Worried about why your baby is constantly nursing? Trying to figure out if you’re not producing enough breastmilk or if baby is just cluster feeding? Or, maybe you’re just curious as to what cluster feeding even is?
Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. There is a learning curve for both you and your baby. You have to figure out what’s normal and what’s not, and your baby has to perfect her latch.
So, what about when it comes to cluster feedings? What all do you need to know?
In this post, we’ll talk about what cluster feeding is, why your baby is nursing so frequently, how to tell the difference between cluster feeding and low milk supply, and tips for surviving those cluster feeds.
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What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding, also known as the “witching hour(s),” is when your baby feeds frequently at certain times of the days (typically late afternoon or evening). Most of the time, your baby will go a few hours in between feedings, but during cluster feedings, your baby will nurse every 20-30 minutes, or even constantly for a few hours at a time.
If your baby seems to be quite fussy at certain times of the day, then she is probably wanting to cluster feed. Follow your baby’s cues, and nurse on demand. It can be rough at times, but just keep switching breasts until your baby is done feeding.
Your baby may even fall asleep at the breast, and then wake up 5-10 minutes later and want to nurse again. This is normal. Cluster feeding is NORMAL!
Why Does My Baby Want to Nurse All the Time?
When babies cluster feed, they are often going through a growth spurt or developmental leap (source). Cluster feedings are usually even (but not always) followed by a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep. Hallelujah!
Babies may also want to breastfeed quite frequently for comfort when they are teething or battling a minor illness.
When your baby nurses more frequently, they are sending a signal to your body to make more breastmilk. So, the more your baby eats, the more milk your body will produce. Breastfeeding really is all about supply and demand.
What Does Newborn Cluster Feeding Look Like?
During the first few days, your baby will be able to thrive with the tiny bit of colostrum you have. Their tummies are so tiny, they can only hold so much at a time. Which means, they will be hungry very frequently.
But, their tiny stomach grows rapidly during that first month of life, making those first 30 days the most demanding when it comes to breastfeeding.
When babies are born, their stomachs are only about the size of a cherry and can only hold about a tsp. of colostrum at a time. By 3 days old, your baby’s stomach will already be 4 times larger and can now hold 0.8 to 1 ounces of milk. Around day 7, your baby’s tummy will have grown to the size of an apricot and can hold 1.5 to 2 ounces of milk, and by day 30, it will be the size of a large egg and can already hold 2.5-5 oz. of breastmilk at a time (source).
Around day 3-7, your body will also begin to switch from colostrum to full on breastmilk production. During this time, your baby will probably have one night where they just want to nurse constantly. This is your newborn signaling to your body to make this switch. Your milk will probably come in full force that next day. You’re boobs will become full fast, and you’ll feel quite engorged.
Forget a feeding schedule those first few months of life. Your baby may nurse quite frequently, but it’s extremely important to listen to your baby’s signals in order to initiate and maintain breastmilk supply (source).
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How Can You Tell the Difference Between Low Milk Supply and Cluster Feeding?
Even though cluster feeding is completely normal, it can easily make you question if you’re producing enough breastmilk, especially if you’re a first time breastfeeding mom. And, especially if your baby nurses for a few minutes, pulls off, cries and fusses, latches back on, and just keeps repeating this cycle. This can be extremely frustrating.
So, how you can tell if your baby is getting enough breastmilk? When is your baby just cluster feeding, and what are some signs that you may need to supplement? Here are a few key-tailed differences:
- Baby nurses frequently at CERTAIN periods of the day (typically late afternoon or evening)
- Baby is fussy at CERTAIN times of the day (again, typically late afternoon or evening)
- Baby is fussy at the breast at CERTAIN periods of the day
- Baby has plenty of wet and dirty diapers
- Baby is gaining plenty of weight
Low Milk Supply
- Baby is wanting to feed MOST of the day/night
- Baby is fussy MOST of the day and immediately after MOST feedings
- Baby is nursing for an hour or more at MOST feedings
- Not enough wet and dirty diapers
- Baby is not gaining weight
- Baby is awake all the time or sleepy all of the time
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If you sense that your baby is not getting enough breastmilk, it’s best to consult with your pediatrician or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as soon as possible to discuss a care plan.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Cluster feeding starts early on, usually within the first two weeks of life, as your baby’s tummy begins to grow. They typically coincide with growth spurts, around the first few days at home, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, and 6 months. Growth spurts usually last around 2-3 days, but can sometimes last for up to a week.
