Does it seem like there’s a period in a day when all your baby does is feed? You put him on the boob and he heartily nurses. He looks content. He may even push the nipple out himself.
You’re content. You put him down. Before you can even unbutton your milk-stained blouse, he wants to feed again!
For me, this little cycle would repeat itself for a couple of hours until I’d start getting worried. Is he wet? I would burp him some more and check his diaper.
Despite everything looking good, he wouldn’t stop fussing and feeding? What I was experiencing is called cluster feeding.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is a period when your newborn tends to have a lot of shorter feeds over a short period of time.
Kelly mom also calls it bunch feeding, it can occur at any given time of the day. It, however, is more likely to come about between late afternoon and early evening.
Newborn cluster feeding is normal and is to be expected to happen in the initial days of breastfeeding.
Before this happens, your baby’s feeding pattern will be predictable. Probably every two or three hours. All of a sudden, they are feeding more times than usual in their feeding window. They may even feed every hour or more times in one hour.
A cluster feeding newborn will also tend to be a little fussier than normal. This can be very confusing for an already tired and confused new mother.
The frequent feeding may be exhausting and somewhat frustrating. However, they are essential for the baby and you.
Possible reasons for Cluster feeding
It could be that your baby just likes to register his presence at that particular time of day. And this is how he knows best. As if you’d forget!
Or he’s just stocking up milk supply in readiness for a long night just in case he forgets to wake up. I was actually very grateful for the (very few) times he forgot to wake up.
There is no exact reason why the frequent feeding and fussiness occurs at a particular time of the day. There are, however, possible explanations. Let’s look at them and see if they make sense.
The baby is going through a growth spurt
A growth spurt is a period when your baby grows at a faster rate. It’s characterized by increased weight and height gain and head circumference.
Baby is nursing for comfort
Some babies find comfort in thumb sucking, others hug a blankie. Yet, others result in nursing more to find comfort. For this baby, cluster feeding will most likely occur in the evening when they are sleepy and tired.
The baby is experiencing a developmental spurt
They may also be experiencing developmental spurt. At this time and milestones, they are struggling with will become easier. The social smile comes more readily. The rolling gets easier. The grip gets firmer. Guess what else happens at this time? They feed and fuss more!
Reduced Milk supply at night
They have been around for long by now (if three weeks counts as long enough!) and they know what happens when mommy goes to sleep. The milk trickles to a drop. So, they come up with a plan – get it all before bedtime.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Nothing really lasts forever. Cluster feeding is no exception. Newborn cluster feeding may begin shortly after and stop when the baby is about six months old.
The phases are not continuous though. One phase may last a couple of days and then the baby goes back to the normal feeding routine.
For the baby who finds comfort in nursing, the phase might last a little longer.
Benefits of cluster feeding
An occurrence that is this troublesome had better be beneficial. And it is! Here is what this phase will do for both you and baby. I know it’s a tough call, but hey, lets be a little optimistic, shall we?
Increased milk supply
Since your baby is feeding more, your body will produce more milk to meet the rising demand. Remember to keep an ice pack on the ready to soothe the full breasts once the milk production increases. I highly recommend the round hot and cold packs. A cold cabbage leaf left in the fridge will do the trick as well. Just place it inside your breastfeeding bra and enjoy the soothing coolness. Read more tips here on how to reduce milk supply.
Better nourishment during growth and developmental spurts
If the baby is going through a growth spurt, their nutritional needs will be more. Increased milk supply is exactly what they need.
Longer sleeping hours
If this was the only benefit of cluster feeding, it would still be all worth it. When the baby gets full, he will wake up less in the night. Some may even sleep through the night allowing mommy to get the very elusive sleep and rest.
Challenges of Cluster feeding
Painful cracked nipples
There’s only so much pulling the nipples can take. When the baby is nursing endlessly for 2 or 3 hours, the nipples are bound to suffer.
The fussiness might cause some babies to bite on the nipple. Being bit on an already sore nipple should be listed among the 1000 ways to die. To make the pain a little bearable, I’d suggest you keep a tab of nipple cream close by. The Medela Tender Care Lanolin Nipple Cream is hypoallergenic and is made from all natural ingredients.
Very fussy baby
Babies are cute and all, but a fussy baby is no bundle of joy. The fussiness may extend for prolonged periods leaving both mommy and baby tired and cranky.
Tips to Survive Cluster Feeding
- Keep yourself well-fed and hydrated. Keep a glass of water, hot beverage, and fruits nearby.
- Wear comfortable breastfeeding friendly clothing.
- Prepare your mind. Things get easier when you’re aware of what is happening and when it’s likely to end.
- Put some soothing music for you and the baby. Remember he is also not in his best moods.
When it’s not really cluster feeding
If the baby continues to fuss for much longer than normal, it may be more than the cluster feeding. Sickness may make a baby clingy and fussy. Check that the baby is not running a fever or looking sickly. If everything looks good and the baby is healthy, find the little joys in the moment and bond with your baby.