Cluster Feeding: It’s a Thing and a Not-So-Great Reality
Truth: Breastfeeding may be natural, but it's also hard. Even if you manage to get a good latch from the beginning and your baby nurses like a champ, there's almost always at least a few times in your nursing journey where you will be desperately trying to answer the question of “Why is my baby always hungry?” These are the moments where you feel like your literal purpose in life is to be the equivalent of a milk cow and you stress yourself out with all the thoughts of “Is he getting enough?” Luckily, this is a very common issue for breastfed babies. It can usually be explained by a few biological facts and the not-so-great reality that is cluster feeding. Here are three reasons why it can seem like breastfed babies are always hungry in those early months.
- Their stomachs can only hold a few ounces.
A one-month-old infant's stomach is the size of an egg and can only hold about three ounces at a time, according to the La Leche League. It makes sense when you stop and think about it. Babies are small, so their stomachs must also be pretty tiny. But that's not always something that crosses your mind when it's 3:00 a.m. and you've been nursing for two hours straight. While there's nothing you can do about this, giving yourself that reminder that the stomach can truly only hold so much at a time can help you keep some level of calm during those white-knuckle moments.
- Their digestive systems work quickly — really quickly.
Breastmilk is unique in that it is 100 percent usable by the body. This is one reason why it's normal for breastfed babies to go a few days without pooping as they get older. And it's also why they have to eat more often. The faster the body processes the milk, the faster the baby's stomach empties and starts signaling that it's ready for more.
- Cluster feeding amps up milk supply.
As your baby gets older and their stomach grows, they're going to need more milk. In simple terms, they increase demand — by being fussy, rooting, and wanting to eat every hour — to increase supply. Breasts are wonderful things in that they're never empty and can always make more. The more frequently your baby nurses, the more signals get sent to your body that you need to make more milk. This is also why cluster feeding tends to coincide with the growth spurts that happen at three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months.
But knowing all of the logic and biology behind it doesn't make the nonstop nursing sessions any more enjoyable. However, you can make things better by prioritizing self-care. It really is OK to let the baby fuss for a few minutes while you recharge in a hot shower. You can also get involved with a breastfeeding support group. Remember that cluster feeding usually only goes on for a few hours to days at a time before things even back out. Don't worry, this too shall pass!