Tips for Surviving Cluster Feeding

surviving cluster feeding
Image adapted via Flickr/ Hawkoffire

There are many things about the newborn phase of parenting that are exhausting. You are just getting over throwing all your body's energy into growing a baby, laboring, then birthing a baby, and now – as you're healing – you have to care for this baby, too.

If you're breastfeeding, that's another phase that can add to the fatigue and another process of life that should be simple, but sometimes just doesn't work out right away. You spend time latching and re-latching, trying to find a position that's comfortable for you and hope your baby drifts off to sleep soon.

Then, you realize, baby has been latched for over an hour, or you feel like you're breastfeeding every 20 minutes. You begin to worry your baby isn't getting enough milk because why are they still latched?

But, don't fret — it's all normal!

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If you find your baby is still nursing and there doesn't seem to be any sign they're going to be unlatching anytime soon, you may be experiencing a normal “cluster feed” time.

So, here's what you need to know:

What is “cluster feeding?”

Baby breastfeeds, unlatches, cries, fusses latches again, and this repeats for hours at night and seems to happen the same time the next day. And the next. You begin to worry you're not making enough milk and baby is so fussy because he's hungry, but you could just be experiencing “cluster feeding.”

Kellymom defines this phase like this: Cluster feeding is “when babies space feeding closer together at certain times of the day and go longer between feedings at other times. This is very common and often occurs in the evenings. It's often, but not always, followed by a longer sleep period than usual.”

Even if you're not breastfeeding and your baby is offered a bottle, this behavior of wanting small, but frequent meals and being fussy is observed.

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When should I expect cluster feeding?

I have always found that my babies start cluster feeding just before a major growth spurt. I tend to think of it as their stimulating my breasts to make more milk to continue to meet their growing demands, and that means a lot of evenings spent doing nothing but breastfeeding. For me, this happened at around 6 weeks, 2 months, 4 months, and it continued that pattern, but it may be different for your baby.

My youngest likes to be held and is happy when he's nursing and closer, and his cluster feeds were far more common than any of my other children. So your baby's personality may have some play into how clustered their feeds get, too.

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How to get through it with your sanity.

First, take a deep breath and know that you're doing a good job. If your baby is generally happy at other times, chances are this cluster feed phase will pass soon, and it has nothing to do with your milk supply. Read up on cluster feeding and talk to other moms about their experience so you can assure yourself that your breasts are working as they should.

If you're in the cluster feeding stage, set yourself up instead of trying to fight it. Get yourself a comfortable spot on the bed or couch, have water and one-handed snacks close by, grab a book, or find a show you can stream on Netflix while your baby sets up shop and breastfeeds for longer periods.

Dim the lights to reduce any overstimulation for the baby, and if you have a partner who can help out, have them nearby so you can pass the baby off when they get really fussy and you could use a few minutes to yourself.

Remember, this phase won't last forever, and you're doing a good job!

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What are your tips for surviving the cluster feeding phases? Share in the comments!

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Tips for Surviving Cluster Feeding

Devan McGuinness is the founder of the online resource Unspoken Grief, which is dedicated to breaking the silence of perinatal grief for those directly and indirectly affected by miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death. Using her own experience of surviving 12 miscarriages, Devan has been actively supporting and encouraging others who are wading through the challenges associated with perinatal and neonatal loss. Winner of the 2012 Bloganthropy Award and named one of Babble's “25 bloggers wh ... More

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