Although some moms love breastfeeding and this extra opportunity to bond with their baby, it has been a challenging journey for me with many ups-and-downs. Because breastfeeding wasn’t always the most enjoyable part of my day, I really struggled early on when my baby was cluster feeding all day long. It took me a while to understand its purpose and find the tips on how to survive cluster feeding.
But this is perfectly normal. Cluster feeding in newborns is incredibly demanding and exhausting for new moms. Because of this, many mamas find themselves becoming overwhelmed as they try to master nursing and learn how to cope with cluster feeding.
Keep reading to learn why cluster feeding happens, common cluster feeding ages, and how long cluster
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What is Cluster Feeding?
Although doctors and nurses often say that newborns eat every 2-3 hours, new mamas know that babies sometimes eat much more frequently. Sometimes every 20-30 minutes!
When your baby goes through a growth spurt, they need more calories. This means they need more milk! Because breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, babies nurse more frequently in order to tell your body to start making more milk. This is cluster feeding.
It is very common for your baby to experience cluster feeding at night, which often also aligns with your baby’s fussy periods. Your baby may nurse very frequently, for long periods of time, with very short breaks in between nursing sessions. And this can last for several hours.
This helps your baby to tell your body to make more milk. It also fills her tummy to allow her to sleep longer without needing to nurse as often overnight.
This is a GOOD thing and there is nothing wrong when your baby starts nursing much more frequently or becomes fussier in the evening. You don’t need to start supplementing with a bottle (in fact, that actually decreases your supply and makes things even more challenging). Stick out this period of cluster feeding and things will be much easier in no time!
Pro-Tip: All moms worry that their baby isn’t getting enough milk. If your baby has several wet and dirty diapers a day and is gaining weight, he’s getting plenty to eat! If you’re still worried, meet with your lactation counselor to get a transfer weight (weight before and after nursing) so you know exactly how much he is eating.
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How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Cluster feeding typically happens during growth spurts or wonder weeks. Your baby may want to cluster feed for a couple of days or for a week or two as he goes through this growth spurt.
You often see cluster feeding weeks during the growth spurts that happen in the first few months. Common times for newborn cluster feeding may occur at:
*2 days old
*2-3 weeks old
*4-6 weeks old
*3 months old
Whether cluster feeding lasts 1-2 days or 1-2 weeks, it is important to remember that things will get easier and your baby won’t always need to nurse this frequently. (I didn’t believe this at first and didn’t know if I could make it. But trust me, it really does get easier and less demanding if you can stick it through the cluster feeding weeks.)
Be patient with your baby and understand that she is only nursing more often because her body is telling her that she needs more food during these growth spurts. Then use the following tips to help make cluster feeding easier for you and your baby.
How Can You Make Cluster Feeding Easier?
1 – Set up a Nursing Station.
During periods of cluster feeding, you spend a lot of time nursing. Sometimes it felt like I was nursing ALL evening long and I was constantly tethered to my baby.
Trust me when I saw that life is much easier if you set up a nursing station when your baby is cluster feeding. Try to make the time to make a great nursing station before (or after) your baby arrives. It will be worth all of the effort to be comfortable when your baby is cluster feeding all night long.
2 – Take Care of Your Body.
Cluster feeding is incredibly demanding on you, both physically and emotionally. It is very important to pay attention to your body and take care of yourself in between these nursing stations.
Use Nipple Creams.
When your baby is (nearly) constantly latched to nurse, your nipples go through a lot! Stay proactive by using nipple creams, especially if you already have any cracking. Of all the nipple creams I tried, this is my favorite!
I used it after every nursing session to prevent cracking and it worked wonders. And I love that it’s safe for my baby, even if he wanted to nurse again shortly after I had applied it.
Apply a Warm Compress.
Again, your body takes a bit of a beating while your baby cluster feeds so frequently. Apply a warm compress to your breasts between nursing sessions to ease tenderness. I love using these
Take a Warm Bath/Shower
Soaking in a warm bath or taking a warm shower is a great way to relax and help ease tenderness while cluster feeding. Take one each evening after your baby goes to sleep. Or consider nursing in the bathtub with your baby (as long as the water isn’t too hot). Babies love this and it’s a wonderful way to do skin-on-skin bonding with your baby!
Cluster feeding takes up all of your physical and emotional reserves. It’s especially challenging while you’re still learning to breastfeed AND recovering from birth. During cluster feeding days, don’t worry about other obligations.
Let the laundry and the dishes slide and relax as much as possible. Take a nap, read a book, or watch a movie between nursing sessions and give your body and your mind a break.
3 – Don’t Forget to Eat and Stay Hydrated!
During periods of cluster feeding, you spend so much time nursing your newborn, it’s easy to forget to nourish yourself. But it’s very important that you don’t forget to eat and drink lots of water.
Eating and drinking will give you more energy to be successful with cluster feeding. It’s also important for maintaining and building your milk supply. Cutting calories or becoming dehydrated will quickly decrease your milk supply and work against your baby’s efforts to get more milk.
4 – Visit a Lactation Consultant.
I cannot say it enough! Visit a lactation consultant as much as possible – from when you first start breastfeeding in the hospital all throughout your breastfeeding journey.
The lactation consultant checks your latch to make sure that your baby isn’t pinching or squeezing your nipple. This is vital while cluster feeding because your baby spends so much time latched onto you. An improper latch quickly results in sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples which makes cluster feeding much more challenging and miserable.
The lactation consultant also helps you to try out different positions, check your baby’s transfer weight, give dietary suggestions, and more. These tips help you to be the most successful during cluster feeding days.
Pro-Tip: Visit the lactation consultant as much as possible during the first few months after your baby arrives. Go in for individual sessions or join lactation groups. Building this relationship and support system vastly increases your odds of extending the time you nurse with your baby.
5 – Rely on Family and Friends for Support
Because breastfeeding demands so much from your body, it is vital to rely on your family and friends for help as much as possible.
Ask your husband to bring food and water in the middle of your nursing sessions. Request that visitors help with a few chores when they stop to visit you and your baby.
These little things make a huge difference and will help you to feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed while you balance the demands of breastfeeding.
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6 – Learn Different Nursing Positions
When you spend hours breastfeeding, switching up nursing positions is vital. Every time you switch positions, from a cradle hold, to a football hold, to laid-back breastfeeding, you switch what part of your nipple receives the most stress. This helps to alleviate nipple pain, cracking, and bleeding and makes cluster feeding so much more bearable.
While comfort nursing, my FAVORITES are side-laying nursing (so I can relax and rest too) and nursing in a baby carrier (so I can multitask or nurse in public).
There’s no doubt about it, cluster feeding is challenging.
Breastfeeding truly is a sacrifice. And it is often mentally and physically exhausting to meet the demands of cluster feeding.
But you are strong, mama! You can do it! And you are amazing for continuing to sacrifice for your baby!
Use these tips to make things easier and remember that this challenge will be over before you know it. Soon your baby will nurse less frequently and finally give you a break. And once things get easier, breastfeeding becomes so much more fun and magical!
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Did you find cluster feeding challenging? What tips do you have to make cluster feeding easier for new mamas?