Having a newborn often keeps you at home. You can easily start imagining lengthy to-do lists — from trying to find more affordable home insurance to make your home more secure and safe for your baby — but it can be difficult to get those things done.
While we may want to find a comfortable spot on the couch and soak in all the newborn snuggles, daily tasks still have to get accomplished. Fortunately, there are online tools and at-home delivery options for everything from weekly groceries to home insurance quotes.
Even with these time- and energy-saving options of today’s modern world, it can still be difficult to accomplish any task when you have a newborn who wants to cluster feed. This type of feeding is a natural and beneficial occurrence, but it can be a rough time for new moms.
The best way to get through those long hours of constant feeding is to learn ways to cope with it.
In This Article
What is cluster feeding?
The term cluster feeding can be used by many people to describe multiple feedings in a short time, but that’s not descriptive or specific enough for those moms trudging through it.
Cluster feeding is a time when a young baby, usually breastfed, demands long stretches of feedings with very short breaks in between those feedings.
Most newborns and young infants can go between two and four hours between feeding sessions. The feedings themselves can last anywhere from a few minutes to almost a full hour in the early days.
Cluster feeding, on the other hand, is a time of almost constant feeding. The newborn or young infant demands more feeds for longer periods of time with few or no breaks. An infant can feed for 45 minutes, take a 15-minute break, and want to feed again for another hour.
It’s most common for very young babies — usually newborns to about three months — to experience cluster feeding. There are instances of babies as old as 9 months experiencing smaller stretches, though.
Cluster feeding is also most common in the evening or during the “witching hour.” The “witching hour” is the early evening hours until a child drifts off to sleep, usually between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. It can also pick back up each time a child experiences a growth spurt.
This dramatic and demanding shift in a nursing or feeding schedule can be debilitating for new moms. It often leads moms to worry unnecessarily about their milk supply or the health of their child. The reality is, however, that cluster feeding is normal and beneficial for both mom and baby.
Common Misconceptions of Cluster Feeding
Cluster feedings can be incredibly trying for new moms. One of the bigger issues is the number of misconceptions and false ideas surrounding it.
1. Low Milk Supply
Many people who experience cluster feeding believe it’s an indication of low or decreasing milk supply. The reality is quite the opposite. It is a newborn’s natural instinct to help increase a mother’s milk supply. It has nothing to do with milk supply and everything to do with the natural development of a growing child.
2. Milk Allergy
Because cluster feeding is often accompanied by long periods of crying or fussiness, many people assume their child has an allergy to the milk or formula they are being fed. While there are children who have soy or milk allergies, a baby who is cluster feeding doesn’t necessarily have them.
Some moms worry about overfeeding their cluster-feeding infants. Because the feeding sessions are longer and closer together, it can seem like an infant is simply getting too much milk.
With breastfed babies specifically, breast milk is easily digestible, so there is little need to worry about overfeeding. All infants, regardless of how they are fed, have the natural ability to regurgitate excess supply.
Another common misconception about cluster feeding is that the baby is trying to manipulate the mom because they aren’t hungry, so they don’t need to feed again. The truth is babies don’t nurse for hunger only. Babies use nursing to satisfy other needs like thirst, overstimulation, and a need for comfort.
5. Cluster Feedings Only for Breastfeeding
There is one final misconception that should be addressed. Cluster feeding is not exclusive to breastfed infants. It is true that it is most common with infants who nurse, but bottle-fed babies can have stretches of it as well.
Knowing these misconceptions can help a new mother better understand the role and have a successful breastfeeding journey. It can help her feel less overwhelmed and realize it’s an important part of her young baby’s development.
Purpose of Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding is mentally and physically draining. It’s hard to feel functional or even human when you spend hours on end feeding your child. While these are normal and valid feelings, there is a bigger purpose for this type of feeding.
Knowing just how beneficial it is can help a new mom get through those long hours of feeding.
An important reason for cluster feeding is to help establish a mother’s milk supply. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand system. In order to have more milk, there has to be a greater or more constant demand for it.
A mother’s supply is well established around the third or fourth month of life, so newborns like to pack in some solid cluster feeding to ensure the mom has enough milk to meet their growing needs and demands.
Another reason for cluster feeding is better to sleep or at the least the potential for better sleep. Newborns and young infants will often use it to fill their bellies before sleeping longer stretches. This can be a great mental boost for new moms.
The act of breastfeeding also helps to relax and calm a baby. If an infant feels overwhelmed or overstimulated, they may use cluster feeding as a way to calm down.
Long stretches of nursing also help create and strengthen the bond between mother and baby. Those early days of life are all about learning and getting to know the new bundle of joy. Cluster feeding simply offers more opportunities for connection.
How to Survive Cluster Feeding
So cluster feeding is normal, beneficial, and extremely common. This doesn’t necessarily make it any easier for moms to deal with. There are, however, a few tips and breastfeeding hacks to employ to help make it survivable and maybe even a little enjoyable.
1. Expect and Accept it
Tell yourself over and over again, “this too shall pass.” In the grand scheme of things, cluster feeding will be such a short period of time, and it will end. Expect at least some times of increased feeding in the early days and have a place to survive it.
2. Be Prepared and Get Comfortable
The best way to beat something is to be prepared. Take the first few days of cluster feeding to get an idea of when it starts and how long it lasts. Then pick a comfortable spot, get high-protein snacks, a large reusable water bottle, and a phone charger, and get settled.
You can even find a new show to binge-watch uninterrupted.
3. Resist the Urge to Supplement with Formula
If you want to exclusively breastfeed, this is vitally important: resist the urge to supplement with formula. Cluster feeding is hard, but it’s incredibly beneficial. Every instance of supplementing tells your body to stop producing breast milk. Keep nursing and know that it will end.
4. Stay Hydrated and Fueled
Breastfeeding burns an additional 600 calories a day, so you will need to stay hydrated and fueled, especially during a cluster-feeding session. Remember to grab a few high-protein snacks and a full water bottle.
5. Prepare a Nursing Basket for Older Kiddos
If you have older kiddos, then consider preparing a nursing basket for those cluster-feeding sessions. Fill the basket with fun but independent activities. You will be tied up with a newborn, so the older kids will need ways to stay entertained with limited adult help.
6. Ask for Help
As a mom, there are so many responsibilities you have and long lists of things to get accomplished. You can’t always do it all and that’s more than okay. Enlist others to help clean the house, cook meals, or get other kids to and from their activities.
7. Use a Baby Carrier
Baby-wearing is a great way to get a baby the comfort and closeness they desire without sitting on the couch for hours and hours. Consider wearing young infants for at least two hours a day. This has significant benefits and has been shown to lessen the demands of cluster feeding.
8. Try Different Feeding Positions
Nursing for long hours can be physically difficult. The best way to combat stiff joints and tight muscles is to use multiple nursing positions. This can also help with clogged ducts and encourage a better latch.
Stay Strong through Cluster Feedings
The best piece of advice for those long hours of nursing is that it will end. In those early days and weeks, it can be difficult to see an end to the sleepless nights and cluster feeds, but it will end.
There are many anxieties that new parents can face in regards to the health of their children, from fears of unexpected medical emergencies to hearing stories about school bus accidents. It is important to be aware of what you can do to keep your child healthy but not let those fears overwhelm you.
Take a moment to breathe and try to bottle up those intimate moments with your newest family member. Make sure you stay hydrated yourself, especially if you are pregnant while breastfeeding.
Laura Gunn writes and researches for the insurance comparison site, USInsuranceAgents.com. She is the mom to two growing boys, and she is passionate about letting other moms know they aren’t alone during the newborn stage.