Whether you’re a first-time mom or a seasoned pro, breastfeeding is a tough gig. Especially when the periods between feedings decrease and you feel like you’re nursing constantly…like every 15 minutes constantly. Cue the 2 a.m. frantic Googling for ‘what is cluster feeding’ and ‘when will this madness stop’? First of all, take a deep breath. Now settle into that nursing chair (as if you have a choice) and relax because we’ve got you covered: Here’s everything you need to know about those out-of-the-ordinary (yet perfectly ordinary) feeding sessions.
OK, so what is cluster feeding?
Newborns typically nurse every two to three hours, but sometimes they change their feeding patterns to more frequent guzzling (with a side of fussiness thrown in). Also known as bunch feeding, this can be super frustrating for moms who suddenly feel like they have a tiny human latching on to their breast all the damn time. Another bummer? This constant feeding can disrupt sleeping patterns which in turn leads to even more grumpiness...from everybody involved. (Although some moms report that cluster feeding in the evening results in a baby who snoozes longer at night so hey, there’s hope.) But even though cluster feeding is exhausting, moms should know that this is totally normal and healthy behavior for your babe, and—here’s the important part—it won’t last forever (we promise).
How to recognize cluster feeding
You and your baby are just getting to know each other and starting to settle into an eat-sleep-play (make that an eat-sleep-poop) rhythm. Until your kid decides to totally shake things up, that is. If your infant suddenly changes their feeding habits, they could be cluster feeding. Here are some telltale signs that this is the case:
- they’re only a few days or weeks old
- they want to nurse constantly (like every hour or more)
- they eat frequently and for short sessions each time (think: latching on for a few minutes, then pulling off and fussing or crying for a few minutes and then latching on to nurse...over and over again)
- they show no other signs or symptoms and are still producing regular wet and dirty diapers
When does this new development kick in?
“Cluster feeding seems to happen most often during the first few weeks of breastfeeding (because the milk supply may be more erratic) and then again around three months, but it can also occur later,” explains Jeffrey L. Brown, MD and clinical professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College. And while many moms experience cluster feedings in the evenings, it can also happen at any time of the day. (Sorry.)
Is my baby getting enough milk? What am I doing wrong?
Relax. Cluster feeding is normal, say experts. The reasons why it happens are unclear (it could be due to infant growth spurts, increased milk supply or babies just wanting more attention), but there’s usually no need for parents to be concerned or to supplement with formula. Your baby is one smart (and adorable) cookie who instinctively knows how much milk she needs—listen to her and feed her as often as she wants.
Dr. Brown weighs in: “Cluster feeding is a common occurrence. Medical warning signs would be if the baby appears ill, has a weak suck or cry, or is not gaining weight properly. These suggest that she may not be getting enough calories.” Another way to gauge if your babe is getting enough milk is by tracking their weight gain (your baby’s healthcare provider will be doing this for you) and their diapers (once your baby is five days old, you should expect to see five to six soaking wet diapers every day, says the American Academy of Pediatrics). Got that? You’re doing nothing wrong, but speak to your pediatrician if you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms or if you are still concerned. And remember, there are plenty of breastfeeding resources you can tap into if you have any questions.
How to deal with cluster feeding
With your body working overtime, make sure to take care of yourself—that means staying hydrated, eating properly and getting as much sleep as possible (easier said than done, we know). And don’t be afraid to enlist help—you may be the only one who can nurse your hungry infant, but your partner can help make sure you’re comfortable while doing it. Top tip: Keep a basket of snacks, water, the remote control and some reading material on standby and grab it whenever you feel a long feeding sesh coming on. Cluster feeds can be boring, but you might as well milk 'em (pun intended) for all they’re worth—Netflix binge, anyone?