Breastfeeding Basics: Cluster FeedingYou 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?
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?
What is cluster feeding?
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 at different points in your baby’s growth and development. Cluster feeding ages vary among babies and typically occurs during baby's growth spurts.
Cluster feeding, sometimes called bunch feeding, often occurs in the evening, as the 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 cluster feed every 30 minutes between 5 pm and 10 pm, but then sleep until 3 am. 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 baby’s growing needs. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body makes, you don't have to worry about low milk supply. As long as your baby is gaining weight and you notice an increasing number of wet and dirt diapers, then everything is perfectly normal.
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 baby. 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?
1. Figure out your baby’s schedule.
Sleep deprivation is a normal part of parenting, especially during growth spurts when babies cluster feed. 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. You have to be specially observant of these schedule during your baby's growth spurts.
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 the 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 fussy babies can actually force busy moms to take a breather!
If you really need to get stuff done (we all have endless to-do lists!) during periods of cluster feeding, try breastfeeding while babywearing. While it’s not for everyone, it may help to at least give it a try. Babywearing can help keep a fussy baby feel close and secure. 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 using a baby carrier, try looking up a few tutorials online. Once you master feeding your baby while in a baby carrier, you can even walk around and do about some simple chores while breastfeeding.
Moreover, you can also find a lactation consultant who is also a babywearing educator. It is always a good idea to seek help of qualified professionals to guide you through baby cluster feeding.
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 phase 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 especially during growth spurt! This, among many others, is one of the things breastfeeding mothers should expect during the baby's first year. If you do feel that you may have a low milk supply issue, or any issues concerning baby feeding, contact your OB or an IBCLC (lactation consultant) for some help.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Avery K.
When she isn’t looking after the many needs of her 2 kids, Avery enjoys taking walks in the park, enjoying nature, and getting her daily fix of caffeine.