This week has been new born week and all the feels that go with establishing breastfeeding.
Two mums I have seen booked a consult because they thought and had been told that they needed to add in supplementation because their baby was hungry.. but what each baby was doing was CLUSTER FEEDING!
Both were very relived to hear that they had enough milk, didn’t need to supplement and with support could now recognize what was going on.
So what is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds continually/frequently over several hours and are ‘clustered’ together.
It tends to be in the late afternoon, early evening or early hours of the morning.
They eat very frequently or constantly for short sessions each time. Did I say constantly……. and frequently…#repeat and #repeat.
Nothing else is wrong, they show their usual hunger signs (constantly) and they are content when they are breastfeeding, but won’t stop crying until they are at the breast…cue cluster f##$#$%!
Why Do Baby’s Cluster Feed?
There are several thoughts why, but the most consensus is that they do it in the first few days to 2 weeks of age to regulate their maturing nervous systems, and with older bubs it is around developmental milestones for 2-3 days at a time.
-Some babies have a stronger need to suckle for comfort.
-Some baby’s are hungrier and need to fill up before sleeping for a longer period at night.
-Baby’s are tired at that time of night and find it harder to cope, so naturally need comfort and closeness of being at the breast.
-Milk supply can be lower in the late afternoon and breasts can definitely feel less full- but they are never empty. The more your breasts are drained the higher the concentration of fat in your breastmilk, so if a baby is cluster feeding they are getting more fat content.
What does it NOT mean?
Cluster feeding is normal.. it is not usually linked to low milk supply.
Cluster feeding is NOT a sign you need to supplement with formula.
A cluster feeding baby will be soothed during a breastfeed. A unsettled baby from other causes usually can not usually be soothed by feeding or formula.
What are they benefits of letting your baby cluster feed?
-It will boost your milk supply.
-Your baby will sleep longer after a cluster feeding episode.
-Frequent feeding in the early evening may help to boost and maintain your milk supply for the following day.
-It will help your baby emotionally and neurologically regulate.
-It will increase your skin to skin time.
What are the risks of cluster feeding?
-If you have a poor latch it will increase nipple tenderness- check your latch, use nipple balms if you become tender.
-It is unpredictable!…but so are human beings.
-It can be exhausting- physically and emotionally. It is the time that many mums introduce a bottle- but a bub can’t cluster feed on a bottle, because it is normally not about hunger!
-It often will take your time away from your other children or household needs at that time period.
Tips to cope with cluster feeding.
Plan ahead- its is going to happen- note what time your bub starts to cluster feed and have the troops ready and organized!
Open conversation with your partner on expectations of your baby’s needs does helps to manage this time period.
-Have dinner ready, eat, pee and get comfortable. Feed the pets.
-Have a large bottle of water, snacks, the TV remote, a charged phone so you can relax during this time period.
-Have a basket of special items for your older child so that they can play with it when you are cluster feeding.
-If you are comfortable sit on the floor so you can read or play with your older child as well.
-Change breastfeeding positions regularly so you avoid getting nipple tenderness.
-If your baby is uncomfortable and fussy then change of scenery can also help. Learn to feed in a baby carrier so you can walk around.
Settling Techniques for Cluster Feeding
-Often a baby just wants to suck- offer your finger. Try not to use a dummy under the age of 3 weeks- the way they suck on a dummy is different in action to the breast and your finger.
-Dim the lights, turn up the white noise, reduce other stimuli, hum, sing, walk and rock your baby.
-Wrap tightly in a swaddle, hold in the centre of your chest with his head in the crook of your neck. Your heart beat sooths them.
-Take short breaks- give baby to your partner to do the above settling methods as often after a time period of cluster feeding they will be ready for sleep!