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Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for you and your baby, but it can be a little hard to get the hang of—especially when your baby suddenly decides to nurse incessantly through the night. If this sounds familiar, you’ve likely hit the cluster feeding period of your breastfeeding journey.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds more frequently in short bursts or clusters at a time. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), cluster feeding is defined as your baby wanting to nurse every 30 minutes.
Signs your baby is beginning to cluster feed
- Baby consistently cries and only finds comfort when fed
- Baby is showing signs of hunger such as rooting
- Baby’s feeding routine has noticeably changed, requiring more frequent nursing sessions than before
What Age Do Babies Cluster Feed & How Long Does It Last?
If your newborn just started to cluster feed, you’re probably wondering how long this will last (I definitely did). But don’t worry tired mommas, thankfully, cluster feeding only lasts a few days.
Babies typically begin to cluster feed around 3 weeks of age and again at 6 weeks. However, certain growth spurts can also see an increase in feeding sessions.
Cluster feeding can happen at any time of the day, but occurs mostly in the evening.
But why do babies cluster feed?
Good question. Experts don’t really know why babies go into a feeding frenzy for a few days, but there are some speculations.
Some say that it could be your baby’s way of increasing your milk supply, while others think it’s their way to make sure their bellies are full enough to sustain them during their longer sleeping periods.
Whatever the reason, it’s a good thing for your baby and your milk supply—although your already sleep deprived body may beg to differ.
Can You Run Out Of Milk?
It can certainly seem like your little bottomless pit is draining you dry, and that you won’t be able to keep up with this feeding schedule, however, it’s important to not supplement with formula during this time.
Supplementing with formula will actually lessen and slow down your milk supply.
Remember, milk production is a supply and demand system. Without the demand, the supply goes down.
However, I personally know how demanding and tiring cluster feeding is. Read on to find out what helped me get through this stage.
Tips To Manage Cluster Feeding For New Moms
Here are some tips that I learned and used to help me stay strong during my daughter’s cluster feeding stage.
- Stay hydrated. I can’t emphasize this enough. Breastmilk is mostly water. So when your little one begins to nurse frequently, you need to re-hydrate in order to prevent the unpleasant symptoms of dehydration.
- Make sure to eat. Feeding your baby and producing breastmilk takes a lot of energy. Make sure to eat throughout the day and keep snacks near you during bouts of cluster feeding sessions.
- Take care of your nipples. Breastfeeding for the first few months can be rough on your body, especially your nipples. When your baby is feeding as frequently as every 30 minutes, you need to keep them from getting too chapped and sore. Use an all-natural lanolin cream (this is the one I used) to keep them protected during nursing sessions.
- Continue to pump. It’s important to keep pumping on the non-feeding breast in order to prevent engorgement; cluster feeding increases your milk supply. Plus, this allows your partner or other family member to take over a feeding session with a breastmilk bottle and give you a much needed break.
- Get comfy. Make sure you have everything you need before committing to an all-night nursing session. My daughter usually started around 7pm so prior to that I would change into some cozy pjs, use the restroom, grab a water and some snacks, and settle into bed.
- Find a distraction. Cluster feeding is hard and it can get you down with how demanding and slightly painful it is. While nursing, catch up on a movie or Netflix show, read a book, search online for some new recipes, or call up a friend or family member.
- Alternate feeding positions. After awhile nursing in the same position can start to wear out your breasts and nipples causing pain. Try switching it up, go from a cradle hold for one feeding session, to a side-lying position the next. This variety (along with alternating breasts) helps to not overwork one particular area of your chest so you can get through this stage with minimal soreness.
Cluster feeding is a normal period in your breastfeeding journey. While hard, exhausting, and slightly painful, there are things you can do to make it a little easier.
Just remember, it won’t last forever, and you’re strong enough to get through it!
How was cluster feeding for you? Did any of these tips help you? Let me know in the comments below!