The initial months’ post childbirth can be particularly challenging for a new mom. Nursing worries, baby’s sleep time and fussiness, and colic at this age are the typical causes of concern for mothers. Since babies do not come with instruction manuals and no amount of data can prepare you for parenting, honestly, you and your baby learn together, simultaneously. If you are a breastfeeding mom, you will encounter a host of demanding situations during your parenthood journey. Some situations will worry you while some will perplex you, confuse you, and some will tire you immensely. Let us address one of such perplexing situation that you will encounter as a new and young parent.
What Is Meant By Cluster Feeding?
One of the peculiar situations that will worry you will be the baby’s need to feed continuously or at extremely short intervals during a certain time of the day, as against feeding at regular or longer / more spaced out intervals during other times of the day. As a new mother, you will be concerned about how normal this behavior of your baby is. This perfectly normal behavior of babies is called cluster feeding.
When Do Babies Cluster Feed?
It has been observed that babies typically cluster feed during the evenings, through to the night, say around 6 pm to 10 pm. However, as every baby is different this varies from baby to baby. Sometimes babies feed for 3-4 hours at a stretch, while during other times they may feed for one hour, stop, fuss, fall asleep for a couple of minutes, wake up, remember that they were feeding and want to feed again, all in a loop, for several hours together. Some babies may cluster feed during the night as they look for ways to self-soothe before they sleep. Generally, cluster feeding in babies is observed when the baby is 10 to 12 days old and then again when they are three months old. By the time the baby is six months old, cluster feeding is generally over.
What Are The Reasons For Cluster Feeding?
There are several reasons for the baby to want to cluster feed. A growth spurt that is noted to take place between the second and third week after birth, followed by another one in the third month after birth, can trigger cluster feeding in babies. As they grow, they need more energy. And babies derive their energy from milk. Hence, more milk, more energy, better growth.
Since nursing and consuming breast milk, both are quite instinctual, requesting (read, demanding) a feed may mean more than merely drinking milk for the baby. It may sometimes mean being close to the mother. It may mean babies are wanting more physical contact with the mother, comprising cuddles and hugs. It may also mean swaddling to feel comfortable.
Sometimes babies cluster feed in order to tank up for the night. After a full tummy, they may sleep through the night, if you are really lucky. After feeding for a good 4-5 hours, although continually, the baby may then sleep well during the night.
Whatever the reason may be, let’s get it straight – cluster feeding is exhausting.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding In Babies Go On For?
For many babies, the cluster feeding stage starts quite early, usually in the first 2 weeks of life and can go on until they are about 3-4 or even 6 months old. This may sound like a long time but relax because it does eventually come to an end.
5 Tips To Cope With Cluster Feeding In Babies
These feeding and nursing spurts can be extremely frustrating and physically be taxing for the mother, but it is important to note that substituting the breast with a bottle during such times is not recommended by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in their supplementary feeding guidelines.(Source) In fact, cluster feeds stimulate the mother’s breasts to produce more milk which can further ensure good and improved milk production.
There are, however, several ways in which you can cope with the pressures and stresses of cluster feeding. Some of them are:
- Keep your body well hydrated and fed: If you are expected to feed your baby for longer stretches of time, your body needs enough nutrition to produce breastmilk. You also need a good supply of fluids to keep yourself hydrated. Do not forget to eat small meals and snacks, and water and juices every few hours
- Stop blaming yourself: This commonly happens when you and those around you fret over your baby’s frequent and increased requirement of milk. Remember that there is nothing wrong with your milk supply and its amount. Also, remember that you are not eating or doing anything inappropriate to evoke such a response from your baby. It is normal and it happens with most mothers. Hence do not take cluster feeding personally. As long as your baby gains the requisite amount of weight and passes urine and stools as per their pediatric chart levels, you are doing well as a breastfeeding mother
- Sleep, when you can and should: When your baby is cluster feeding, sleep will be a distant reality. Hence, sleep when and while your baby sleeps. Ask your mother, husband or mother-in-law to pitch in with household chores, dinner preparations and cleaning routines
- Seek help: You may seek help and advice from other new mothers, share your frustrations and listen to some simple, easy-to-apply tips that every woman discovers enroute parenthood
- Call the doctor: If your baby latches on to your breast and does not let go for over an hour, at a time, or if the overall cluster feed time exceeds 48 hours, you may call the doctor. Your pediatrician may direct you to a lactation expert to ascertain if the amount of breastmilk produced by you is sufficient for the baby. The other indication to ask for pediatric help is when the baby does not gain adequate weight despite cluster feeding for several hours
Remember that these days are short-lived and your baby’s schedule will turn normal in a few weeks. Hold your baby, cuddle them, rock them, and give them all the love they seek during these couple of months, even as they cluster feed, and break your back!