What Is Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding is when your baby wants to nurse several times over a few hours. It is often, but not always followed by your baby sleeping for longer than usual.
Cluster feeding is more common in the late afternoon or early evening, but really, it can happen at any time of the day.
Although science still does not have a sure answer to why your baby is cluster feeding, there are a few theories:
- One theory is that a mother’s milk supply is lower and slower in the evenings and babies might need more time to fill up.
- Other theories suggest that babies can get really hungry if they are going through a growth spurt.
- Some experts believe that newborn cluster feeding is a baby’s way of filling up before a long sleep.
- Others believe it is nature’s way of boosting the mother’s milk supply (because the more milk your baby drinks, the more milk your body will produce).
- Many babies cluster feed at night to comfort themselves to sleep, and your breast milk has hormones that help develop your baby’s circadian rhythm. You will notice that as your baby gets older, there will be other self-soothing activities like blanket stroking, hair twirling, finger sucking, or eye rubbing.
Either way, this is normal behavior that can be seen in babies that are a couple of days or weeks old. But while this is normal, it’s probably going to be one of the most exhausting periods since the birth of your baby. But hang in there. Breastfeeding, in general, can have a positive effect on your baby’s neurological and emotional development.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Cluster feeding typically lasts for only a few days.
It starts around 3 to 6-weeks after birth. You can see signs of it if your baby starts fussing immediately after feeding, or if she/ he starts rooting around for more after one or both of your breasts have already been drained.
How To Cope With Cluster Feeding?
Because of the unpredictable nature of cluster feeding, you will be more tired and busy. Your personal time, family time, and household chores will suffer. But other than the physical exhaustion, these marathon feeding sessions can also be emotionally draining. You may lose confidence in breastfeeding and worry that your breasts are empty. Add sore and tender nipples to round off this utterly depleting experience.
So how do you deal with it?
Understand It And Accept It
Understand what is happening with your baby and accept that your life will have to be different for a few days. (Cluster feeding sessions rarely go on for more than a few days.) The moment you can accept it, half the battle is won. Think of newborn cluster feeding as a natural occurrence, and go with the flow.
Clear Your Calendar
Having things to do will just add stress. Clear everything and let your baby take the lead.
Rest During The Day
As much as it is possible, try to rest during the earlier part of the day.
Take Care Of Yourself
Drink lots of water, maintain a healthy diet, and do not skip meals. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will take care of your baby?
You’re going to be sitting a lot. Make the best of the situation and get the most comfortable chair in the house. Use pillows for yourself and a nursing pillow for your baby if needed. Also, wear soft, practical clothing or pajamas and a comfortable nursing bra.
Once the cluster feeding marathon starts, turn on some Netflix, and nurse on demand. Have water and healthy snacks within easy reach, and follow your baby’s lead.
For now, forgive yourself for letting a few household chores slide. Forget everything else and focus on your baby.
Get Help If You Need It
There is no prize for being a supermom! If you need help, ask for it. Women who are mothers have been where you are. They will understand and be willing to help if asked.
Get Pain Relieve If Needed
With your baby suckling more on your breasts, you will have sore, irritated, cracked, chasing, and plain ‘ole sore nipples. Thankfully, you don’t have to simply suffer through the pain. There are lots of nipples creams that you can apply before and after feedings for extra moisture and protection.
This is temporary and it too shall pass. Even the calmest of babies have witching hours, when it seems nothing, except nursing, will soothe them.
Cluster Feeding And A Fussy Baby
Cluster feeding often coincides with a baby’s fussy time.
Your baby may nurse for a few minutes, fuss a little, nurse again, then fuss again. This may go on and on for hours.
This can obviously be very frustrating for moms, who may be wondering if they don’t have enough milk, or if there is something wrong with the milk. Pediatricians say there is nothing wrong with your breastmilk and you are likely producing enough for your baby. If your baby is happy the rest of the day, and he/she doesn’t seem to be in pain (acid reflux/ colic), continue to nurse on demand and soothe your baby.
Cluster Feeding And Your Milk Supply
It is natural to assume that if your baby is continually wanting to nurse, perhaps your milk supply is inadequate. Do not doubt your milk supply and turn to formula. More than likely, you are producing enough.
Also, understand that your body produces milk on demand, so the more your baby drinks, the more your body will produce. Supplementation will only tell your body that you need less milk at this time. By turning to formula, your milk production will stall and this can potentially cause you to stop breastfeeding earlier than planned.
How To Stop Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding typically only lasts a few days. It is best to think if of it as nature’s thoroughly exhausting way of making sure your body is primed to produce enough milk for your growing baby. That being the case, accept it and go with the flow.
To ensure that you have enough breastmilk, there are several things you can do. You can:
- Pump between feeding to increase your milk supply;
- Power pump. This is when you pump in regular intervals to mimick cluster feeding;
- Eat foods that increase your breast milk supply;
However, if cluster feeding is too burdensome and you, go see a lactation consultant. She may be able to offer more helpful breastfeeding tips.
When To Seek Help
Fussiness associated with cluster feeding is normal, but fussiness can also be associated with colic or acid reflux. If you are worried, check with your pediatrician.
If you are concerned about your milk supply, a doctor’s visit can also determine if your baby is getting enough milk based on his/her weight gain.
While cluster feeding typically lasts for only a few days, do check your baby’s weight if it lasts for more than a week. He/she may not be getting enough calories, and this would be reason to see your pediatrician. Also check with your pediatrician if your baby is not producing wet or dirty diapers.
Cluster feeding is hard on parents, especially first-time parents. Constant exhaustion and pain is no fun for anyone, but it will pass. The best thing you can do is understand what is happening with your baby, go with the flow, and ask for help if you need it.