How to survive cluster feeding (with your sanity intact)
Is your baby cluster feeding and you’re ready for it to stop? Your baby feeding every hour and not sleeping is completely normal and I’ll tell you how to survive these growth spurts.
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“My daughter is 9 days old and I’m already over breastfeeding. I’ve cried so many times because she’s not satisfied after she eats so I have to give her formula. I have no idea why my milk supply is low or what I should do to increase it.”
This mom wanted to breastfeed so badly and had no idea that her milk supply was fine and her baby was doing exactly what she needed to do to increase it the natural way.
If only she had been educated about cluster feeding before having her daughter or while in the hospital she would’ve known that this is completely normal.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby is nursing very frequently and they still may be fussy.
Typically a newborn nurses every 2-3 hours, but during cluster feeding, your newborn may nurse every 30 minutes for over an hour. This usually happens in the evening around bedtime.
Cluster feeding is frustrating for moms because we feel like our baby is still starving even though they’ve been nursing off and on for 3+ hours. This is when we either supplement with formula or start googling how to increase our milk supply.
But cluster feeding can be very beneficial despite the frustration from mom and baby.
Mom tip: Don’t supplement with formula or assume your milk supply is low when your baby is cluster feeding.
The real reason cluster feeding happens
Although science hasn’t proven exactly why cluster feeding happens, there’s a few logical assumptions.
Increase your milk supply
Since breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, the only way for your newborn to tell your body she needs more milk is to empty your breasts.
When all the milk is gone and she’s still nursing your body will realize,” Hey, all the milk is gone but she’s still hungry. We need to make more milk!”
Cluster feeding is how your baby tells your body to increase your milk supply. No supplements or vitamins needed.
Fill up the tank
Since cluster feeding usually takes place in the evening, another theory is that it’s your baby’s way of “filling up the tank” before bed.
What that means is that your baby wants to get their little tummy as full as possible so he can sleep a longer stretch (yay!).
So if he’s nursing every 30 minutes from 6pm to 9pm, let him nurse as much as he wants so he can “fill up his tank.”
Another time your newborn may cluster feed is when she’s having a growth spurt.
Your newborn’s brain is developing just as quickly as her body, so her nutritional needs have to be met to support healthy brain and body growth.
Breastfeeding isn’t only for eating, it also provides a sense of comfort and security for your little one.
Have you ever heard a mom say, “my baby is using me as a pacifier”?
Here’s the thing, you are the pacifier and your baby would use a pacifier as a replacement for the comfort and security they want from you.
During cluster feeding don’t assume your baby is starving. He may just want to snuggle with mama.
Teething or illness
According to emedicine health, “Teething can begin in infants as young as 2 months of age, even though the first tooth usually does not appear until about 6 months of age.”
Your little one may nurse more frequently when she doesn’t feel good. This provides comfort and antibodies to help build her immune system.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Now that you know possible reasons why cluster feeding happens, let’s get to the good stuff, when the heck will it be over?!
Cluster feeding usually happens multiple times between birth and 6 months and may last for a couple of days.
Mom tip: If your baby is cluster feeding for over a week, speak with a lactation consultant to make sure there aren’t any issues.
A very rough estimate of when your baby may cluster feed is around:
Again, this is a very rough timeline and all babies are different. So your newborn may cluster feed at 5 days old while Susan’s baby doesn’t cluster feed until 2 weeks old.
Don’t try to mentally prepare yourself for it to happen at these exact ages.
Should you pump during cluster feeding?
Pumping during cluster feeding isn’t recommended because this is a crucial time for your milk supply.
The only reason you would need to pump during cluster feeding is if you’re mentally and physically exhausted and you need someone else to feed the baby.
But even then you should keep pumping so your body knows to produce more milk. Power pumping during this time may help increase your milk supply although the pump isn’t as efficient as your baby.
How to survive cluster feeding
So now that you know a little more about cluster feeding and that it’s completely normal, let’s talk about how to get through this difficult and frustrating time with fewer tears.
2. Change nursing positions
Nursing in a different position will be more comfortable for both of you.
During cluster feeding, I love nursing in a side-lying position because if my daughter would fall asleep I could easily slip away without waking her up.
3. Get help
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and frustrated, let dad or someone else comfort baby while you take a break.
Once you’re more relaxed continue nursing so your milk supply won’t be negatively impacted.
4. Have fun
When you realize your baby is cluster feeding, find something fun to do that’ll take your mind off of all the excess nursing.
Some fun ideas may be:
Hunker down and make the most of these few hours your baby is cluster feeding.
5. Try to relax
Being tense and frustrated won’t make the situation any better and in fact, you may be more likely to supplement or stop breastfeeding altogether.
Remember that this is only temporary and will be over soon.
6. Bathe with baby
Taking a bath with your little one while he nurses is a great way for both of you to relax and get more sleep.
7. Stay hydrated
For your body to make liquid gold it needs plenty of water. If you’re dehydrated your milk supply will suffer and cluster feeding will last even longer because you may not be producing enough milk.
8. Use your breastfeeding station
Having somewhere comfortable to nurse that’s fully stocked with snacks and anything else you’ll need will make cluster feeding less stressful.
Having these items at your breastfeeding station will set you up for success.
9. Feed on demand
Now is not the time to worry about your baby eating more than every 2 hours.
Feed your baby as much as she wants and don’t worry about overfeeding her. And remember, she may just be nursing to snuggle with you and not eat.
10. Use white noise
Using a white noise machine will help your little one relax and drift off to sleep once they get full.
White noise sounds similar to the womb which is where your baby is used to being so making him feel like he’s back in his happy place will help him sleep longer.
How to prevent nipple pain during cluster feeding
Let’s be real, nursing your baby this frequently can get painful for your nipples. Here’s a few ways to prevent your nipples from cracking and bleeding.
Use your nipple cream
Keeping your nipples moisturized by using nipple cream after each nursing session will help them not dry out which leads to cracking and bleeding.
Wearing a bra or even a shirt may be painful to your sore nipples so let ‘em hang free and keep your nipple cream on them.
Use warm moisture
Warm moisture is a great way to get some relief. Consider taking a warm shower or bath or putting a warm washcloth on your breasts. These breast therapy packs slide right into your bra and stay warm.
When to worry about cluster feeding
Although you know cluster feeding is NORMAL, you still may be worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
You should speak to a lactation consultant if:
Try to see a lactation consultant since she’s specialized in issues that arise from breastfeeding.
Famous last words…
The biggest takeaway I want you to leave with is that cluster feeding is normal and not a sign of low milk supply.
Being educated on topics like cluster feeding will help you be prepared for these moments and know what to expect.
And if you have any breastfeeding concerns, speak with a lactation consultant since she specializes in breastfeeding issues.
Welcome! I’m LaCresha…