Are you trapped in what feels like an endless cycle of breastfeeding your baby?
Welcome to cluster feeding fellow mama!
It feels like groundhog day, but way worse, and without Bill Murray to make you laugh.
If you’re here, you’re probably at the very end of your tether with the seemingly constant nursing your baby is demanding.
Just when you think they’re done, they start up again!
I had zero clue what cluster feeding was until my baby started doing it, and I found the answer to what on earth was going on via Google.
But once you know that it’s normal, that doesn’t necessarily help you to cope with it! Cluster feeding is utterly exhausting when you’re already more tired than you’ve ever been in your life.
It can also be painful for your boobs if you’re still getting the hang of the latch and your nipples are sore.
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What is cluster feeding
Cluster feeding is where babies feed on and off frequently within a short space of time. A cluster feeding session can last anything from one hour to four hours.
The baby may nod off occasionally and then wake up ravenously hungry once again minutes later.
During a cluster feeding session your baby may be particularly unsettled and fussy too. They might feed for a couple of minutes, pull off the breast, fuss, and then feed again.
Your baby may be agitated at the breast. Their behaviour may include shaking their head side to side at the nipple and clawing at your clothing.
This might make you panic and wonder if there’s something more wrong, particularly if their behaviour has been otherwise mellow in the past.
Cluster feeding often also coincides with what’s known as the “witching hour”. They’re kind of one-in-the-same thing. The “witching hour” begins late afternoon and can continue well into the evening. This sees your baby crying inconsolably for hours on end.
It’s a developmental phase most babies go through, although some may label this behaviour as colic.
Combined with the cluster feeding it can be quite alarming for new mothers.
Rest assured that this behaviour is totally normal!
When your baby cluster feeds, they are trying to do the following:
- Stimulate your milk supply
- Tank up on calories for a growth spurt
- Get close to you
This does not mean that your milk supply is low. If your baby is growing well, producing plenty of dirty nappies and otherwise settled after feeds in the day, then you don’t need to worry.
It’s also related to your baby needing comfort from you. It could be that at the end of a busy day they are particularly tired and need extra nurturing from their mother, and at this age they strongly associate that with feeding.
When do babies cluster feed
Cluster feeding tends to begin at around three weeks of age and lasts until around eight weeks.
This type of behaviour may return again as your baby experiences growth spurts and they want more milk to compensate for all of the energy they are using.
Cluster feeding tends to begin at around 5pm in the afternoon and may not finish until 10pm. Some mothers report it continues even later.
No two babies are exactly the same. The reassuring thing is that cluster feeding can end as quickly as it began. One night you’re feeding non-stop. The next night your baby is sleeping soundly at 7pm.
How to stop cluster feeding
Even though it feels utterly exhausting and makes you want to quit breastfeeding altogether, you should not try to stop cluster feeding.
While it might feel totally unnatural to you, this is very normal behaviour and will end eventually.
Part of the trouble with cluster feeding is that it often starts just a few weeks after birth. This is when you’re already exhausted from the shock of giving birth and your new role as a parent.
If you’re really struggling with cluster feeding, remind yourself this is not forever and eventually your baby will settle into a manageable feeding pattern. Wait for it to stop naturally, which it will do, and find ways to cope with it while it’s going on.
Tips for coping with cluster feeding
So now you know why your baby is feeding non-stop in the evenings, what can you do about it?
Here are some tips for coping with cluster feeding.
Surrender to this
You cannot stop a baby from cluster feeding, and you shouldn’t try. Accept it’s normal.
The next step is to start adapting your life around this behaviour, rather than trying to do things the other way round.
Stop stressing about trying to change your baby’s constant feeding, and just let them feed.
If feeding them is painful, then revisit the latch and see if this needs changing. Look for local support groups and lactation experts.
Try white noise or gentle music to quiet down your baby.
White noise especially can help to soothe them, as it blocks out the other noises in the house that might be stopping them from nodding off.
If your baby is used to a particular song or CD at bedtime, then try playing this to relax your baby.
There are lots of free playlists on YouTube that you can try.
Take a drive in the car
If your baby is too agitated to even feed efficiently, you could try taking a short drive to see if that will get them off to sleep.
When your baby combines cluster feeding with being overtired, the resulting tears and wailing can make it really hard for you and baby to feed properly.
Pop them in the car for 30 to 45 minutes and see if this makes any difference. Don’t drive if you’re feeling too tired though.
Try different feeding positions
Change things up to see if this will distract your baby or get them into a more comfortable position.
Check their body temperature too by sticking two fingers down the back of their neck. If they feel hot then strip a layer off of them. Breastfeeding can make you both feel hot and sweaty, which can kick up your baby’s agitation at this time by a few notches.
Here are some amazing breastfeeding positions you could try.
Take a break
Hand the baby over to your partner, or get a friend round to help, and step out of the room for 10 to 30 minutes.
Cluster feeding is something that you need to just get through, but there’s no harm in taking a break for a shower or get something to eat.
Taking care of yourself is an extension of caring for your baby. Your milk supply will flourish if you drink lots of water, rest, eat a good diet and feel relaxed.
Ditch your routine
When your baby is in a cluster feeding phase, stop trying to enforce routines.
This is such a waste of your time when this type of behaviour is going on.
It can be difficult to do this if you are the type of person who thrives on a routine, or you had a really great routine before the cluster feeding began.
Don’t worry about how many feeds your baby is having, just ride this intense phase out because it will end!
Also stop worrying about enforcing a specific bedtime. You can still attempt a bedtime routine, although your baby may be too agitated to really respond well to it.
Play it by ear and just let things happen naturally. You will get back to the routine you preferred in just a few weeks.
Don’t give up
Try not to let cluster feeding to make up your mind when it comes to quitting breastfeeding.
Although this endless feeding is full on, it will not last for the entire first year of your baby’s life and you will eventually come to a point where you will be glad you stuck with breastfeeding.
When it comes to quitting breastfeeding, never do it on your worst day (as things often seem different the next day) and read this post featuring tips for sticking with breastfeeding.
Remember that cluster feeding does not last forever! Stick on a good boxset and put your feet up!