What is cluster feeding (and how to survive it)
You have a new little one and right as you are finally starting to settle into the enormous life change of adding another person to your family, your baby becomes extra fussy, starts sleeping shorter times and has decided to take up permanent residence at your boob. Just when you think they’re done with a feed, they start up again. Welcome to cluster feeding my friend.
This sometimes sanity-stealing phase is something that most babies will go through, typically between 3 weeks and 8 weeks old. Some babies may only cluster feed for a week, and other babies may take longer to get through the cluster feed rhythm. This behavior may return again during a growth spurt later as they will be needing more milk to compensate for the energy their body is using to develop.
So what is it exactly? Cluster feeding is when your little one seems to nurse constantly, but for very short times. They may nod off and then begin again ravenously, and continue like this for hours. Some babies are fussier eaters during cluster feeds as well, pulling off and fussing, then re-latching. Experts believe that cluster feeding is your baby's way of signaling your body to up the milk production in anticipation of a growth spurt or other nutritional need. Since breast milk is a “use it or lose it” type of commodity, consistent nursing can really up your supply in the days and weeks that follow.
Typically cluster feeding begins in the late afternoon and lasts through the evening. It can be really exhausting for you as the mom, and let’s face it, it’s no walk in the park for your nipples either. Remember that it does not mean that your milk supply is low, so no need to worry, it’s just a developmental thing that babies go through. For many babies, it ends as fast as it began. One day baby is sucking the life out of you and the next you’re back to regularly scheduled programming.
How to cope:
- Remind yourself that this isn't forever. It’s just a short season, and you can make it through. Your little one will return to a regular feeding pattern soon, and this will all be a blur.
- Try to adapt your life to this new temporary rhythm. Cluster feeds in evenings? Stop trying to make dinner every night and give yourself permission to order in. Use paper plates so you don’t have to deal with the dishes. Save some of your sanity.
- Take care of your nipples. Seriously, having a baby attached constantly is hard on them, and pain can be frustrating and discouraging for you. Try to be sure that they’re drying out completely before using nipple cream, and for goodness sake, if they hurt USE THE CREAM. Nipple cream will prevent painful cracks. You can also order some cold or hot packs to help soothe things.
- Check the latch. An agitated or sleepy baby may not be taking the time to properly latch on, which can make things more difficult for them and more uncomfortable for you. If you have any questions about latch, call a lactation consultant. Many are covered by insurance and some can even do modified Facetime/ Skype mini appointments to quickly check in with you.
- Play some music or a sound machine in the evening when you are wanting baby to soothe and get a good nurse in before sleeping
- Grab a book or binge watch a show you’ve been wanting to watch. You’re awake and you're parked in a chair. May as well try to do something semi-entertaining.
- Take a break. It’s true that this is normal and you’ll have to get back to it, but passing the baby off for even just 10-20 min can be refreshing. TIP- LEAVE THE HOUSE. Go to the backyard and sit in the sun. Take a quick walk. Hit up the coffee drive through. Call a friend you’ve been wanting to catch up with and have a good vent/ cry. At the very least go grab a hot shower and listen to some music or an audio book. We suggest leaving the house because if you’re just in the next room and the baby is still fussing, mom-instinct takes over and you’re likely to walk right back in and handle it yourself. If you leave the house or get in the shower with music, you can fully disconnect for that short break so you actually feel refreshed. Baby will be fine and you will be a better mom for taking a little break.
- Don’t stress about your routine. Cluster feeding is off book. Just accept that and don’t get bummed about the fact that dinner time is off, sleeping is off, everything is off...its fine. You’re winging it for awhile and you’ll be back to your old ways soon.
- Try new nursing positions. Nursing in the same position for hours on end can put a strain on not only your nipples but also your arms, neck, shoulders, and back. Find a few new positions to try and be sure you’re using something to help support your body.
Cluster feeding is for the birds, or the babies it seems. They (almost) all do it, and life will return to normal soon. Hang in there momma, and if you have any tips or tricks that helped you get through cluster feeding please take a sec to share below!
Team New Bloom