“My baby is using me as a pacifier!”
“My baby wants to do nothing but nurse all day.”
“My baby is a week old, but most nights I’m stuck nursing for what feels like hours at a time.”
These questions come from almost every new parent as the shock of providing 24/7 on-demand infant care sets in. These frantic parents want to know if this is normal, if this means they aren’t making enough milk for their baby, or if they’re doing something wrong!
What if we told you…
This behavior is not only completely normal for a baby – it’s actually a POSITIVE and HELPFUL behavior!
There’s even a name for it: cluster feeding.
A cluster feeding baby takes several feedings at a time in a “cluster”, often leaving the parent feeling like they have no time to themselves or even worrying that their milk supply is insufficient. Here’s why this happens…
Cluster Feeding Builds Your Milk Supply
Your newborn baby’s stomach starts out approximately the size of a marble, and by the end of their first week, it grows to the size of an egg. Understandably, this tiny little stomach can’t fit too much into it at one time! This is why young babies nurse so frequently.
In the first couple of weeks after birth, your body must learn how much breastmilk to produce based on the baby’s cues. Supply and demand: the more the baby nurses and stimulates milk ejection, the more the breasts take the cue to produce.
Far from being an indicator of low milk supply – cluster feeding is actually a predictor of a HEALTHY milk supply! As your baby’s stomach grows and requires more to fill it, they must stimulate an increase in milk production. What a cool, symbiotic system!
How to Survive Cluster Feeding
Eventually your baby will settle into a more predictable feeding pattern as they grow, but for now, clustering their feedings together during part of the day – particularly the evening – is going to be the norm for several weeks. Since you want to establish a healthy and abundant milk supply and keep your baby’s tummy happy, there isn’t much you can do other than ride it out. Here are a few suggestions for coping with the challenges of cluster feeding:
- Create a feeding “station”
Decide where in your house you’ll be spending this time breastfeeding, and create a comfortable and well-stocked station there. This could be your bed, a recliner, the nursery, or somewhere else in your home. Gather a basket including items such as breast pads, burp cloths, water bottles, granola bars, a book, the remote, a phone charger, and a lap blanket. You definitely want to be cozy and with your essentials within reach when you settle down for a long stretch of time in one place!
- Take a quick break
It is completely okay to take a brief break from constant feedings. Your partner or support person should stand by to rock or bounce the baby in between feedings so you can stretch your legs, go to the bathroom, or lie down and take a few deep breaths. If you are alone, and you begin to feel stressed and emotional due to cluster feeding, it is also okay to lay the baby down in a safe place for a few minutes while you drink some water, take your supplements, and collect yourself.
- Enjoy a distraction
While the mom-shamers out there seem to love to pick on those who feel they must do something other than stare at their baby for every second of a feeding, we try to be a little more supportive – and creative – when it comes to helping parents in vulnerable emotional and physical states. While it’s wonderful if you can touch and make eye contact with your baby throughout the feedings, do not feel guilty if you end up choosing to talk on the phone to your mom, watch reruns of The Office, or do a crossword puzzle while you’re sitting down and nursing for hours.
And of course, support is essential throughout this entire process. Your partner, friends and family, lactation consultant, therapist, and Colorado area postpartum doula should be working as a team to ensure that not only your baby, but you as well are being fed, nourished, and cared for. You cannot give 100% of yourself to your baby if you are running at 50%. Always be open to accepting help, support, and love from those who care about you.
At Colorado Newborn we know that once your baby starts eating less and sleeping more each night, the memory of cluster feeding will become a blur. With the right mindset and plenty of support, you can get through the challenges of breastfeeding a newborn!