I want to expand on those a bit and give some newborn cluster feeding tips for survival.
Cluster feeding is basically bunches of feeds close together. Your baby may want to feed several times in a short period of time, or your baby might want to nurse nonstop for hours without ever letting go. This can happen every day or during growth spurts. For many babies the cluster feeding stage starts early on, usually in the first two weeks of life and can go on until 3-4 months old. This may sound like a long time but it does eventually end.
Coinciding with a fussy time of day
Cluster feeding can occur any time but for newborns it is usually in the evening and when your baby is fussy. It seems to be very common that in the early evening your baby will start to get fussy and want to cluster feed on and off for hours. This can go on until 9 or 10 PM and then your baby may have a longer period of sleep.
Some babies will cluster feed peacefully but some may pull on and off the breast, cry and fuss in between feedings, and just generally seem unhappy. Sometimes they will fall asleep in between the fussing and just when you think you can unlatch and move, oh no…they wake up and fuss to nurse some more. This cycle can go on for a few hours.
Tips for survival
Remember it is not your milk! Many women wonder if their baby is getting enough milk due to the fussiness and seemingly endless need to nurse. All this nursing will automatically increase your supply as it is needed. Do not be tempted to supplement because this will cause your supply to go down. I know when I was nursing my first baby the evening fussiness and cluster feeding demands caught me off guard. It’s easy to get worn down and wonder if you are doing something wrong, why is your baby so hungry, and if it would just be easier to offer a supplement. Well meaning but misinformed people (in laws, partner, parents) may also encourage you to supplement. The best thing you can do is hang in there. This is temporary and your baby is getting what he needs from you.
Try to accept it and plan for it as part of your day. My first instinct with my first baby was to really fight the cluster feeding. If my baby was fed I wanted to give her to my husband and have a little break. It was easy to get frustrated when she fussed as soon as I tried to move away for a few minutes and get anything accomplished. Trying to go out or have outings during this time of day was not happening either. Once I accepted this new temporary schedule and worked with it I was a lot less stressed.
Use this time to relax and chill out. Find a comfortable spot. Get a nursing pillow. Find something great to watch on tv, binge watch a series on Netflix or watch movies. Once I accepted my cluster feeding fate I set myself up on the couch each evening. My husband brought me dinner, we watched tons of stuff and I was able to feed my baby and keep her calm while enjoying myself.
And going along with that one above, utilize your partner. Have them bring you dinner, drinks and whatever you need. I looked at it kind of like an extension of pregnancy. I could really use the help and he was happy to do it.
If you really cannot stay still and relax then wear your baby. Get a sling, wrap or baby carrier and wear your baby around the house. This is especially helpful if you have other children and cannot just sit on the couch all evening. This is also helpful when your baby hates to be still and you need to keep moving. Once I had my second baby I also had a toddler to take care of so this worked for me. I spent the early part of our evening with him in a wrap or sling so I could feed my toddler and take care of her. Then once she was in bed I was able to commence my cluster feeding on the couch.
If you need to work or want to sit at a computer use a nursing pillow and cluster feed at the same time! Once I went back to work after my first baby I needed to work evening shifts (at home) occasionally. I was so worried about how I would get through cluster feeding and working at the same time. I read a tip to use a regular pillow on your lap and put a nursing pillow on top of it. This brings your baby up to a better height so you can have your arms free to type.
Get a great book. If you are going to be spending a few hours sitting each evening having something great to read really helps. I got through two of Gillian Flynn’s books while nursing my son in the early days.
When your baby finally passes out for good go get some sleep! Once your baby finishes cluster feeding in the evening they will usually have a longer sleep stretch. Rather than try to get other things done this is a good time to get some rest yourself.
Remember it’s temporary. Cluster feeding is hard and can be exhausting but it does come to an end. Most babies start to cluster feed less by 6-8 weeks and most have outgrown it by 3-4 months. They may still cluster feed occasionally when going through a growth spurt but it’s nothing like those early weeks.
While it is tiring, cluster feeding is totally normal and temporary. Try to accept it and enjoy the downtime with your baby. I actually really miss those early cluster feeding days now. Sure it’s nice to have my evenings somewhat normal again but holding and snuggling with your baby for hours is kind of awesome too.
Let me know if you have any questions about cluster feeding and your survival tips for getting through this period!