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Inside: Here are the best tips for how to deal with cluster feeding without losing your sanity. Don’t let your cluster-feeding-baby drain you anymore.
Cluster feeding: the good, the bad, the exhausting. Here’s everything you need to know about cluster feeding and your baby.
It may not feel like it right now, but cluster feeding passes just as quickly as it comes. Here’s what you can expect with your cluster feeding baby.
Before we get to it, here are the top three products that will help any mom survive the cluster feeding phase:
- A baby carrier designed for breastfeeding on the go
- Philips AVENT Soothie for fussy newborns
- Haakaa hands-free breast pump
Here’s your definitive guide to successful cluster feeding to ensure all those hours spent nursing aren’t wasted.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is when a baby starts doing short, frequent feedings rather than longer feedings that are spaced further apart.
Normally, cluster feeding is considered to be when a baby nurses 12 or more times in a 24 hour period. Often, out of those 12 times, a majority of them will be clumped close together so it may feel like you are nursing your baby for 3 hours straight without them coming up for air once.
Cluster feeding is often followed by a longer break between feedings, which is why cluster feeding is quite common when babies start to sleep longer stretches at a time.
Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?
While it may feel like your baby is simply nursing just to nurse, there’s a good chance they have a reason behind their constant need to feed. If you’re wondering what causes cluster feeding, you’re in the right place.
Some common reasons why babies cluster feed are:
- Cluster feeding helps prime mom’s body to sustain a growing child. In other words, when your baby is heading towards a growth spurt, cluster feeding will prepare your body for supporting your baby by increasing your milk supply.
- Preparing for a long stretch. Some babies will cluster feed in the evenings to fill their bellies in preparation for a longer stretch of sleep at night.
- Milk flows slower at night, so babies may need to feed several times before becoming completely filled.
- Growth spurt. If your baby is about to experience a growth spurt, or in the middle of one, you may notice their feeding schedules getting messed up with their need to nurse much more often.
- Developmental milestones. Some babies experience cluster feeding stints when they hit new developmental milestones. You may notice your baby rooting for more milk after learning how to roll over, sit up, or reach for their toys.
- Needing soothing. Sometimes babies just long to feel close to their mothers. Some cluster feeding marathons may be simply out of a need to be soothed.
- Feeling unwell. Some mothers find it easy to confuse feeling unwell with cluster feeding. If your child is sick, they will have a tendency to want to nurse more often, or even just be on the boob without nursing.
When Do Babies Cluster Feed?
Cluster feeding is nothing short of exhausting. Before we get to the tips to help you learn how to deal with cluster feeding and a baby who wants to live on the boob, here’s a quick cluster feeding timeline to help you know exactly what to expect and how long cluster feeding lasts.
Cluster feeding will often accompany your baby’s growth spurts, making the 3-week and 6-week marks the most common ages for cluster feeding.
Other common ages and stages when babies cluster feed are:
- 10 days
- 3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
Signs of Cluster Feeding
Now that you know when to expect your baby to start cluster feeding, that doesn’t mean they will cluster feed when they reach every one of those ages. In fact, you may find them cluster feeding at different ages and stages altogether.
To keep things straight and know whether your baby is just cluster feeding or if there’s a bigger problem to watch out for, here are some signs that baby is cluster feeding:
- Increased fussiness unless on the breast
- Rooting (acting hungry) immediately after nursing
- Not satisfied after draining both breasts
- Short, much more frequent feedings, followed by longer stretches between feedings
If all these things line up – and especially if your baby is around any of the ages mentioned above – there’s a good chance your baby is cluster feeding.
Keep reading below to rule out problems that may be happening rather than cluster feeding.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Typically, cluster feeding will pass just as quickly as it comes. The average baby will cluster feed for 1 – 2 days, and up to one week. If cluster feeding persists for more than a week, you will want to talk with baby’s doctor to be sure nothing is wrong.
How to Deal With Cluster Feeding – 8 Need-to-Know Tips
Mentally, emotionally, and physically, you’re drained.
Cluster feeding is no joke – and it can be especially frustrating and worrisome when you don’t know what to expect or how to cope.
