved. Rather than worry about switching sides when you sense the milk supply on the first breast is dwindling, or at some specific time mark, just let the baby nurse the first side until they naturally let go or fall asleep. If at that point they are satisfied, then end the feeding and watch carefully for hunger cues over the next hours to see when baby is ready for the other side. If baby is still rooting or otherwise angling for the second side, then single-side feeding may not be a fit for your baby.
If you are trying to reduce supply through single-side feeding (see the related articles on Correcting Overactive Letdown and Correcting Lopsided Breasts, which discusses reducing milk supply), you can certainly try a little more aggressively, but if baby simply isn't satisfied after one side, you'll need to offer the other. By proactively offering the breast more often, you may increase your chances of baby being satisfied after just one side. Do be careful as you try this process, as single-side feeding can have the unintended consequence of reducing milk supply. If baby remains satisfied and continues to gain weight, then all is likely well.
Single-side feeding may be something to explore, if you think it may help solve a problem or add convenience. But take care not to disrupt a healthy nursing relationship in order to try it out. If you give it time, it may eventually happen on its own, or you may find that when you settle into a pattern, your desire for single-side feeding wanes. Whether feeding on one, or two, breasts per feeding, be proud of the emotional and health benefits you are providing for your baby!
For more information on breastfeeding, here's two of my favorite books: