Cluster feeding is very common in young babies. Some mums also report cluster feeding returning with older babies who are approaching a growth spurt.
Cluster Feeding – It’s Natural
Cluster feeding can be very frustrating for new mums. You are undoubtedly exhausted, and probably emotional from the postnatal hormones whirring around in your body, and cluster feeding can feel never ending. Babies are often fussy during periods of cluster feeding. Pulling off the breast, crying and general fussiness can all add to your frustration.
It can also make you feel like a failure. You may worry that you’re not producing enough milk to satisfy your baby, or that you are unable to soothe your fussy baby. Do not worry, cluster feeding is completely normal. Most babies will cluster feed during the early months. It is not a reflection of low milk supply.
Why Does Cluster Feeding Happen?
The exact reasons for cluster feeding are unknown, however experts assume it is designed to boost milk production. Your baby’s stomach grows rapidly during the first few months of life, and your body must produce more milk to meet the increased demand. Cluster feeding may be natures way of kick-starting this process.
Some experts believe that babies cluster feed in the evenings because they are filling up on milk before a big sleep. Although it is unlikely your baby will sleep through the night during the first few months, you may notice a longer stretch of sleep following an evening of cluster feeds.
Cluster Feeding And Low Milk Supply
Cluster feeding is not a reflection of low milk supply. Cluster feeding is not a reflection of low milk supply. I said it twice in case you didn’t believe me the first time. If you’ve got a mother in law pressuring you to give the baby a bottle, and a husband wondering why the baby is always hungry, it’s natural to start doubting yourself.
Please believe me when I say you should not worry about your milk supply. Cluster feeding is nature’s way of increasing milk supply. If you supplement with formula, your body will not receive the cluster feeding cues that the baby needs more milk, and soon you will find that you are not producing enough milk to feed your growing baby, and so the prophecy comes true and you have to continue supplementing.
If your baby is producing a good amount of wet and dirty nappies, it is unlikely you have a supply problem. However, if you are concerned and wish to speak to someone, you could contact your healthcare practitioner or a local breastfeeding peer supporter.
How To Cope With Cluster Feeding
Cluster Feeding Tip #1 – Acceptance
Babies usually develop a cluster feeding routine. You may find that between 6 and 10pm every evening, you are feeding the baby. Once you know this, you can accept it and plan your evening around it. That way you won’t feel frustrated that your plans have gone awry.
Cluster Feeding Tip #2 – Stay Hydrated
Producing breast milk is thirst business. You may find yourself particularly parched during periods of cluster feeding. Make sure you have a big glass of water next to you when you sit down to start feeding.
Cluster Feeding Tip #3 – Get Comfy
If you know you’re going to be stuck somewhere for four hours, make sure you’re comfortable. Whether you’re snuggled up in bed, or propped up on the sofa, make sure you have your books, magazines, smart phone, TV remotes and DVD box sets nearby to keep you entertained.
Cluster Feeding Tip #4 – Eat First
If you know baby is going to start cluster feeding at 6pm, make sure you’re eaten before then. There’s nothing worse than sitting hungrily while your baby slowly enjoys their three course meal.
Cluster Feeding Tip #5 – Get A Breastfeeding Partner!
Can you just get me a…? You’ve heard of a birth partner, now you need a breastfeeding partner too. A willing volunteer to get you snacks, drinks and provide entertaining conversations to keep you amused during cluster feeds.
Cluster Feeding Tip #6 – Look For Feeding Cues
If you tend to have a fussy, hungry and irritable baby in the evenings, act accordingly. Instead of waiting for the crying to start, look out for feeding cues and offer the breast immediately.
Cluster Feeding Tip #7 – Take Out!
By using a sling or wrap, you can feed your baby on the go. By feeding the baby in a sling, you keep your hands free to get on with other things. Slings also help to keep fussy babies content, because they feel safe and happy being close to you.By Fiona Peacock
BellyBelly Contributor, Mum and Natural Parenting, Breastfeeding & Cloth Nappy Fanatic