Should I feed my baby on one side, or both? This has become a frequent question recently. Some of the popular baby books and websites must be recommending one over the other. I doubt mothers came up with this quandary on their own.

The answer is both simple and complex.

As with most things, your baby will usually let you know. The thing about the advice those books and websites provide, babies can’t read. They only know how hungry they are and if their tummy is full.

If your baby is content and goes for a reasonable amount of time after feeding off of one breast, that is probably all he needs. If he is still rooting after one breast, go ahead and offer the second breast. Sometimes baby will take a small break, maybe 10-20 minutes after the first breast before cueing for the second side. My analogy for this is that the second side is like dessert. I know I prefer a little rest after my meal before I want dessert.

In the early days of baby’s life, it is good to offer both sides at each feeding. However, always let the baby finish the first side before taking him off. If he is not sucking vigorously, his sucking is more of a fluttery suck, or is taking very long rests, these are generally good signs that he is ready to come off. He may even come off on his own. See if he has a burp in him. If you don’t get any burps after a couple of minutes, but he wakes up, offer the second side at this point. If he still seems sleepy, it is still a good idea to position him at the breast. Sometimes they get close to the breast and decide that dessert seems like a pretty good idea after-all.

Eventually you’ll learn what your baby needs and wants.

That’s the easy answer. The more complex part of it is that there are several things that can determine whether a baby needs one breast or both. Mothers can hold different amounts of milk in their breasts. Mothers make different amounts of milk. Amounts of milk usually vary throughout the day. The longer it has been since the last feeding, usually the more milk that will be in the breasts. Sometimes baby will want a snack, other times he’ll want a four-course meal. All this can change over time, as well.

I advise moms not to worry about all that, as long as their baby is growing well. Pay attention to what your baby is telling you. He knows when he is full. He knows when he wants dessert.