One of the first hurdles breastfeeding mums encounter with a new baby is cluster feeding and, particularly if you don’t know what it is, you might find it concerning when it happens to your baby, and chances are it will.
Simply put, cluster feeding is frequent, or even constant, feeding over a period of time- usually back to back. A baby who was previously content with normally spaced out feedings will now want to constantly latch and feed, and often times cries when removed. It often happens for two to four hours in the evenings but can occur at any time during the day or night. Your baby may act fussy and seem hungry again right after you’ve fed her, which can be very frustrating to you.
One of the worst things about cluster feeding is that it can really knock your confidence as a new mum, especially if ill advised friends and relatives try to persuade you that your baby is cluster feeding because your milk is not sufficient and you should offer formula or other supplements. Actually, supplementing is one of the worst things you can do because it tells your body to make less milk, and the point of cluster feeding is to boost your milk supply.
Remember that your baby knows what she needs. In the early days she is building up your supply, and as time goes on she is increasing your supply so she can grow, so by supplementing your body would not be receiving the signals your baby is trying to send it about how much milk she will need, and you could find yourself struggling to keep up. The best thing you can do for your baby and your supply is to feed on demand and keep yourself hydrated while the cluster feeding is happening. And make sure you have a comfy chair!
Cluster Feeding Usually Indicates a Growth Spurt Is Near
Cluster feeding is often at its most noticeable during growth spurts, and babies certainly have a lot of those! Your baby may cluster feed in the run up to a growth spurt to ensure that the extra milk she will require is there by stimulating your supply.
In the vast majority of cases, cluster feeding does not indicate low supply. If your baby is gaining weight well and producing sufficient wet and dirty nappies it is unlikely you have a supply problem, but if you are concerned or just want to talk to someone about it you can always attend your local breastfeeding support group or baby health clinic for advice.
As a new mum you’ll face plenty of challenges but it’s advisable to arm yourself with information and trust your instincts as a mother. Cluster feeding often lasts no longer than a few days at any one time so try to relax and enjoy the extra time you’re spending bonding with your little one.
Things to keep in mind:
- Growth spurts typically spur periods of cluster feeding. Babies undergo significant growth spurts at around two weeks of age, and during the second, fourth, sixth, and ninth month.
- Cluster feeding increases milk supply, which is why it's more common at night when hormones that stimulate breast milk production are low
- If your baby is gaining weight and defecating at a normal rate, then there probably isn't a problem with the quality or quantity of milk you're producing
- Some lactation experts even recommend cluster feeding at night, to encourage baby to stick to a (somewhat) normal sleep schedule. "By giving them more in their little bellies before they take a nap, they're more likely to sleep longer stretches", explains Baby Whisperer Melinda Blau.