When a baby wants to eat all the time, it’s called cluster feeding. Normal, but exhausting!
How to cope with cluster feeding? Here’s how to take care of YOU, mom!
It may seem your baby just can’t get full, and you might start worrying that you don’t have enough milk or that there’s something wrong with your baby.
During a baby’s first 6 months, having periods of cluster feeding is completely normal. In this article, you can learn about what cluster feeding is and when it usually happens.
Why is cluster feeding often so hard?
Many moms (myself included) find cluster feeding very exhausting. Remember that just because it is normal, it doesn’t have to be easy! I actually called a lactation consultant crying when my first baby was around 2 months old. I felt like I would literally drop dead from exhaustion because my baby wanted to eat nonstop.
I think cluster feeding can be hard for a number of reasons. One is actually your own expectations and unwillingness to accept the situation. If all you want is for things to go back to “normal”, i.e., more time between feedings, a period of cluster feeding can seem endless and frustrating. Just accepting NOW as it is will help.
Another thing is, of course, that it can be quite tough on your body, breasts (if you breastfeed), and sleep. Producing milk and breastfeeding nonstop IS exhausting. Feeding for several hours in a row is exhausting whether you breastfeed or bottlefeed. Honestly, having a new baby is exhausting!
So, how to cope with cluster feeding? How to take care of YOU, Mom, during these episodes?
Here are some tips on how to handle the situation!
10 Tips to Cope With Cluster Feeding as a New Mom
Eat, Drink, Rest
To be able to provide nourishment for your baby during cluster feeding, it is more important than ever to take care of yourself by eating the proper amount of well-nourishing food, staying hydrated, and resting whenever you can.
Make sure to fill up a water bottle and use it!
Go with the Flow and Adjust Your Routines
When you notice your baby wants to feed more often, especially if they cluster feed during a certain time of day, for example, in the evenings, adjust your routine and plan ahead. If there are some tasks that you need to do, do them before the time you expect your baby to want to start feeding.
With my youngest baby, I simply put him at my breast in the evening when he was fussy and let him stay there… Once I accepted the fact that he needed this for a while, life got much easier for me.
Make sure you find comfortable positions
As you’ll probably spend several hours breastfeeding, you may want to find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Consider using this time, if possible, to watch a movie or a series you enjoy or listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
Try out different breastfeeding positions to see which ones you like.
If you bottle feed, the same, of course, applies – make sure you find comfortable places and positions to sit or lie down.
Try breastfeeding in a baby carrier or just carrying your baby
You can also feed your baby while you carry them and move around if that works for you. It is unnecessary to spend the entire time sitting or lying down, and you’ll probably want to change positions occasionally. Do what works best for you and your baby.
I have breastfed with my baby in a baby carrier while chasing after his older sibling. The trick was to lower the baby’s position in the carrier enough for them to be able to reach up for the nipple. Not exactly the ideal, cozy bonding situation, but with a slightly older sibling (18 months apart), life has to function!
I’m sure it would be possible to have the baby in a sling and breastfeed too, but I haven’t tried it.
Think about activities with siblings that work while feeding
If you have other children, you may want to find activities you can participate in while feeding the baby, such as reading, watching TV, playing games, or doing simple crafts. If the older sibling is at least 2 years older, try playing a matching memory game together. Chances are your older child will win even if you do your best!
Remind yourself that cluster feeding is normal!
To relieve anxiety or discouragement, remember that cluster feeding isn’t typically a sign that your milk supply is low and there is no need to supplement.
Although it may seem easier to supplement when you are physically and emotionally drained from breastfeeding, remember that if you supplement, your body will get the message that less milk is needed and will therefore produce less milk.
Cluster feeding does the complete opposite by increasing your milk supply to match your baby’s nourishment needs as they grow. As tiring as they are, cluster feeding periods usually last a few days max, and as your baby gets older, they probably won’t be as intense.
There is an easy way to know if your baby gets enough milk – weigh them! Schedule a visit to your health nurse or midwife and check your baby’s weight development.
Try other soothing techniques
Consider trying other techniques to soothe your fussy baby. Some of the things you can try include:
- reducing stimulation (such as noise or light)
- making relaxing noises such as shushing or humming
- using white noise
- holding your baby
- moving around (rocking, swaying, walking)
- giving your baby a warm bath or a massage
- handing over the baby to someone else if you are exhausted or frustrated (babies can feel when we are not calm)
Get help! No need to play super mom!
Plan with your partner and discuss how they can best support you. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help and let your family help in any way they can, e.g., by preparing meals, helping with the household, or spending time with your other kids.
Take breaks and be kind to yourself
Take breaks whenever you can. If your baby has finally fallen asleep, hand them over to your partner. Your partner can put your baby in the crib while you take some time for yourself. If your baby is bottle-fed, you and your partner can probably take turns feeding the baby, although some young babies only accept their mom.
Be gentle and kind towards yourself, slow down when needed, and don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself.
Don’t hesitate to talk to a health nurse or lactation consultant
Even if it is normal that your baby has periods when they want to eat very frequently, and you are doing your best to cope with the cluster feeding, there is nothing wrong with asking for advice if something feels off. Maybe you are still worried that your baby doesn’t get enough milk, your nipples have hurt, or the situation is overwhelming.
Do talk to a lactation consultant, health nurse, or doctor! Worrying without asking is never the answer!
Cluster feeding can be hard. No need to sugarcoat it. But it is completely normal, and it won’t last. The best you can do to cope with cluster feeding is to accept it and adjust to the situation, take care of yourself, and simply see these episodes as part of your baby’s development. Soon enough, your little one will be running around, and you’ll have difficulties getting them to eat anything at all because they are too busy exploring the world.
If you have additional ideas on how to cope with cluster feeding, please share by leaving a comment below! Other new moms will thank you!
- All About Cluster Feeding: When, Why, Ages, Pros, Cons
- How to Stop Leaking Breast Milk as a Breastfeeding Mom
- Breastfeeding – Cluster feeding
- Fatigue and breastfeeding: an inevitable partnership?
- Cluster Feeding: What to Expect and Tips for Managing It
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing is based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians that you find here. They write or review all health-related articles.