Babies are helpless mammals who don’t come with an instruction manual. As they are 100% dependant on their mother, it is important to figure out things by going with your instinct.
During the initial months of their birth, babies need to be fed quite often as they are teaching your body how much milk to make and are also getting their nutrients from the milk. However, feeding the baby every two or three hours can make you feel like you are breastfeeding them the whole day. But does your baby want to feed more often, especially every hour? If so, they may be cluster feeding.
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What is Cluster Feeding?
What is cluster feeding you may ask? This can be a daunting term for new parents; however, this is not something to be afraid of. Cluster feeding is completely normal and can be defined as a phenomenon which occurs when feeding frequency drops from every two-three hours to every hour. The baby may want to be fed several times during a short period or may want to nurse non-stop for hours. This usually occurs during the evening; however, it can occur at any time of the day.
Cluster feeding is generally followed by long sleep and more often than not coincides with the baby’s fussy time. For instance, the baby will nurse from 6 pm to 10 pm constantly and then will sleep through the night.
Cluster feeding all day can be incredibly irritating and frustrating for the mother as the baby will nurse a few times, cry, nurse again, cry, and the cycle goes on till he falls asleep. During this period, the mom may even feel that the baby is not getting enough milk, whether he is allergic to something the mother may have eaten or there is something else that is bothering the baby.
A constantly frustrated child can lower the self-confidence of a mother in handling the baby, especially when there are people around who always come up to ask what’s wrong with the baby every time he cries.
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Is it Natural?
Yes, this is a normal phenomenon and there is nothing wrong with your breast milk supply. While new mothers can be exhausted and emotional from the postnatal hormones, it is important to stay calm and composed. Cluster feeding nonstop all day is normal behavior and nothing has happened to your breast milk supply. Let the baby nurse for as long as he wants so that he stays calm and composed.
When Do Babies Cluster Feed?
There are plenty of reasons for cluster feeding. Some of them are:
A majority of babies cluster feed during a growth spurt. During the initial months of their growth, babies generally depend on mother’s milk for their growth and nutrition. Moreover, growing up takes more energy and this is when babies choose to eat more often.
Babies will cluster feed during the first six months as they are going through a lot of developmental changes during this time. In the middle of all those changes, feeding and cuddling with the mother make them feel safe, comfortable and secure.
Build-up Milk Supply
Cluster feeding or feeding regularly can be mother initiated as well. Breast milk supply is generally based on the baby’s milk demand. So, more milk the baby drink, more will you produce. Within 24 hours, the breast responds to the increased demand by producing more milk. Some mother may choose to increase their production if they are going on a vacation or heading back to work by stockpiling the milk.
The Baby Sleeps Longer
Cluster feeding at night may help the baby feel fuller for longer and thus sleep for a longer stretch of time. However, according to some researchers, it has been found that good sleeping habits are promoted by allowing the babies to learn how to soothe themselves.
When Do Babies Stop Cluster Feeding?
A majority of babies generally stop cluster feeding at around 8 weeks of age. But you need to pay close attention to your baby’s need to make sure whether the feeding needs to be stopped sooner or later. While some kids will never be interested in cluster feeding, others may choose to stop it around 6 weeks of age.
How to Stop Cluster Feeding?
If your baby is cluster feeding all day even after 8 weeks, it may seem like he is never going to stop. However, the babies generally cluster feed because they are increasing the milk supply, are going through a growth spurt and need comfort.
Consider the Cause of Cluster Feeding
You need to consider the cause of cluster feeding if you wish to stop them from feeding all day long. If the baby is gaining weight, producing at least 6 wet diapers and falls asleep readily for longer intervals, cluster feeding should be a no cause for concern.
Even when you are planning to stop cluster feeding, make sure to avoid cluster feeding using milk formula too. Otherwise it will defeat the whole purpose of stopping cluster feed.
Comfort Your Child
Babies who cluster feed are often looking for cuddles and comfort from the mother. During their growth years, the infant may fall sick or want extra attention. Therefore, when planning to stop cluster feeding assures the baby that you are always there for him. Let him know that he has your undivided attention.If nothing else works, getting in touch with a lactation consultant can also help.
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Why Baby Isn’t Cluster Feeding
If your baby doesn’t cluster feed, don’t worry, try a little longer. Babies often take their own sweet time to get used to things. However, if it still doesn’t work, you can choose to put your focus on dream feed instead of forcing him to cluster feed.
Sometimes, dream feed can be much easier to manage, but the downside is that it can be tiring for caretaker especially at night time.
How to Cope With Cluster Feeding?
Now that you know what is cluster feeding, it is important to see different ways of coping up with it. Whether you or your infant have initiated it, your body will be working overtime to provide the milk supply. Here it is vital to remember that cluster feeding and growth spurt are a part of the child growth. However, you need to take care of yourself as well during this period.
The body uses a lot of energy to create breast milk, and if the baby chooses to latch on your breast constantly, it will drain you out of your energy. Therefore, it is essential to drink water all day long (1.5 – 2 liters) and eat small and nutritious meals every few hours to keep your energy levels high.
Babies generally develop the normal cluster feeding routine. Therefore, accept the fact that your baby is going to cluster feed and thus plan your routine around it. This will make it easy to stay calm and avoid the frustration from setting in.
Sleep Should Be Your Priority
If your baby is going to wake up every hour to feed, it will leave you exhausted. Therefore, make sure to make sleep a priority. Avoid checking your Instagram and Facebook feed, instead, choose to sleep when your baby sleep to feel fresh and energetic. Never miss any chance to rest especially for the first 6 months.
If you know that your child is going to cluster feed, make yourself comfortable. Giving bottle during cluster feeding is not an option because you will be producing enough milk for your little one. Therefore, pop up on a sofa or snuggle up in a bed and sit comfortably while you cluster feed.
Get a Breastfeeding Partner
Having our partner around you will make it easy for you to sail through the long sessions of breastfeeding. While you feed your little one, it may become impossible to move to get yourself a snack or drink. Therefore, having help at hand will make the experience less stressful.
Master the Soothing Techniques
While there is still a debate on what you must choose between bottle feeding on demand vs. scheduled feedings, you need to master the soothing techniques to sooth the baby during a fussy time. A fussy baby can make the mother equally fussy. Therefore, it is essential to calm the baby before you choose to sit down and feed him.
- Try to wear the baby in a baby carrier or a sling as it will leave your hands empty to do other tasks while you hold, sooth and nurse the baby.
- Go for a walk as this will help calm the baby down.
- Sooth the baby with rhythmic motion, try to dance, walk, sway, swing or bounce the baby.
Knowing what is cluster feeding is important to avoid doubting yourself or your milk supply during the early weeks. Your baby is growing fast during the first few months; therefore, it is natural that they will be drinking more milk.
If you are thinking whether can you overfeed a baby, stop right there. Never think about over-feeding a child to stop him from cluster feeding. Although cluster feeding can be inconvenient for new mothers, it is a normal phenomenon. However, if the cluster feeding lasts for more than 48 hours, make sure to get in touch with a lactation consultant or a pediatrician.