Guest Blogger: Cluster Feeding - The What, The Why, and Tips to Survive
When I left the hospital with my newborn, the very last person I met with was the lactation consultant on staff. As she left the room she said, oh yeah, around days 10-14 postpartum your baby might be a “Velcro baby” and want to nurse a lot…
I thought, okay, sure. Isn’t she already nursing a lot? I felt like it was literally all I did during my hospital stay.
Cut to 10 days postpartum, and me and baby N sitting on the couch nursing nearly nonstop for over 4 hours. And she fell into the habit of doing this most nights starting at 8pm too!
What was going on? Was she not getting enough? Do I need to supplement? Is my milk supply not meeting her needs?
So whether you’re reading this before your baby arrives, or you too are facing what’s known as a cluster feed, take a deep breath, mama, you’re not doing anything wrong.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is a term used to describe when a breastfed baby will want to nurse multiple times in a row. They may pull off and immediately start rooting or showing hunger cues. Cluster feeding can sometimes occur with no breaks in between, just a constant switch from side to side. Or, there may be short 10 or 15 minute breaks between feedings before baby is looking to breastfeed again.
How will baby act during a cluster feed?
During a cluster feed your baby may appear fussier, or be pulling or tugging at your nipple while feeding. This is an instinct they have that will actually help trigger another letdown and signal to your body to produce more milk. This is the part of a cluster feed that can really cause doubt and worry in a new mama. Their fussiness makes you feel that you aren’t providing enough and that they can’t get what they need. This is not the case!
Why will your baby cluster feed?
Why isn’t the fussiness anything to worry about? Cluster feeding is a completely normal, and even necessary occurrence. It’s baby’s and nature’s way of getting your body to ramp up your milk supply as baby needs more milk. Because milk production works on the principle of supply and demand, cluster feeding sessions are essential to signaling to your body to make more milk.
Cluster feeding often occurs during growth spurts, wherein your baby will need more milk moving forward, or at night. Nighttime cluster feeds help your baby tank up for (hopefully) longer chunks of sleep. And helps your body learn to make more milk during that time frame.
How can breastfeeding education build my confidence?
Learning about the principles of milk supply, and why supplementing or losing confidence during a cluster feed session can be detrimental to your breastfeeding success is important. Prenatal breastfeeding education, or taking a breastfeeding class in the first weeks at home can make a huge difference. There are actually a variety of online breastfeeding classes that are top notch, and can be done from the comfort of your own home!
This will also help you learn when you should get help and how to identify true issues with weight gain in your baby and when supplementing may be necessary. Knowledge is power!
5 Tips to survive a cluster feeding session:
- Before latching your baby, gather all the things you’ll need to be comfortable. Creating a nursing supply basket/caddy makes this a cinch. Be sure to include things like nursing pads, nipple balm, burp cloth, and a feed tracker/notebook if desired.
- Use a nursing pillow, or at least some regular pillows, to prop baby and your arms up. You don’t need sore and achy arms when you’re caring for a newborn.
- Because cluster feeding sessions are very long in nature, you may be hit with extreme thirst or even hunger while it’s happening. Nothing makes me thirstier than breastfeeding! Make sure you have cold water and high calorie, healthy fat snacks on hand, like trail mix.
- Educate your partner or other loved ones about this phenomenon. You don’t want them in your ear about baby still seeming hungry to rock your confidence. You also don’t want them pushing supplementation when it may not be necessary.
- Have a charged phone, tablet, book or magazine at the ready. I really enjoyed reading light-hearted fiction during cluster feeds. It was easy to put down and pick back up when I needed to help my daughter switch sides and latch, and kept me entertained.
Mama, you’ve got this!
Cluster feeding, especially the first time it occurs, can really rock your confidence. Learning about it and understanding when and why it happens can help you push through.
Remember that you should always call your pediatrician or make an appointment with a lactation consultant if you have any concerns about milk supply, baby’s weight gain, or wet diaper output.
By Alli Wittbold
Alli is a wife, mom, online teacher and writer. You can read more of her writing for expecting and new mamas over at Mom Smart Not Hard.