When a newborn is cluster feeding, it can seem overwhelming and even be hard.
But take heart, mama…there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I promise it won’t go on forever and after a while, your baby will adjust to a nursing schedule.
Here’s what you need to know about cluster feeding newborns and how to survive.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is when a newborn eats frequently over a short period of time. This usually happens in the evening and can last for several hours. Babies can be fussy and generally restless during this time and will want to nurse off and on until they fall asleep.
Why do Babies Cluster Feed?
While it is not completely known why newborns cluster feed, some experts suggest cluster feeding happens when they are going through a growth spurt. In order to meet the nutritional demands of their growing bodies, they may want to nurse very frequently in a short amount of time.
Others offer that it’s just a natural pattern of behavior that many babies go through. Many breastfed babies get fussier in the evenings and want to be held, rocked, nursed and coddled. Even when offered the breast, they may take it for a moment and then reject it again and again and continue to be inconsolable for hours before finally drifting off to sleep.
It’s important for new moms to know that this is normal behavior. There is nothing wrong with you or your baby. There is no need to offer a bottle or pacifier. Make yourself and your baby as comfortable as you can and try to relax. Although it seems like an eternity when you’re in it, know that it is temporary and the cluster feeding cycles will eventually end.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Newborn cluster feeding can begin a few weeks after birth and last through 3-4 months.
And I get it, mama.
It feels like a rollercoaster ride that never ends.
It seems like this will be your life until your baby goes to school.
You feel like you have no life because you’re permanently attached to your baby.
Don’t be discouraged. There are so many moms who have gone through and survived their cluster feeding newborn. It does get better. Try to remember all the goodness that your breast milk is providing your baby. He’s getting unparalleled nutrients and vitamins straight from you, and you’re providing a closeness and bond that will last a lifetime.
Tip: Use our breastfeeding tracker to keep tabs on how often your newborn cluster feeds so you’ll know her general pattern and be able to plan your evenings around it.
Will My Breast Milk Supply Get Low?
Since a baby nurses a lot during cluster feeding, a natural question you may have is if your milk supply will start to run low during this time.
It can be tempting to think that because your baby is simultaneously crying and nursing frequently that you aren’t producing enough milk. But remember that cluster feeding often coincides with a baby’s fussy period.
Low milk supply shouldn’t be a problem during cluster feeding. A mother’s body is a wonderful thing that can adjust itself to the needs of her baby. Breast milk works by supply and demand. The more milk that is nursed from the breast, the more it will make because the body gets the message that your baby has eaten what was there and is looking for more. Your milk supply should be fine.
Can My Cluster Feeding Newborn Overeat?
What about overeating?
Can a baby eat too much and in turn, have problems like gas and discomfort?
If you are breastfeeding a baby, usually their bodies signal to them when to stop nursing because they’ve had enough. Then you have a cluster feeding newborn, they also have this built in gauge that tells them when enough is enough.
It may seem like they are eating a lot, but because they are starting and stopping, it’s not as much as you might think. Also keep in mind that a mother’s breast milk is generally much easier on a baby’s digestion than other types of milk so having it so frequently shouldn’t cause upset stomach issues.
Practical Tips to Survive Cluster Feeding
Since cluster feeding typically occurs in the evening or night hours when moms are most tired from a long day, getting through these sessions can be hard.
Here are some ways to make it easier on yourself and get through the cluster feedings as smoothly as possible.
- Anticipate Cluster Feeding – Knowing that your baby is at the stage where cluster feeding is likely to occur can help you to already have the expectation for it. Keep an open mind and plan your evenings around your baby’s schedule so you’ll be less frustrated about not being able to do something else you had planned.
- Get Comfy – Make the time you spend with your baby as comfortable as you can. Create a special spot for the two of you to relax in that has everything you’ll need for a few hours. Have your phone and the remote within reach, keep a few favorite books and magazines nearby, have your favorite snacks on hand and everything you need to keep baby comfortable like a change of clothes and diapering supplies.
