You have just finished feeding your newborn baby, straightened your back and now thinking about the rest of the day when the baby starts to move his head from one side to another, clearly indicating that it’s time to nurse again. But you just fed the baby, how can he/she be hungry again? You check the diaper but no luck, you try to give a burp but all in vain! Well if you have experienced this with your baby or if you’re undergoing it right now, I want to assure you that there’s nothing wrong with your baby or with your milk supply. This behaviour that your little one is exhibiting has a name called Cluster feeding and which is fairly common in newborn babies. Although lactation treats like cookies, drinks or brownies do wonders to boost milk supply, cluster feeding does that inherently.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding represents a time of growth spurt in the babies when they demand a number of feeding sessions that are short but closely spanned. The newborn suddenly starts to call for nursing much more often-just like clusters but for a short period of time. This behaviour is fairly common in newborn babies that breastfeed and it usually happens in the first couple of weeks and lasts just for a few hours at one time. Cluster feedings generally happen in the late afternoon hours or in the early evenings. Some babies like to fill up their stomach with milk and then go for a deep peaceful slumber. Cluster feedings are very frustrating, demanding and maddening for the mothers as the babies like to nurse, pull away, get cranky, cry, feed again and the repeat all that over and over for no apparent reason.
This often leads to a misunderstanding that almost every mother has that her supply of milk isn’t enough and she needs to increase milk supply by having lactation treats and supplements. Whereas the reality is contrary to it; Cluster feeding is a very smart and natural way of boosting the milk supply. There’s no drop in your milk production, you’re not the reason that the child is hungry after every 15-20 minutes or so. In fact, these frequent feedings will further trigger your mammary glands and they will produce more milk to comply with the risen demand. A new born baby normally has 8-12 feeding sessions in a 24-hour day but during the cluster feeding or bunch feeding this might rise up to 18-22 feedings sessions in a day.
How to Distinguish between Cluster Feeding or Colic?
To identify cluster feeding is itself a convoluted task as the feeding pattern of a new born baby is very unpredictable and impulsive. Having said that there are some pointers from which you can get an inkling of whether it’s cluster feeding or not. Firstly, cluster feeding kicks in when the baby is just a few days or weeks old. They will either show their usual signs like side-to-side mouth opening, hands sucking motions or they cry until they are not being put to the breasts again. Babies might want to feed for longer durations or feed for shorter durations but much more frequently. Mothers won’t find anything else out of ordinary in the baby’s behaviour; regular wet and dirty diapers and cheerful mood. Mothers often get confused when the baby is fussier, cranky and agitated then usual and often confuse colic and cluster feeding with each other. The best way to identify that whether a baby is in the cluster feeding phase or is colic is by putting him/her to the breasts. A colic baby won’t be pacified by nursing whereas a cluster feeding baby will immediately be soothed when put to breasts.
Tips and Tricks to Deal with Cluster Feeding Phase
Although cluster feeding is a short-term behavioural change in the baby, it certainly can be very draining and exhausting for the mother and also for the rest of the family. A few trips and tricks can make this brief phase much more pleasant and bearable for both the mother and the child. First and foremost, a mother must set up a nursing area which is comfortable and relaxing for her as she is going to spend a lot of time there. Keep some entertaining things handy as you may have to sit for long hours. Read books, play with older kids or watch TV, it’s up to you.
As the feeding sessions shoot up, mothers must take care of their food and water intake otherwise they can feel tired, dizzy, exhausted or even go unconscious. Keep a large glass of water near the nursing area at all times. Mothers must change their nursing positions and switch between breasts to protect the breasts from getting sore and also for an equal increase in milk supply in both the breasts. Make sure you take your partner on board on this journey so that he can help you when you are immobile for long hours. Ask him to hold the baby in the free time between the feeding so that you can get a break and he can bond with the little one.
Keep a close eye on the timing of cluster feeding and try to get in a comfortable positing both physically and mentally so that you can enjoy this time with the baby. Talk to your partner about the chores of the home in the time when you’re busy nursing the baby. Also try to practice nursing your baby when in a sling so that you can get more mobility around the home. If your friends or family members offer to help you for the first few weeks after the delivery say, yes! This will greatly help you and make you more at ease and relaxed.
Cluster feeding is a normal behavioural change in the newborn breastfeeding babies. It doesn’t last forever, although we don’t really know why it starts but it is said to be related with the first growth spurt of the baby. The best way to deal with this phase is to reset your priorities and expectations and fully give in to this chapter of your baby’s life. It may seem daunting but the silver lining is that it won’t last long and pass very soon.