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Does your baby want to eat CONSTANTLY in the evening? Welcome to cluster feeding!
You feel like you just fed him. Oh, wait…. you did! Now he wants to eat AGAIN??!!! Is this normal?
YUP! Perfectly normal… in fact!
In this post, I’m going to explain why newborns cluster feed, help normalize this season for you and give you 20 Great Tips for SURVIVING and THRIVING during marathon cluster feeding sessions with your newborn!
Relax…Cluster Feeding is Normal!
“Cluster Feeding” is a term that refers to frequent feedings occurring mostly in the evening hours.
If you are a new mom, you have probably noticed that your baby wants to eat often later in the day. This is perfectly normal newborn behavior!
Cluster feeding usually begins around 2 weeks postpartum, but can also start sooner.
Your baby may wish to nurse non-stop for several hours before bed. Don’t worry if this happens!
Cluster feeding allows your baby to “tank up” and get ready for longer night sleep. It also signals your body to ramp up milk production during growth spurts.
Even bottle-fed babies will want extra feedings during the evening, especially before a growth spurt!
You Got This, Mama!
Now that you know that your baby’s behavior is perfectly normal, you can stop worrying and really embrace this newborn season for what it is… precious time with this little one!
I know you are tired, but try to enjoy this baby. This is the only time THIS baby will be a newborn and this newborn season won’t last long. I promise!
Sit back, watch a quiet movie (in a darkened room) and encourage this cluster feeding and you will eventually see night sleep improve!
Cluster-Feeding is Often Fussy-Feeding!
Cluster feeding usually coincides with your baby’s fussy time.
Your baby may even nurse a bit, pull off, fuss/cry, nurse a bit more, pull off, fuss/cry… on and on… for hours. This can be VERY frustrating!
You may start wondering if your baby is getting enough milk or that something you are eating is bothering him.
You may even begin to wonder if EVERYTHING you are doing is bothering your baby. It can really ruin your confidence!
It doesn’t help if there is someone else around asking the same questions (your mother, your husband, your mother-in-law). Ugh!
Since it is so common for babies to be fussy during cluster-feeding, breastfeeding mothers often worry that they are not able to produce enough milk for their breastfed babies and are tempted to supplement.
DON’T give in to these temptations unless you have spoken first to a lactation professional or your doctor has serious concerns about your baby’s weight gain.
A fussy baby who cluster feeds continuously in the evening is very normal!
The marathon feeding sessions are necessary to signal your body to ramp up milk production and supplementing will only interfere with this natural process. (source)
Keep in mind that even bottle-fed babies cluster-feed and have periods of fussiness in the evenings!
Why do Breastfed Babies Often Fuss During Cluster Feedings?
One such theory is that milk supply in a nursing mother is lower in the evening hours due to hormonal changes later in the day.
This is the most commonly held belief with lactation specialists. But not all breastfeeding researchers agree, however.
Breastfeeding researcher, Dr. Peter Hartmann, says that this is not the case in women that he has studied. One thing that does seem to be true is that milk flow in the evening tends to be slower, which can be frustrating for tired and cranky babies!
Even if milk volume is lower in the evening, the fat content of this milk is usually higher, which means that babies are still getting the calories they need.
Another reason may simply be that baby is overtired or overstimulated by the end of the day. See this post for more solutions for fussy babies.
Ditch the Feeding Schedule!
Babies know when they are hungry. If they are acting hungry, FEED THEM!
Don’t watch the clock and worry so much about over-feeding them, especially if breastfeeding. This is true even if they just ate!
That being said, there are times when you CAN overfeed a bottle-fed baby, so be sure and talk with your doctor if you are bottle-feeding your baby.
If you want to learn more about how much to feed your newborn, check out this post.
You can also read more about how to pace a bottle-fed baby to avoid over-feeding, if this is a concern of yours.
There is a method of infant feeding called “paced bottle-feeding” that helps slow down the flow to avoid over-feeding mistakes!
You can also get some great feeding tips to prevent over-feeding and reflux in this post.
It is also true that some newborns may be so sleepy that they don’t get enough to eat. Newborns should eat every 2-3 hours during the day.
