You’re a new mom. Breastfeeding has been going great. You and your little one have settled into a comfy, predictable routine. Suddenly, your predictable little baby starts eating every 15 minutes, day and night! You’re exhausted, confused, and worried if your milk is drying up. What could be happening?
The good news is, this isn’t necessarily indicative of a problem! When a baby suddenly nurses more frequently than usual, this is called cluster feeding. Cluster feeding can occur at different points in the day and different points in your baby’s growth and development.
Cluster feeding often occurs in the evening, as baby “stores up” for a longer period of sleep at night, and also during growth spurts, when baby stimulates your body to produce more milk by nursing more often. For example, a baby may eat every 30 minutes between 5pm and 10pm, but then sleep until 3am. Cluster feeding may even help your baby sleep through the night!
Cluster feeding doesn’t mean that your milk supply is lacking, either. Resist the urge to supplement with formula or pump extra milk to bottle-feed after a nursing session. This may interfere with your body’s natural cycle of milk production. Do your best to ignore advice from well-meaning relatives to just give your baby a bottle of formula, or your spouse that may constantly nag you about your baby being so hungry all the time. Try to embrace cluster feeding, knowing your baby’s constant nursing is increasing your milk supply to meet your little one’s growing needs.
Although it can be exhausting, cluster feeding is biologically normal. Newborns, due to their rapid growth, are especially prone to cluster feeding. During the first few months of life, your baby’s stomach expands rapidly, and your body must constantly adjust to meet her changing nutritional needs. Be prepared for spurts of cluster feeding during your baby’s first three months of life.
Cluster feeding can also be a challenge because it often occurs during fussy times for your little one. Cluster feeding usually occurs in the late afternoon or early evening, during periods of illness, and during times of rapid change in physical development (growth spurts) or cognitive development (leaps). During these periods, your baby may pull off the breast, become frustrated, and cry often. You will probably feel exhausted, and some moms feel like a failure, but remember:
Cluster feeding is completely normal.
If cluster feeding is normal, natural, and to be expected…how do you cope during those times?
- Figure out your baby’s schedule.
Try to track when your baby typically cluster feeds, and plan accordingly. Babies typically develop a cluster feeding routine. If you figure out when your baby normally cluster feeds, you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
2. Stay hydrated.
Breastfeeding moms need to stay hydrated in order to be successful. You may notice that you become even more thirsty during periods of cluster feeding. Try keeping a water bottle nearby at all times and track how much you drink throughout the day. There are also special teas that supposedly help aid lactation. If you don’t enjoy plain water, try adding a piece of fruit to your drink or try sparkling water.
3. Find a good television show.
The TV will be your best friend. Cluster feeding babies give a whole new meaning to “Netflix and chill.” When baby goes through periods of frequent feeding, find a comfy spot in the house to park yourself for an hour or two, and relax. Cluster feeding can actually force busy moms to take a breather!
4. Baby wear.
If you really need to get stuff done (we all have endless to-do lists!) during periods of cluster feeding, try breastfeeding while baby wearing. While it’s not for everyone, it may help to at least give it a try. Soft baby carriers such as the KeaBabies Baby Wrap Carrier can be particularly helpful for nursing on the go! To understand how best to breastfeed while wearing a baby, try looking up a few tutorials online.
5. Find a friend.
Get your spouse or a friend on board! If you’re constantly trapped under a nursing baby, try enlisting the help of someone you know to help bring you snacks, water, or just provide friendly conversation so you don’t become bored!
Even though it may seem draining and endless at the time, rest assured that cluster feeding doesn’t last forever. It’s normal, natural, and helps boost that wonderful milk supply so you can meet your baby’s ever-changing needs! If you do feel that you may have a milk supply issue, contact your OB or an IBCLC (lactation consultant) for some help.