That first month is filled with cluster feedings, but luckily breastfeeding does get easier, andcluster feedings usually start to die down around 3-4 months of age.
Cluster Feeding Survival Tips
Cluster feeding may be normal, but can also just be plain exhausting! Your body is working overtime, and your schedule may go kaput. This tiny person is now in-demand!
Having your baby latched on so frequently can be overwhelming, but just try to remember that this time will fly by. Here are 10 top tips to help you survive those cluster feeds:
1.) Don’t Fight It
I know it can be rough having a little minion sucking on your nipples for hours at a time, but following your baby’s cues is crucial for maintaining your breastmilk supply and keeping up with your baby’s growing needs.
2.) Make Yourself Comfy
Prepare yourself for the long haul, by setting yourself up in a comfy spot. If you’re tired or worried you may fall asleep, then it’s best to nurse on a firm mattress with no blankets or pillows surrounding you and your baby.
3.) Stay Hydrated
You can easily get dehydrated while breastfeeding if you’re not replenishing your fluids. Plus, it’s also extremely important for maintaining your milk supply. Invest in a large water bottle, and have it handy at all times. Ones with straws are best, so you can easily get a drink while your baby is nursing.
4.) Recruit Your Hubby
There’s many ways your husband can be involved in breastfeeding. You don’t have to do this alone. Recruit your hubby to fill up your water bottle, hand you the remote, cook dinner, and even spoon-feed you while baby’s eating. Place him on diaper duty in between feeds, so you can go to the bathroom and take care of yourself.
5.) Binge Watch Netflix
You may be stuck on the couch for a few hours, so go ahead and enjoy some entertainment by binge watching all your favorite and latest Netflix shows. Some of my current faves include “The Let Down,” “Peaky Blinders,” The Office,” and “Parks and Recreation.”
6. ) Have Essentials Handy
Have a breastfeeding basket in arms reach, filled with one handed snacks, nipple cream (or coconut oil), burp cloths, and nursing pads. You’ll probably want to have a diaper caddy nearby as well.
7.) Soothe Your Nipples
It’ll take time for your nipples to adjust to the demands of breastfeeding. You may have some sore nipples that first week or two. Find some relief in between feedings with a cool washcloth, nipple cream, or cold breastfeeding gel pads. If your nipples are sore past the first few weeks or you’re in extreme pain when baby is nursing, you should seek an IBCLC to have your baby’s latch evaluated.
8.) Set up Entertainment for Your Toddler
Set your toddler up with a busy box or lots of books when you expect a cluster feeding is about to happen. If you have someone that could entertain them, that would be even better. And, if all else fails, don’t feel bad for letting them have a little bit of screen-time. This first year is survival mode!
9.) Nurse in a Carrier
If you have other kids at home or there’s things you just have to get done, you may want to learn how to nurse your baby in a carrier. There are lots of instructional videos on YouTube you can look up for different ages of babies and different types of carriers.
10.) Ask for Help
If you’re still worried about what’s normal and what’s not or just need some support, don’t be afraid to reach out. There are plenty of free breastfeeding resources out there to help you through this journey.
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Cluster feeding is very common during the early months of breastfeeding. Your baby will want to nurse constantly for a few hours each day during growth spurts and developmental leaps. It’s important to follow your baby’s cues, as breastfeeding is a supply and demand relationship.
As long as your baby is gaining weight, having plenty of wet and dirty diapers, and not nursing constantly around the clock, then you shouldn’t have to worry about low milk supply. Cluster feedings can be rough, but they don’t last forever. So, get yourself comfy, recruit your hubby, and cherish those early months of breastfeeding. They really are so bitter sweet. <3
Nurse on mama!
Did You Find This Post Helpful?
Did this post answer all your questions about cluster feeding? Share some of your cluster feeding survival tips with us in the comments below, and be sure to share this post with other first-time breastfeeding moms.
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