Is your newborn cluster feeding and fussy?
Do you wonder why your baby is nursing every hour, and whether you’ll ever sleep at night again?
The following tips have been written to help new parents cope with the exhausting days and fussy evenings when all their baby wants to do is nurse.
What is a cluster feed?
What exactly is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding (also known as bunch feeding) is when an infant’s feedings cluster close together at certain times of the day or night.
Usually, this means your baby might have some really fussy evenings, and you might end up feeling confused and wondering whether your baby is getting enough milk.
Don’t worry. Many babies cluster feed during the early months.
It’s not a reflection of a low supply and it’s likely your baby gets exactly what he needs from you.
Why do babies cluster feed?
It’s normal for newborn babies to nurse around 8-12 times per day.
Your baby may nurse quite frequently already. Frequent feeding and fussy evenings, though, can feel like one big feeding session when you have a cluster-feeding newborn.
The exact reason for the cluster feeding phase is unknown, but research shows it’s normal infant behavior.
Experts assume cluster feeding is a way for babies to boost their mother’s milk supply during growth spurts.
Your baby’s stomach grows rapidly during the first few months of life. This means your body must produce more milk to meet the increased demand.
Babies also need more nutrition to support new development such as rolling, crawling, or talking.
Cluster feedings could be nature’s way of kick-starting this process.
There’s more information in 3 Reasons Why Your Baby Needs To Feed So Often.
Why does my newborn cluster feed at night?
Evenings and night times with an unsettled newborn can be trying.
When newborns are fussy at night, it could be due to hunger. There could also be a range of other reasons – for example, your milk flow might be too fast or too slow.
Read 7 Reasons Why Babies Fuss At The Breast to find out more.
Some experts believe babies nurses frequently at night because they’re filling up on fattier milk before a big sleep.
Interestingly, the less full a breast is – such as during the evening – the fattier the milk tends to be.
It’s unlikely your child will sleep through the night during these first few months. But you might notice longer stretches of sleep following an evening of fussiness and constant feeds.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Cluster feeding sessions can last for several hours at a time and are most common in the late afternoon and in the evening. This might vary between babies.
Although babies often leave a couple of hours between feeds most of the day, there is usually constant or close-together nursing over a few hours (often from 6 to 10 pm).
At what age do babies cluster feed?
Cluster feeding is very common in newborns and babies under 9 months old.
Many babies start cluster feeding as soon as the first few days after birth and this can last for most of their first year.
Some mothers, however, notice cluster feeding returns with older babies who are approaching a growth spurt or developmental leap.
You can read more about this in Wonder Weeks – How They Help You Understand Your Baby.
Cluster feeding and low milk supply
Cluster feeding is not a reflection of a low breast milk supply.
Cluster feeding is not a reflection of a low breast milk supply.
I said it twice, in case you didn’t believe me the first time.
It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking their son or daughter isn’t getting enough when nursing.
This often happens if you have a well-meaning family that pressures you to give the baby a bottle, or a partner who wonders why the baby is always hungry.
It’s natural to start doubting yourself. The good news is, this is simply nature’s way of increasing your milk supply.
Unless you or your health care provider is worried about your baby’s weight gain and development, or you notice fewer wet and dirty nappies, your baby is likely getting enough milk.
What about supplementing with formula?
Some mothers who worry cluster feeding is due to low milk supply feel they should supplement with formula.
The problem is, if you supplement during cluster feeding periods, your breasts and body won’t receive the feeding cues your baby needs more milk.
As a result of reduced demand, your milk supply decreases. Soon, you find you’re not producing enough milk to support your growing child.
So begins a vicious cycle: you continue supplementing and your supply decreases even more. You can feel as though you’re ‘failing at breastfeeding’ when you really aren’t.
If your baby is producing a good amount of wet and dirty nappies, it’s unlikely you have a breast milk supply problem.
It’s a good idea to make yourself familiar with the reliable signs your baby is getting enough milk.
If you’re concerned about cluster feeding or milk supply, see a lactation consultant or call a breastfeeding helpline before deciding to supplement with artificial milk.
7 tips to cope with cluster feeding
Here are our 7 cluster feeding ideas to help make cluster feeding times a little easier to cope with.
Babies usually develop a cluster feeding routine.
You might find that you’re feeding the baby between 6 and 10 pm every evening.
Once you know this, you can accept it and plan your evening around it. It stops you from feeling frustrated when things are going to ‘plan’.
Many parents can end up feeling babies aren’t ‘cooperating’ when they won’t settle. Once you accept this is part of the daily routine, you can relax.
#2: Stay hydrated
Producing breast milk is a thirsty business. You could find yourself particularly parched during the evening cluster feeding.
Make sure you have a big glass of water (even better with a slice of lemon) next to you when you sit down to start fussy evenings breastfeeding.
Or perhaps you might like a nice warm cup of lactation tea.
You can buy teas made especially for breastfeeding mothers, to help support your supply. Herbal teas also help keep you hydrated.
Another great option is electrolytes – not those sugar-loaded, lolly-water sports drinks, but quality electrolytes from a health food store.
#3: Get comfy
If you know you’re going to be stuck somewhere for big feeding sessions, make sure you’re comfortable.
Whether you’re snuggled up in bed or propped up on the sofa, make sure you have something to read, your phone, TV remotes, and DVD box sets nearby to keep you entertained.
You might even like to try a white noise machine or soft music in the background, to help create a soothing space.
Learn some different nursing positions so you don’t get tired or achy from being in the same position for a long period of time.
#4: Eat first
If you know your baby likes to kick off cluster feeding at 6 pm, make sure you’ve eaten before then.
There’s nothing worse than listening to your tummy growl while your baby slowly enjoys a three-course meal.
A great suggestion is to have a stash of BellyBelly’s delicious lactation cookies well within reach.
#5: Get a breastfeeding partner
You’ve heard of a birth partner; now you need a breastfeeding partner, too.
Dads can be a huge support and help you persevere through these cluster feeds.
They can also be willing volunteers – to get you snacks, drinks and provide entertaining conversations to keep you amused during cluster feeds.
Family members can be great to call on for support, if possible. They can hold your little one if you need to go to the toilet or if you’re feeling touched out and your breasts need a quick break.
#6: Look for hunger cues
If you tend to have a fussy, hungry, and irritable baby in the evenings, act preemptively before it gets out of hand.
Instead of waiting for the crying to start (which is a late signal of hunger), look out for hunger cues and offer the breast immediately. This reduces the chance your baby will become fussy and irritable.
Knowing your baby really well helps you feel confident in yourself as a new parent, and can also help you bond with your baby.
#7: Take baby out in a baby carrier
Feeding your baby in a sling means you’ll have your hands free to get on with other things.
Babywearing also helps keep fussy babies content, because they feel safe and happy being close to you. Skin-to-skin contact can help soothe their nervous system, which is still developing.
This KeaBabies Wrap Carrier (pictured) is a best seller on Amazon. The wrap is made from a premium quality breathable cotton-spandex blend, to keep you and your baby safe and comfortable.
We hope you found our cluster feeding tips really helpful.
- 3 Reasons Why Your Baby Needs To Feed So Often
- Low Milk Supply? Increase Breastmilk Supply With These Great Tips
- Is My Baby Hungry? Do I Have Enough Milk?
- Not Enough Milk? Concerned About Your Milk Supply?
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