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Rebecca Desfosse @RebeccaDesfosse

How to Cope With Cluster Feeding

Does your baby suddenly want to eat all the time? This could mean you're going through a cluster feeding phase! Here's how to manage it.

Remember those blissful breastfeeding sessions when your baby drifted off into a dreamy, milk-filled sleep? Those peaceful moments get thrown out the window when baby enters a period of cluster feeding. This occurs when a baby who was previously content with normally spaced out feedings now wants to nurse constantly -- with back-to-back feedings or even nursing sessions that last over the course of a few hours.

"It is most common in the early weeks, but can reappear at any time during the breastfeeding relationship, such as during a growth spurt or during teething," says Nadine Fournier, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), registered nurse and owner of KW Breastfeeding.

Despite how frequently these periods occur, all the constant feeding can be really tough on a new mom. Here's what you should know about cluster feeding and how to cope.

Why Does Cluster Feeding Happen?
When your baby cluster feeds, it doesn't indicate that you have low milk supply or that your baby isn't getting enough milk. Instead, cluster feeding relates to developmental growth in your baby. "As an infant grows, the demands for milk change -- for example a greater demand for protein, fat and calories," says Wendy Wright, an IBCLC and owner of The 16 Minute Club. "In order to provide additional nutrients for baby, the components of the milk change over time."

Clustering or frequent feeding initiates that change. Cluster feeding typically accompanies each growth spurt, so expect your baby to cluster between seven and 10 days, two to three weeks, four to six weeks, three months, four months, six months and nine months, says Wright.

For more information, read All About Baby Growth Spurts.

How Long Will It Last?
Cluster feeds often occur in "chunks." In other words, babies will feed more frequently a few hours within a day (usually during the evening hours) or continuously all day for two to three days. It can be pretty stressful for those few days, but try not give your baby a bottle to get a break from feeding. "The increased demands on the breast signal to the body to change the current components of the milk. If the demand is replaced by bottle feeding, then breast milk will remain lower calorie or lower protein and the baby will not get the nutrients she needs," says Wright. Instead, focus on the end goal – you will get some relief in a few days.

Tips for Coping
 

  • Relax
    Know that it is completely normal. "In fact, even formula-fed babies go through periods of cluster feeding," says Fournier. Sit down with the remote or a good book and settle in. Accepting the fact that you will be nursing for the next few hours will help keep you from being upset or frustrated.

    In need of some relaxation tips? Check out these 6 Ways to Relax When You Don't Have Any Time.
     
  • Take Care of Yourself
    Constant feeding can be exhausting. Make sure to stay hydrated and eat enough throughout the day. If your baby tends to eat frequently throughout the night, try get in a nap earlier in the day.
     
  • Practice Skin-To-Skin Contact
    According to Fournier, holding your baby against your skin helps calm her, increase your milk-producing hormones and provides easy breastfeeding access.
     
  • Go Outside
    Take your baby for a walk. The fresh air and sunlight can do wonders for both of your moods.
     
  • Give Your Baby a Relaxing Bath
    A warm bath, followed by a gentle massage, can help calm your little one during her fussy periods.
     
  • Get Help
    Enlist your spouse, family member or friend to hold the baby while you take a shower, a nap or a walk. Have a helper take over some of your household chores or watch your older children to support you.
     
  • Stay Connected
    Lastly, stay in touch with other moms, whether online or at a breastfeeding support group. "All the feeding can be isolating, and it is great to know there are other mommies out there in your exact same situation," says Wright.


Want more tips? Read Breastfeeding 101: What Moms Need to Know.

Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.