Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
It is very common for newborn breastfed babies to have a cranky period of constant feeding known as a cluster feed. Where most of the day, newborns will nurse and sleep, nurse and sleep with seemingly little in between, the cluster feed is a 3-hour (or so) period with no sleep or very short spurts of sleep, coupled with the need to be constantly at the breast. Often the baby will fall asleep at the breast, but refuse to be detached, waking up and wanting to nurse more. When not on the breast, the baby may be cranky, crying and generally in a bad mood, which is why it is often easier just to let them nurse away.
Most commonly the cluster feed is in the early evening, or in whatever 3 hours period precedes what is (or what may emerge as) the baby's bedtime. However, since the internal clock of a newborn often does not align with our household clocks, it can really occur at any time of day. Not every baby has a cluster feed, but it is a very common, and normal occurrence. It doesn't mean you are doing anything wrong, and it, apart from any other issues, doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your baby (if you have other specific or related concerns, you should of course speak with your doctor or health practitioner). It also does NOT mean that you do not have enough milk for your baby at that time, or in general. Supplementing during this time will only serve to decrease milk supply, whereas cluster feeds may increase it.
There's no definitive explanation that I have heard for the cluster feed. The most reasonable explanations that I've encountered seem to be that it is an instinctive way of continuing to stimulate increased milk supply as the baby grows, and that it is "tanking the baby up" before bedtime to allow for an eventual longer sleep stretch.
Cluster feeds and be frustrating and anxiety producing for a new and tired mother.
In my mind, there's a couple ways to approach this. You can let it get to down and kill yourself strategizing to try to make the baby stop this behavior. But in my experience, the cluster feed will go away when the baby is developmentally ready, no matter how you may try to speed the process.
What I'd do (and did!) is to try and figure out about when the cluster feed is taking place everyday and get prepared for it. If you are a new mom, consider this your time to hunker down on the couch with baby and flip through a magazine or watch a TV show or movie or chat with a friend on the phone. Get some food ready in advance and snack while you nurse. If you have other kids to take care of, have their food prepared beforehand. Find a quiet space to help them with homework while the baby does its thing. Or, if you are really lucky, see if your baby will settle into a pouch sling and nurse away while you do your thing. But in any case, giving into the cluster feed and respecting your baby's need for this temporary activity will greatly reduce your stress level and create attachment and security for your little one.
The cluster feed is a temporary, but normal and common phenomenon among newborn and young babies. Being able to identify the baby's cluster feeding period and learning to accept and work with it can greatly improve your enjoyment of and connection with your new little bundle of joy!
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