- Get Help – In case there is something that you do need during this time, alert someone else in the house that you’ll need their assistance during the time your baby cluster feeds. This isn’t always possible, especially if no one else is available to help, so try to think of everything you’ll need advance, if possible. For times there isn’t someone around to help, consider ordering in for dinner so that’s one less thing you have to worry about.
- Keep Baby Close – During this fussy time, keeping your baby close to you is a good idea. Having skin-to-ski contact or even wearing your baby in a wrap can give a level of comfort and reassurance that they need. It can also help you to have your hands free if you plan to be up and moving about.
- Self Care – This is worth mentioning because it can mean the difference between you being alert and able versus tired and irritable. Take care of yourself throughout the day when you get the chance. This may mean taking a few minutes to nap when your baby does instead of trying to cleanup. Or it could mean letting your spouse take care of the baby for a time while you get a shower and do something you want to do. This way, when the evening fussy time and cluster feeding begins, you can feel less irritable and be better able to handle it.
- Seek Support – No one understands what you’re going through quite like another mom who has also gone through it or is currently going through the same thing. Sometimes, we just need to vent and having a supportive group of like-minded mom friends to encourage us can make a world of difference. Seek out mom friends online and in your community that you can talk to when it gets really tough. Make that call or enter that online group and ask for their support or encouraging words to get you through the night. You can also contact a lactation consultant who can help you understand what is happening, what to expect and guide you through the process.
- Gather Supplies – Since your baby will be nursing frequently during this time, there’s a chance you may experience some discomfort. If you are already prone to cracked or sore nipples, you’ll want to have your own soothing remedies close by to help you through the discomfort
- Take a Break – This may be a last resort, but if it is necessary, then do it. Sometimes, when you’ve done all you can and your baby is still fussy (and you’ve ruled out the possibility that there is any other problem), you may need to just step away and take a break for a short while. Cluster feeding and fussiness can be a lot to handle and you’re not a bad mother for needing a break every once in a while. So if you find yourself in this predicament, hand your baby to a partner and let them try to calm and soothe baby while you take a few minutes for yourself. Maybe go for a short walk, take a five minute hot shower or just sit alone for a bit to help relieve your stress. Your health and wellness is just as important as your babies.
Breast and Nipple Care During Cluster Feeding
As mentioned before, your nipples are doing a lot of work during cluster feeding. With the proper latch and positioning, you shouldn’t have many problems with pain.
But what happens when there is pain from breastfeeding so often? Here are a few things that can help relieve your discomfort:
- Nipple cream
- Warm compress
- Soft nursing bra
- Loose shirt or top
- Safe pain medication (check with your doctor to make sure anything you take while breastfeeding is safe for your baby)
Problems to Rule Out First
We know that babies tend to go through fussy times and can be restless for a few hours when they are cluster feeding. Although this is normal, it’s important to rule out any serious problems a baby could have for being extremely fussy.
To rule out any serious problems, make sure:
- Baby is Comfortable – Is baby too hot? Try taking off some of her clothes especially when she is swaddled or being carried in a wrap to avoid fussing because of overheating.
- Baby isn’t overstimulated – As adults, we can stop an action or activity when we’ve had enough. A baby’s way of saying “I’ve had enough,” is to cry and fuss. If there is too much noise, light or other stimulants, reduce that activity so your baby won’t be irritated by it.
- Baby isn’t starving – Cluster feeding doesn’t mean that a baby isn’t getting enough to eat, but if you suspect that could be the case for your baby, check in with your pediatrician to have her weight and growth assessed. Your baby’s doctor can help rule out any feeding issues and reassure you if everything is fine. Also keep track of your baby’s wet diapers to make sure she is producing an adequate amount each day.
It’s possible to survive and thrive through the cluster feeding newborn stage. By understanding why your baby does it and how you can make it more manageable, you’ll get through it just fine, mama.