Cluster Feeding: What It Is, Plus 5 Tips For Coping With It
Is your baby cluster feeding? This can be one of the most challenging times of your breastfeeding journey.
The worst part is that it may have happened when things were beginning to go well. Your little one was nursing every couple of hours or so; you were starting to understand their feeding, sleeping, and playing patterns; and it felt like you were getting the hang of things.
But suddenly, things changed. Your baby started feeding much more frequently — which makes you more tired and sleep-deprived — and it feels like it will go on forever.
Naturally, you have questions:
- What exactly happened?
- Why is your baby feeding so often?
- Is there something wrong with your milk supply?
- When will this end?
Read on as the experts at Mustela answer these questions and more to help you cope with this challenging (but natural!) nursing phase.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
While every child is different, most newborns will nurse every two to four hours and get around 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day. However, cluster feeding completely changes this typical nursing pattern.
During this period (which often occurs in the evening), your baby will feed much more often, sometimes every half hour. In addition to feeding more, your baby may also become increasingly fussy.
It’s common knowledge that babies, especially newborns, need to nurse a lot.
But is this normal?
The short answer to this question is — Yes!
While things might feel overwhelming at the moment, cluster feeding is perfectly normal. These grouped feeding sessions are helping your growing baby get the nutrients and calories they need for their development.
And the great news is that it will soon be over as cluster feeding typically only lasts a few days or up to a week. That said, if you’re a first-time mom, you may be wondering why this is happening in the first place. Let’s take a look!
Why Is Your Baby Cluster Feeding?
There’s a lot of research behind why babies might suddenly start nursing more. Here are the top three reasons studies have found.
1) Growth Spurts
The most common reason for cluster feeding is that your baby is going through a growth spurt.
Healthline explains that “a growth spurt is a time during which your baby has a more intense period of growth. During this time, they may want to nurse more frequently, change sleep patterns, and generally be fussier.”
While the specific periods of growth spurts may vary, a baby will typically experience growth spurts at around one to three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, and nine months of age.
Cluster feeding during this period is understandable because, as your baby grows, their nutritional needs will naturally increase. The milk they used to find satisfying at three weeks won’t be enough at three months of age.
Since your milk supply is relative to how much your baby nurses, the more they feed the more they trigger your body to produce milk.
You can think of cluster feeding as nature’s way of ensuring that your baby gets the right amount of milk from you when they need it.
2) Reduced Milk Supply At Night
While cluster feeding can happen at any time during the day, it commonly occurs during the evening or toward the end of the day.
Why this specific period? Breastfeeding moms often experience a drop in their milk supply later in the day.
Naturally, this will mean your little one’s feeding sessions won’t be as satisfying as they are during the day. So, your baby may need to feed more to get full.
Sometimes your baby isn’t going through a growth spurt or trying to fill up. So, why do they continue feeding? They may be comfort nursing.
Research has shown that breast milk has properties that can offer relief from pain. And if your baby is tired, comfort nursing can help your baby relax before getting a good night’s rest.
Cluster feeding may not be the most comfortable for you, but we hope you understand that this is perfectly natural and will soon subside. Your little one needs you right now!
But while you’re waiting to get through this period, what can you do to make your life a little easier? Take a look at our tips below.
5 Tips To Help You Cope With Cluster Feeding
1) Don’t Be Hard On Yourself
This is a time when many mothers can start to feel like their milk supply isn’t sufficient. Some might also consider formula to help fill their babies up.
If you were planning to exclusively breastfeed for a while, know that cluster feeding is actually helping you produce the milk your baby needs, and reducing the amount of nursing time could decrease your milk supply.
So, start by giving yourself a break! You didn’t do anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with your milk supply.
While it’s not an easy period, know that this is a part of your baby’s growth and development, and it will soon pass.
2) Eat Often And Stay Hydrated
Cluster feeding can be physically draining to breastfeeding moms. And sometimes, as a mom to a newborn, it’s easy to forget about yourself.
But the truth is the more your baby nurses, the more energy you need.
So, it’s essential to take care of yourself. Make sure that you always have some water and your favorite snacks nearby so you can keep yourself well-hydrated and nourished and get the energy you need during and after feeding sessions.
3) Take Care Of Yourself...And Your Nipples
We don’t have to say too much to convince you about the importance of taking care of your nipples.
If you’ve been breastfeeding for a while, you’ll know that the more your baby feeds, the more painful and irritated your nipples can become. Sometimes, they might even start to crack.
To help you cope with this pain and discomfort, look for gentle nipple creams or ointments such as Mustela’s Nursing Comfort Balm, which is natural and safe to use for nursing and expecting mothers.
If you’re experiencing a lot of pain while breastfeeding, you might also want to consult with a lactation expert to help you improve your baby’s latching.
These little steps will help you see a significant improvement in how comfortable you are when breastfeeding.
4) Consider Different Feeding Positions And Clothing
Comfort is one of the key components in helping improve the way your baby’s feeding sessions go. Ensure that you wear practical clothing, like nursing bras and loose clothing for both you and your baby.
In addition, consider switching up your breastfeeding position until you find one that’s comfortable for you and your little one. Speaking of comfort…
- Is there a new show on Netflix you want to catch up on? Why not nurse in front of the TV?
- Do you have a favorite podcast you haven’t had the time to listen to? Grab your EarPods.
- How about an audiobook you recently purchased?
Your baby’s cluster feeding sessions can be enjoyable for both you and your baby!
5) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Sometimes mothers want to do it all by themselves. But one of the main things we hope you remember from this article is that you don’t have to go through this alone!
Realistically, it will be challenging to cook, clean, or do anything else around the house if your baby is going through a cluster feeding period.
So, why not ask for help from your loved ones? Lean on their support to give you the strength you need to make it through this time.
If you’re a new mom, consider finding a mom’s group in your area or online where you can ask all the questions about breastfeeding and newborns that
Google doesn’t always have answers to.
The more you speak to other moms who’ve gone through similar situations, the more you’ll see that you are not alone.
Cluster Feeding Won’t Last Forever
As a parent to a newborn, you’re probably running on little sleep. While it can be overwhelming, remember that cluster feeding doesn’t last long.
As highlighted earlier, most babies will cluster feed for a couple of days, and some up to a week. So, just hang in there, mommy!
While you’re hanging in there, remember to take care of yourself by applying soothing nipple creams, eating well, and giving yourself some much-needed (and deserved) TLC!