If you have a very sleepy baby that continually falls asleep at the breast, make sure that you talk with your doctor about his weight gain!
In the case of a brand new baby under 2 weeks old, it’s important to follow your doctor’s/hospital’s recommendations for amount of wet and soiled diapers each day. This is very important!
Most hospitals give new parents a feeding/output chart so that new parents can chart this. Read more about that as well as other newborn feeding tips here.
Things WILL Get Easier!
Cluster feeding is a newborn behavior. Most babies will outgrow cluster feeding by the time they are 2-3 months old.
For some, maybe 4 months, but you will gradually see babies falling asleep earlier and abandoning cluster feeding altogether.
You will usually recognize a growth spurt when cluster feeding gets more intense.
20 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) Cluster Feeding!
Do you need some survival tips? Here are some great ideas to help you handle this somewhat demanding time.
- Adjust your attitude! First of all, try to relax and understand that this is a normal part of breastfeeding a newborn! It will help enormously if you are able to accept this fact and adjust your life accordingly. Also, try to remember that this cluster feeding is only temporary. Most babies grow out of this stage by 2 or 3 months.
- Try to plan your evenings to just hang out with your baby. Set up a nursing station with water, snacks, reading material, TV remote, cell phone etc.
- Try to eat an early dinner before this fussy time starts, or have someone bring you dinner while you are nursing.
- Try massaging your breasts to hand express milk while baby is sucking. This may help speed up the flow and calm an impatient baby who is upset over a slower flow.
- Plan ahead and get things done earlier in the day, so you are ready to hang out with your breastfeeding baby in the evening.
- If you are really tired, try laid-back breastfeeding in a bed or reclining chair or side-lying position on your bed.
- Wear your baby if you need to be getting things done. There are many great baby carriers that are easy to use while breastfeeding.
- Enjoy this time to binge watch your favorite movie or TV show. Maybe you have a TV series that you’d like to watch or plan a movie marathon. This can be a fun, relaxing time if you allow it to be!
- If you have older children, consider snuggle or book time with your older children while nursing. If you want to do this, a baby wrap is great to allow your hands to be free to cuddle with your toddler.
- Catch up on social media.
- Read or listen to a book. Need an idea? 🙂 Download my eBook here.
- Listen to a podcast.
- Use a nursing pillow or baby carrier while working on the computer.
- Your baby may also be experiencing being over-tired, which adds to her fussiness. Read this post to see how to avoid an over-tired or over-stimulated baby!
- Stay hydrated! Make sure that you drink lots of water to help with milk production.
- Make sure you are very comfortable while nursing. Use lots of pillows to encourage good posture while feeding your baby.
- Watch for hunger cues to begin feeding your baby before the crying starts!
- If you’re going stir crazy, put baby in a carrier and go for a walk while your baby nurses. The rocking motion will also calm most babies.
- Dim the lights to help calm a cranky baby.
- Practice skin-to-skin. Holding your baby against your skin helps calm her, increase your milk-producing hormones and provides easy breastfeeding access.
Do You Want to Get Better Sleep with Your Newborn?
I have written an eBook that teaches new parents some great tips and tricks to maximize your sleep during the newborn season.
In this eBook, I share 30 easy sleep tips that will save your sanity and prevent new parent sleep deprivation!
Sleep Deprivation is usually the Hardest Part of the Newborn Season!
The greatest challenge for most new parents is loss of sleep.
How can you get more sleep with your newborn?
Yes, it is possible!
My new eBook shows you how.
This is NOT your average book on baby sleep, but an easy step-by-step, hands-on survival guide for new parents!
I teach new parents how to maximize their sleep during the postpartum period.
I have compiled all my favorite doula tips into a very practical and useful book on sleep for new parents.
It’s called 30 Sleep Hacks for New Parents: A Sleep Survival Guide for Parents of Newborns.
This quick read is a very affordable eBook that will be a game changer for your family!
*Disclaimer – The information in the post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice. Please make sure that you talk with your baby’s doctor if you have any concerns about your newborn. Always check with your health care practitioner before giving your baby supplements, medications or remedies.
Here’s a great video for you to enjoy!
Do you have any questions about cluster feeding? How about more ideas? I’d love to hear from you!
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