A Complete Guide on Cluster Feeding
Babies grow at a rapid rate so it’s no wonder that they get hungry from time to time and want to eat everything in sight. Well, the only thing they can do is breastfeed but it’s natural for babies to go through spurts where they need and want more breastmilk. This is considered to be cluster feeding. Is it as simple as letting your baby have as much as they want? Many questions come along with cluster feeding so let’s get to the bottom of it.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby has or wants to feed several times in a short period. These feeds are quick each time. These feeds can be as short as 10 minutes apart. It’s done on purpose as the baby realizes this is a great way to keep your breasts pumping and supplying milk more often.
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding does have a lot of great benefits. While it may have some drawbacks for the mom like being constantly tired and increasing nipple soreness, your baby can end up having some positive health benefits from cluster feeding.
Babies tend to sleep longer after cluster feedings because they are full and content. This also means that the mom gets to take longer naps because the baby won’t continue to wake up hungry.
Help Increase Milk Supply
A baby that is cluster feeding will nurse several times in an hour. This signals to your body that your breasts need to pump more milk and supple to appropriately feed the baby.
Increased Skin-to-Skin Time
Skin-to-skin time has wonderful benefits for both the mother and the baby. The relationship between mother and child is bonded from that moment which increases positive brain function. The mother also likely will have a more positive breastfeeding experience while likely being able to supply more milk.
Emotionally the baby will be less distressed when they are well fed and also keep in mind that babies are used to the safety net of the womb. Keeping skin-to-skin contact will keep the baby feeling safe which is important for mental health early on.
How To Identify Cluster Feeding
It can seem strange if your baby is constantly trying to breastfeed. You may be thinking that you were just blessed with a hungry little hippo! But in reality, cluster feeding is different from normal breastfeeding and there are a few things you can look for to identify if it is cluster feeding.
Paying attention to the baby's age in correlation with other symptoms can help decipher if the baby is cluster-feeding. Babies usually cluster around three weeks and again at six weeks old.
Crying Until Being Fed
If your baby seems colicky like nothing will make them feel better it is always a good idea to try and see if they take feed. In this case, if food is the only thing to calm your baby then this is likely because they are cluster feeding,
Constant Short Feeding Periods
If your baby is feeding multiple times within the hour this is the best indicator that your baby is cluster feeding. These periods can be less than 10 minutes apart.
When Does Cluster Feeding Happen?
Cluster feeding typically happens at times where the baby is experiencing a lot of growth. The first time it is likely to happen is right when the baby is born. Followed by three weeks and then again at six weeks. Other ages where cluster feeding has been more common have also been three months old. But during these periods when does cluster feeding happen?
Most of the time the mother will experience bouts throughout the day where the baby just can’t seem to be satisfied with the last feeding. That doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk supply; it just means that they need more. Likely you will see your baby need to be fed 8-12 times a day and many of those times will occur very close to each other.
If you aren’t seeing any more activity than usual eating during the day but all of the sudden nighttime seems to spark a binge, this is because the baby is trying to fill themselves up before sleeping. This is ideal because it may increase the baby’s ability to sleep through the night better as they will be all filled up.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Cluster feeding can last through breastfeeding in terms of how many times you will experience it. Any time your baby goes through a growth spurt you may experience cluster feeding. Each time however the baby starts to cluster feed you can expect it to last on average around two days.
It can be emotionally and physically draining for the moms but luckily it shouldn’t last much longer than the two days. If it does persist closer to a week make sure to check your baby’s weight. During these periods, they will be burning a lot of calories due to stress. This is the primary function for them cluster feeding so if it persists it may be because they are not getting in calories in their daily diet in comparison to how much they are burning.
Dealing With Cluster Feeding
It can be difficult to breastfeed that much in a short amount of time. Physically and mentally as a mother, you may feel irritated and worried. It’s completely normal as dealing with cluster feeding is not an easy task. Here are some things that mothers do when cluster feeding comes up to help cope with time.
Keeping your body close to you is a great way to keep them calm. Another thing you can do when this happens is to try swaddling your baby safely. This provides them the same comfort of the womb.