Here are a few things you can do to help you learn how to deal with cluster feeding for new – and seasoned – moms:
1. Get lots of rest
Any chance you get, rest. Don’t feel bad for taking a midday siesta and certainly don’t feel bad if you can’t keep up with all the things.
Breastfeeding is a lot of work.
Never mind when you have a tiny human latched to you like a leech for hours on end. Give yourself permission to take it easy.
2. Eat healthily
Eating healthy will help give you a boost of energy when you need it most.
WebMD states that,
“The best energizing foods are those that are rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting substances.”
Pairing these foods with a dash of healthy fats will provide you with that boost of energy that you so desperately need to make it through the
afternoon slump all-day slump.
Some breastfeeding-safe, lactation-boosting, healthy snacks are:
- Nuts and Dried Fruit
- Greek Yogurt & Granola
- Oat & Nut Waffles
3. Set up a nursing station
Wherever you plan to spend most of your time sitting while nursing, set up a little nursing station.
This station should include some of your favorite (and healthy) snacks, water, nipple cream, a good book, a nursing pillow, burp rags, and anything else you like to have nearby to occupy you as the hours go by.
4. Enlist help
Don’t feel bad for asking for help. Ask your best friend to watch the other kids while you catch up on some much-needed rest. See if your mom can cook a meal for your family. Ask your husband to tidy the house.
Don’t feel bad for handing the baby off to an eager auntie who would love some extra cuddle time or a grandma who misses the kids.
5. Bottle feed
If you need a break, pull out the bottles and ask your husband to bottle-feed the baby for the evening.
Of course, so that your milk supply doesn’t diminish, you will need to still pump for the feedings you miss, but it may still help you feel like you’re getting a bit of a break.
6. Get comfortable
Finding a position that is comfortable for both you and baby is important during cluster feeding. This will result in a more content baby, a happier mom, and will make it all-around more bearable.
If your eyes start drooping at the thought of sitting on the couch all evening feeding the baby, find a comfortable position that you can lay down in to feed baby so you can both get some rest.
7. Baby carriers
Some baby carriers – this one in particular – make it easy to nurse baby on the go.
Strap them in, help them find the boob, and you’re set to go. Carrying baby around in a baby carrier during cluster feeding will enable you to be able to feed baby without being couch-bound.
Nursing baby while making supper? You’ve got this.
8. Have patience
As with all things, this phase in your baby’s life will pass.
And then it will come back again.
…and then it will pass. Again.
Accept the fact that for the next several days you won’t be getting much of anything done – other than being baby’s all-you-can-eat buffet.
It will pass just as quickly as it comes.
Potential Problems to Watch Out For
Worried that what your babe is going through isn’t as simple as a harmless cluster feeding stage? Here are some possible problems to watch for:
Not enough nutrients in the milk
Breastfeeding has been deemed the healthiest option for babies for years. It’s chock-full of nutrition and immunity boosters, after all.
However, in some cases the breast milk mom produces isn’t always nutritious enough.
If your baby seems to be cluster feeding but isn’t gaining weight, or is losing weight, it could be due to a lack of nutrients in the breast milk.
Baby isn’t producing adequate amount of wet and dirty diapers
In young babies, you should expect to see at least eight wet diapers a day. Around 3 months, that number drops to about four to five wet diapers per day.
If your baby seems to be cluster feeding but isn’t peeing regularly, it’s time to get things checked out.
Cluster feeding that lasts longer than a week
Generally, cluster feeding will last from 2 days up to a week. Anything longer than a week and you should be checking with baby’s doc. (Source)
Cluster feeding can bring on things like nipple soreness, blisters, cracking, and bleeding. To prevent this from happening, keep a bottle of good-quality nipple cream nearby while nursing. (Be sure the cream you choose has lanolin in it. That’s the secret ingredient. This brand is a popular choice.)
Should I Supplement With Formula?
Unless your baby isn’t gaining weight, you’ve stopped producing milk, or you’ve been advised otherwise, try not to supplement too much or else your body won’t produce enough milk.
