Is your baby suddenly nursing all the time? This article will explain what cluster feeding is, why it is happening, and how to deal with it. As a Registered Nurse and Lactation Counsellor, I get asked about cluster feeding often. I am also a mom to three beautiful children. My youngest is six weeks old and we are currently going through a phase of cluster feeding ourselves. I absolutely understand how overwhelming it can feel when you are in the thick of it. There are a couple of different reasons why your baby is cluster feeding and I am going to explain to them and share some tips for dealing with each of them.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds frequently in a short period of time. It is often in the evening or during a growth spurt. A common scenario would be: You feed your baby and get them settled. Then not even 15-30 minutes later they are crying. You try rocking and cuddling but they are rooting and sucking on their hands. It can’t be time to feed again, you just finished feeding! Your little one seems hungry and so you feed them again. Then they are hungry again in an hour or less. You start worrying that your supply may be low or that they aren’t feeling well. This is a typical cycle of cluster feeding. Rest assured, cluster feeding is completely normal and it is beneficial to both you and your baby. So why is cluster feeding occurring?
It is important to understand that breastmilk runs on a supply and demand feedback loop. When your baby empties your breast a signal is sent to make more milk. Babies are very good at ensuring that they get the calories they require and will nurse accordingly. Here are some common reasons your baby is cluster feeding and what to expect.
Newborn – Feeding In The First 72 hours
If you have just welcomed your beautiful baby into the world you may notice by night two they are ravenous. The first 24 hours is usually marked by routine nursing and periods of sleep but by 24 hours your sweet baby has woken up to the world and their job is to get your milk flowing.
This period can be exhausting for new moms. You have just delivered a new baby and are still adjusting to taking care of this new little person. With such frequent nursing sessions, there is little time for rest and sleep. It is important that you nurse your baby as much as they require in this period. These nursing sessions are what will stimulate your milk coming in and help nourish your baby.
To handle your first experience with cluster feeding make sure you ask for help. Between feeds get your partner or family to snuggle the baby while you get some rest. If you are experiencing pain with nursing, talk with your nurse or lactation support to assess for any issues with latch. Make sure to stay hydrated and eat frequent healthy meals. Try to avoid the use of a soother or supplementation (unless recommended) until your milk supply has been established.
Cluster Feeding During Growth Spurts
If you notice that your little one is nursing much more frequently around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months or 6 months, hold off on buying any more outfits for a little while. These are common periods of rapid growth and your little one is most likely experiencing a growth spurt.
During times of increased growth, your baby’s caloric needs increase and they will need to nurse more often. These periods of cluster feeding will also increase your milk supply to keep up with your growing baby. Things will return to normal when your milk supply increases to meet your baby’s demand. Usually a few days.
Cluster Feeding in the Evening or Night
Cluster feeding in the evening is very common. I am currently experiencing this myself and it can be a challenge. Milk supply is naturally lower in the evening and night. Babies also tend to be fussier in the evenings and are often feeding frequently to prepare for a longer stretch of sleep. All of this contributes to periods of cluster feeding.
One of the best ways to deal with evening cluster feeding is to recognize the pattern and prepare for it. Prep dinner earlier in the day or ask your partner or family to help prepare meals and watch other children. Get into some comfy clothes, grab some snacks and water, cue up Netflix or grab a book and settle in. Between feedings ask your family to snuggle baby or wear them in a carrier.
The good news is that evening cluster feeding is usually to prepare your baby for a longer stretch of sleep. Think of it as them fueling up, and a longer stretch of sleep for baby means more sleep you, which is a good thing!
When To Get Help
Cluster feeding should only last a few days in newborns and during growth spurts or be limited to a set time like the evening or night. If you have noticed that your baby is cluster feeding longer than seems normal, seems fussy all the time, or has decreased weight gain or wet diapers it would be advisable to see your doctor or a health professional to rule out any other issues. I know cluster feeding can be a difficult phase to deal with. Try and enjoy this time with your little one and know that it won’t last forever.
About the Author:
Robin Forslund is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counsellor and runs The Mama Coach in Edmonton, Alberta. After welcoming her first daughter and struggling with sleep and breastfeeding, Robin became passionate about helping other women find their confidence and joy in motherhood. When she isn’t in the ER or helping other mamas, Robin can be found enjoying all that life can offer surrounded by her two beautiful daughters, new baby boy, and fabulous husband (probably with a coffee in hand).
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