One of my favorite breastfeeding tricks is the “Fifteen Second Switch”.
When to do it: When baby is frustrated at the breast, is latching on eagerly for a few seconds and then popping off, fussing, screaming or refusing to nurse. When baby is acting ravenous but is unwilling to feed. When baby is acting like your breasts are empty. When baby is acting like he “prefers the bottle”. When you feel like you’re not letting down fast enough. During growth spurts when your baby is divinely fussy. When baby is overstimulated and can’t settle to nurse. This tactic is mostly used for older babies who have established breastfeeding and who are going through a period of temporary frustration due to teething, over-stimulation, etc.
What to do: Switch sides. Every few sucks or every 15 seconds if needed. Whenever baby pops off of one side, switch the baby to the other side even if you’re switching every 15 seconds for an hour before baby settles.
Why it works: This is actually how most other mammals nurse. If you watch monkeys in a zoo, kittens or puppies, piglets, or calves, they switch sides quite often, especially as they get a bit older and mom’s supply stabilizes. It helps speed up letdown, baby gets a few drops of milk from the breast each time he switches, it helps signal to mom’s body that she should let down faster, make more milk, make milk with a different composition for baby’s needs, etc. If baby is uncomfortable because of a gas bubble the change in position can sometimes help the bubble bubble out. And if baby is frustrated and resisting one side, the switching of sides can help baby re-set and settle for a moment or two rather than arch their back and scream on one side. If baby is overstimulated sometimes they’ll take a little while to settle and mom offering the other side helps them focus on one thing and shut off some of the over-stimulation.
Use with: Use with other soothing tricks. Recognize that sometimes babies find breastfeeding to be soothing, but when you’re having to do the fifteen second switches it’s usually not very soothing for baby and baby needs some extra help. Try dancing or bouncing while you nurse. Try rocking baby. Try rubbing baby’s head or back. Try holding baby skin to skin. Try taking a warm bath with baby while you nurse. Try “shhing” or singing to the baby. Try taking baby away from anything over-stimulating into a dark room. Or try to walk around with baby while you nurse so that baby can look at things.
What to avoid: When baby’s refusing to nurse the worst reaction is to give a bottle. (Unless there is truly an issue with supply and baby is having difficulty gaining weight and/or not making enough wet diapers per 24 hours). Giving bottles can quickly lead to flow preference and a decrease in mom’s supply, and are often a road to needing to supplement on a regular basis or even a road to early weaning.
What to keep in mind: You’ll want to make sure baby’s diaper is clean and dry, that baby doesn’t need to burp or fart, and that baby is not sensitive to something in your diet. Look for patterns in the behavior. Did you just eat something new for the first time? Is your period starting soon? Does baby get upset at a particular time every day? The fifteen second switch is very useful for when baby is impatient with letdown, but if baby is screaming and refusing to nurse because they have reflux that gets aggravated by dairy in your diet.. It won’t do much without a dietary change on your part.