The main purpose of cluster feeding is usually to prepare your body to produce more milk, to sustain a growing child. But if you cut back on the amount of breast milk that your baby is drinking, your body will cut back on breast milk production.
Instead, if you find your body isn’t producing enough milk, start pumping between feedings to keep your supply up.
Cluster feeding is not a sign up low milk supply (unless there’s something else going on and your baby is not just cluster feeding).
If you need a break, allow someone else to feed baby breast milk from a bottle – but remember to pump for the feeding that you missed to keep supply from dropping.
Two things you can do to boost breast milk supply is pump between feedings to encourage more production and offer both breasts at each feeding.
If offering both breasts at each feeding doesn’t work, pump the breast that didn’t get drained.
You can use a Haakaa breast pump for hands-free pumping while baby is nursing.
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
Though exhausting, cluster feeding isn’t all bad. Here are some benefits of clustering feeding to recognize and appreciate.
- Baby (should) be sleeping longer stretches. Generally baby’s will fill their tanks in the evening to prepare for a longer stretch of nighttime sleep to come. That’s something to be thankful for.
- Melatonin will help them sleep. Melatonin levels in breast milk peak at night, which is a good sign for you. Hopefully, the more baby nurses in the evening, the more their body’s are getting infused with melatonin, which will help them sleep better.
- Building milk supply. Cluster feeding tells your body to mass produce milk. In other words, if you have a milk supply that’s lacking, cluster feeding will kick it into shape.
- Bonding. With all the extra hours spent breastfeeding, it’s that many more hours of bonding that you get with your precious babe. (The same babe who will grow up and no longer need you in the blink of an eye. Treasure these moments.)
How to Soothe a Fussy Baby
“Help, my baby is still fussy!”
If your baby is unsatisfied after feedings, here are a few things you can try (as always, if you’re concerned, call your baby’s doctor immediately).
Hold baby, stomach down, on your arm
If your baby is fussy due to an upset stomach, holding them in this position will apply light pressure to their abdomen, relieving some the the pain they may be feeling.
Place baby on their stomach on your forearm, letting their legs hand on either side of your arm and supporting their head in your palm (turning their head to one side, so they are not face down in your palm).
Some babies love being swaddled, others don’t. Try swaddling them to help them feel safe and secure. If it’s not working, unswaddle them so they don’t feel restricted.
If all else fails and baby is acting like they have an upset stomach, gripe water contains a mix of herbs and is used to soothe fussy, colicky babies.
*Always talk to a doctor before giving your baby anything new.
Gripe water is considered safe for babies, though it is recommended to wait until they are over one month old.
Be caution when buying gripe water that you stay away from the brands which include alcohol, too much sugar, peppermint, or sodium bicarbonate.
(According to a Healthline article, sodium bicarbonate can sometimes worsen colic symptoms and peppermint can worsen baby’s reflux symptoms.)
This particular brand of gripe water is specifically made for newborns and doesn’t contain any of the above ingredients.
“My Baby Wants to Nurse All The Time“
If your baby is fussy and wants to nurse all the time, here are a few ideas to try:
- Damp cloth. If baby falls asleep while nursing before getting a bellyful and wakes up hungry, try placing a cool, damp cloth on baby’s feet to keep them awake or tickle their feet, hands, and back to keep them from falling asleep before they’re done.
- Extra cuddles. Some babies will want to nurse all the time because they long for the comfort and security that comes with being close to their mother. Try swaddling them up and holding them close or tucking them into a snuggly baby carrier to help them feel close to you, without the need to nurse. (Be aware, though, this does have the potential of making your baby more upset that they’re that close to you but aren’t able to nurse.)
- Adjust your expectations. Babies will go through stages where all they want to do is nurse – this is normal and expected. Adjust your expectations, clear your schedule, and give yourself permission to dismiss your duties for the next few days. Other things can wait, your baby needs you.
When your baby is 5 years old and no longer needs you like they do right now, you will never regret the extra time spent cuddling, nursing, and loving on the little baby they once were.
How to Deal With Cluster Feeding: Conclusion
Cluster feeding can take its toll on every mom. Use the tips above to learn how to deal with cluster feeding and not only make it through – but thrive through this stage of motherhood.