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“Sssh… ssh….” I whispered as I rocked my nursing baby.
I could not remember how many hours has she been like this. Nurse for a few minutes, sleep, cry, nurse again, want to be rocked, and the cycle went on.
Sometimes, I wondered if my milk was sufficient for her. But then I remembered one thing, it could be newborn cluster feeding. Yeah, a typical newborn nursing pattern that can be daunting for new mothers.
So in this article, I will discuss in-depth about what cluster feeding is, the benefit, and how to manage newborn cluster feeding.
What is newborn cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is a phenomenon when your baby suddenly begins to have several feedings in close interval in a period of time, usually in late afternoon or in the evening.
Some experts mentioned that cluster feeding usually coincides with fussy evenings. ). It is because our baby may appear to be fussy, demands to be fed for only short duration, having a short break, then feeds again, and the cycle continues for a few hours.
Yes, you read that correctly, a few hours.
You may start thinking that your baby has suddenly changed. He may refuse nursing in the usual position, demanding to be carried or rocked as he nurses.
No wonder, in this period of time, a lot of new mothers became nervous. They began to question themselves.
Does my baby have colic?
Is something I have eaten may affect the baby?
Or worse, “Is my milk supply inadequate?”
Let me tell you the truth. Cluster feeding is normal. Yes, all babies experience cluster feeding several times during their newborn phase, or even until they reached six months old. And this applies to not only breastfed babies, but also formula-fed babies.
SEE ALSO: 30+ Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms
Why do babies cluster feed?
Experts have different opinions on what may cause cluster feeding. Heather Turgeon, MFT, mentioned that it is something related to babies maturing nervous system to regulate. It might also be related how babies to tank up before taking a long stretch of sleep at night.
Another source mentioned that it is something related to mother’s milk flow. Due to natural cycling of hormone, the milk flow may be slower in the evening, causing the baby to be easily frustrated and thus, do cluster feeding.
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
Even though the reasons of cluster feeding is not fully understood, cluster feeding comes with several benefits.
- Babies sleep in longer stretch at night. Yes, when a baby cluster feeds, it often coincides with his new ability to have a longer sleep stretch in the night. This is beneficial for the mother too, as she can have longer rest time while the baby sleeps.
- Healthier milk supply. As you already know, breastfeeding is about supply and demand. The more milk emptied from the breast, the more milk being produced. So if your baby is experiencing growth spurt, cluster feeding is one way to let your milk supply catch up with the baby’s need.
Is Cluster Feeding Indicator of Low Milk Supply?
To be honest, the answer depends on the pattern of babies’ feeding.
In most cases, babies will only cluster feed several times during his newborn phase. The cluster feed lasts for only a few hours every day for several days or a week. Outside that, babies still gain enough weight and have adequate wet and dirty diapers. In this case, the baby is healthy and you have a healthy milk supply.
In certain case, cluster feeding occurs for the whole day. He may not have adequate wet/dirty diapers and does not gain enough weight. When this happens, this may indicate the baby does not receive enough breast milk and thus mothers should seek help from certified lactation counsellors to find out what may cause the problem. It could be mother’s milk supply or babies’ inability to transfer breast milk properly.
How to Manage Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding could be very taxing for new mothers. So here are some tips to help you deal with cluster feeding:
- Observe the cluster feeding window. Usually, babies do cluster feeding on a certain period of time. It could be late afternoon or evening to night. Once you understand the pattern, schedule your activities so that you are available for your baby at that time window. It could mean having early dinner or slightly modified bed time routine with elder kids.
- Accept help. Yeah, you will likely spend a lot of time with your baby during this period. Thus, be ready to get some help from your spouse or other family member. Whether it is preparing dinner, helping with household chores, or taking care of elder children, anything that can help you focus more and stress less would be great.
- Take a break. Dealing with a constantly nursing baby is no fun, well at least for me. Let somebody else attend the baby while you get a hot shower or a quiet dinner, all by yourself.
- Change breastfeeding position. Learning new breastfeeding position can help yourself feeling more comfortable or getting more rest. Try side-lying position so that you can rest as your baby nurse. Alternatively, if you need to walk around while caring your other children, breastfeeding in a baby carrier will help tremendously.
- Have a different way to nurse. A lot of time, your baby will be fussier than usual . You may combine nursing with rocking, soothing with sound, or going outside. Oh yeah, I remember my baby was so fussy I had to take her out every evening for a week. The breeze and cool air somehow calmed her down and help her focus more on nursing.
- Reduce stimulation. Some babies are easily overstimulated in the evening. This may cause thing worse especially when they felt tired. You may try to dim the light, avoid noisy place, or tell the older siblings to have some quiet time with dad – say reading book.
- Stay hydrated. It is so easy to neglect your own self when taking care of your baby. Stay hydrated by having a water bottle or drinks ready beside your regular nursing places around the house.
- Ignore non-priority things in your to-do-list. Your baby now is your priority. Once the cluster feeding is over, you can start doing other things in your to-do-list.
I hope these tips can help you manage cluster feeding better. Remember, this cluster feeding period shall eventually pass. And finally you can enjoy nursing your baby and play with him.