Let It Happen
Cluster feeding is important to the baby’s growth and definitely should not be intercepted. This is for the reason that they need to replace the baby’s calories and make sure they are getting enough nutrients that their growing little bodies need.
Likely your nipples will get sore and start to hurt after all the feeding. A way to soothe them and also possibly prevent chafing is applying nipple balm. This acts just like lip balm.
Hydration and Eating
This can take a lot out of the mom so staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water is important. The same can be said for eating. It’s easy for a mother to forget to take care of herself during this time because the baby is constantly looking for her attention.
Cluster Feeding Risks
As with anything, there are risks and benefits however when it comes to cluster feeding the risks are relatively low to both the baby and mother. Even though there are minimal high risks it’s always worth monitoring not only your baby’s health but yours as well.
Here are the risks associated with cluster feeding:
- Emotional and Physical Distress to the Mother
- Limits Ability to Schedule Things
Taking on emotional and physical stress for the mother is one of the biggest risks if they aren’t able to cope with it healthily. It’s important that the baby’s needs are met and that can only happen when the mother is in good condition. Aside from this inconvenience becomes the next problem. Because it Is so unpredictable it can be difficult to schedule anything. This can take time away from family or day-to-day things that you need to get done. This can become frustrating and lead to the stress factor.
Cluster Feeding FAQs
While this is one of the easier things to understand while reading, coping with cluster feeding may be one of the harder things to deal with afterbirth. It is more tiresome than anything. You may feel like you have a good grasp of one cluster feeding but just in case a few questions pop into your head, here are the most frequently asked questions.
Should I be logging the feeding?
While it is not necessary to log the cluster feeling it’s also not a bad idea to keep track of what’s going on. That way you can pick up on any patterns of behavior if your baby seems colicky or upset until they are fed. If it also persists longer than two days it is good to remember when the cluster feeding started. Babies in general are fussy around growth spurts and cluster feeding can help them get through that. But if something else were to come up you may be able to note the start of the growth spurt.
Is there an ideal time for the Cluster Feeding to happen?
There is not a lot of control of when cluster feeding takes place as mentioned. But you may get lucky to have a cluster feeding right before bedtime. Ideally, cluster feeding is a great thing around 4 PM because it allows for the baby to have a great night’s sleep and the mom too. However, cluster feeding can occur all day or even during a long period throughout the night that can actually keep the mother up at unpleasant hours. This is what leads to the stress and tiredness that a mother can expect.
Is it possible to overfeed?
No one can ever say, “never say never.” However, this is a natural and a good thing that happens when your baby wants to eat. It helps them get through this stressful and difficult time where a lot of things are changing. For instance, one of the milestones a baby will go through early on is seeing only red, black, and white colors in all colors. This stresses the baby out at first and burns more calories. This is why they need more breastfeeding. Very rarely do women overfeed their baby but it is a good idea to check in with your doctor and continue to burp your baby.
Should I offer both breasts?
Some women may not think of switching sides when it comes to breastfeeding but it is important to do so. This is because it will help with nipple soreness but also during the early breastfeeding stages both your breasts are making milk. The baby will initially go for one breast and then eventually they will have had enough and go to sleep. During this time you can flip the baby to the other side so when they wake up they can have access to the other breast for the next time they want to eat.
Have you ever felt hangry? Of course, you have. This is likely what the baby is experiencing as well except they are dealing with sensory overload all at once. Cluster feeding is toned on the mom but it can have some great benefits for both the baby and mom. The baby will have a better-developed bond with mom and also mom may have the luxury of getting more sleep. Cluster feeding has often been linked to the baby sleeping longer which means mom can get a few extra winks in as well.
Breastfeeding mothers can still expect to have sore nipples so it’s worth applying nipple balm to help with the chaffing. Another thing that you can do to ensure your health, is to stay hydrated and remember to eat throughout the day. It takes a lot of energy so it’s no wonder why it can wear down mothers a bit.
At the end of the day remember this is a great thing for your little one and if you’d like to record some of the feedings to note this likely growth spurt, that can come in handy. If you find it lasting more than a few days it can never hurt to consult your doctor.