What is Cluster Feeding and How Long Does It Last?
Cluster feeding is for hungry babies when they can’t seem to get enough breastmilk. It happens when your newborn breastfeeds for hours at a time.
Are you wondering how a baby can hold in their tummy that much milk?
Let me share with you then some useful insights about cluster feeding.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
How is cluster feeding different from the usual breastfeeding session?
Cluster feeding typically happens when the baby becomes extra needy and irritable. Your breastmilk may have already drained out but he is still not full and satisfied after hours of feeding.
Feeding every 30 minutes, for 2 to 3 hours at a time is common.
This happens typically at night time. You can get tired and drained if you have not prepared yourself right. So better eat ahead as it may take as long as a movie marathon.
How Long Does It Last?
Cluster feeding happens during baby’s first three months. It is fairly common a few weeks after birth because of your baby’s extra need for calories and nourishment.
Every child is unique; some continue to cluster feed at 3-5 months but most babies stops at around 1 month of age.
The Reasons Behind Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding sessions didn’t happen randomly. There are reasons behind baby’s excessive need to nurse and they typically are:
# Baby is preparing for an extended sleep
You might have observed that babies tend to cluster feed usually at late afternoon or early at night. The reason behind this is because their little bodies might be preparing an ample milk supply for longer stretches of sleep.
On a typical day, a 1 – 2 month old baby breastfeeds every 3 hours. After cluster feeding, baby might sleep for 7 hours at a time; he doesn't wake up to nurse because he still has an extra milk supply.
# Baby is uncomfortable or feeling something
Your baby’s voracious need to nurse might be because he is feeling unwell. Breastfeeding soothes a baby and he is sucking out of his need to be close to mom longer.
Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact make baby feel more secured. This typically happens when your baby is adjusting at a new home or during a change in weather.
Some babies also do tend to cluster feed when they are gassy or are suffering from colic. Observe for hard and distended tummy for signs of gassiness.
When baby has a cold, he might also nurse for longer stretches of time. This happens because babies are nose breathers. They cannot suck and breathe simultaneously. A clogged nose will make breathing difficult for baby; hence, he might be pausing in between his sucks to catch up on his breathing.
# Mom’s milk is not as rich and satisfying
During times when mom has not eaten well during the day, her breastmilk tends to look watery and even semi-transparent. Baby will need to suckle for bit longer just to get the same feeling of fullness, because the milk that he takes has more water.
Babies are born with an automatic sucking reflex, with hunger as the cue. They will suck and take in breastmilk according to their body’s demands.
How To Deal With Cluster Feeding
1. Do not supplement with formula milk
Unless you have already returned to work sooner after giving birth, you might have been breastfeeding baby round the clock. During this stage, let baby suck as must breastmilk as he wants.
Do not introduce and substitute formula unless you are already planning to wean baby.
But for newborns, this isn’t the case so I advise you to breastfeed exclusively. Mom’s breast works like magic, they are only producing milk as much as the baby needs. Reducing breastfeeding time will dwindle down mom’s milk supply.
2. Eat up, eat right!
If you are not overweight, do not worry that breastfeeding will make you fat. Exclusive breastfeeding burns more calories than walking; hence, you’ll not get fat even if you have upped your daily calorie count.
The most important reminder that moms must understand during cluster feeding is the fact that no matter how much they eat, they’ll get hungry. After an hour of cluster feeding, your baby might have already exhausted your milk supply.
If you are anticipating baby to cluster feed, eat lots of nutritious food ahead. Have additional snacks ready at arm’s reach so that you may continue eating should you get hungry during breast feeding.
Also, have a glass of water nearby as you will definitely feel thirsty at some point.
3. Be in a comfortable position
Cluster feeding can get too tiring for moms so it is important to find the ideal position. A rocking or reclining chair will do, so that mom can relax during extended feeding sessions.
Stay in your favorite nursery glider.
You may also use cloth newborn sling to position your little one’s mouth near your breast, freeing your both hands to caress him.
As this session can take long, bring a reading material with you. Try also to play soothing music so that baby can be relaxed while nursing.
Check the room’s temperature. It must not be too damp, cold or humid. Pick a place with comfortable dim lights and with less exposure to background noise such as passing cars or barking dogs.
It is important that moms take care of themselves while catering to their baby’s feeding needs. Take note to eat well and rest amply before and during cluster feeding sessions.
Understand that baby is just going through a phase, so let baby nurse as much as he needs. Listen to your baby for cues about his current health condition or mood.
Not every woman has experienced the soothing power of breastfeeding. Be proud of your ability to nourish your child like how nature intended it.