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How to stay sane when your baby is cluster feeding

woman breastfeeding an infant2

July 22, 2020

By Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC

Cluster feeding is when a baby breastfeeds very frequently. It can be hard to tell when one feeding ends and the next feeding begins. Even though it is a normal part of breastfeeding it can be overwhelming and tiring. Some simple tips will help you keep your sanity when these marathon nursing sessions occur.

When Does Cluster Feeding Typically Happen?

Many babies have a period of cluster feeding every day in the first two to three months. The late afternoon or early evening are common times for these sessions to occur. This is sometimes referred to as the witching hour.

There are other typical times that a baby wants to eat frequently.

  • Babies usually cluster feed in the day or two before mom’s milk comes in
  • Right after a long stretch of sleep
  • During a growth spurt:
    • 2-3 weeks
    • 6 weeks
    • 3 months
    • 6 months
    • 9 months
  • When they are feeling overstimulated

How Long Do Cluster Feeding Sessions Last?

This can vary depending on what is causing the cluster feeding. Witching hour sessions usually last an hour or two. Occasionally they will last longer.

Cluster feeding can last all day when a baby is going through a growth spurt. The older a baby is the longer the cluster feedings tend to last. They may even last several days.

How Can I Make Cluster Feeding Sessions Easier?

You can have a designated nursing station with everything you need in one place. Alternatively, you can make a few nursing baskets with all the items you need and put them in various places around your house. Include items for both yourself and your baby.

  • Water bottles.
  • Healthy snacks.
  • For those extra-long sessions, remember to eat full meals.
  • Books and magazines. Having an electronic reader or a tablet gives you a lot of reading options and takes up a minimum amount of space.
  • You can take advantage of cluster feeding sessions to catch up on some television shows.
  • A nursing pillow.
  • If your baby typically cluster feeds around the dinner hour prepare dinner earlier in the day.
  • Have some dinners in your freezer for when a cluster feeding session catches you unexpectedly.
  • A nursing stool will help you avoid hunching over and experiencing back discomfort as a result.
  • If you have older children, have a basket of books and toys that you can enjoy with them while you are breastfeeding.
  • Remember that cluster feeding is your baby’s way of making sure your milk supply meets his growing needs. It’s a good thing.

Is It Okay To Take A Break During A Cluster Feeding Session?

Being attached to your baby for hours at a time can be overwhelming. There also will be times that you need to use the restroom, or you might want to take a shower or eat a meal. If you feel like you need a break it’s ok to have your partner hold the baby for a few minutes. When a longer break is needed they could offer a bottle of your expressed breast milk.

The demands of a baby who is going through a long cluster feeding period can be exhausting.
If you feel like you are a risk for falling asleep during feedings you are encouraged to take a nap and let someone else take over baby duty while you get some rest. If your partner, friends, and family aren’t available to help, you could hire a postpartum doula for extra support.

Taking care of your needs will enable you to take care of your baby’s needs.

Can I Offer A Pacifier If I Need A Break?

Offering a pacifier for a quick restroom break should not cause any problems. Babies cluster feed to increase their calorie intake and stimulate your milk production. Offering a pacifier for longer periods of time can disrupt the supply and demand balance of your milk supply.

Can Cluster Feeding Be A Red Flag For Milk Supply Problems?

If you feel like your baby constantly cluster feeds it can be helpful to meet with a lactation consultant. She can assess your milk supply. She can also determine if your baby is feeding efficiently.
You can keep a log of feedings to see if the feeding marathons are happening as frequently as you think they are. It’s not uncommon for sleep-deprived moms to have a different sense of time.

Although cluster feeding can be overwhelming, remember that it is normal and actually helpful. It’s the most natural way to boost your milk supply.t can also provide you with the opportunity to relax and enjoy your baby.

Andrea Tran RN, BSN, MA, IBCLC is a freelance writer who has been helping moms and babies breastfeed for over twenty-five years. She is married and the mother of three adult children.

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