Just when you think you’ve gotten your baby’s eating schedule down, they suddenly want to eat more often. Cluster feeding can be a tiring time in your newborn phase, but a fed baby is a happy baby!
Cluster feeding phases may seem like they have no cause or end, but they do. Your baby is still sleeping and eating as much as they need to, so this is not the time to panic! It's completely normal and natural, and it happens most often in the first few days of a baby's life.
Breastfeeding can take some getting used to in and of itself, but newborn cluster feeding is a whole new monster to tame. Here are 4 things you should know about newborn cluster feeding and how to get used to the process.
It Encourages Your Milk Supply
As babies grow and develop a healthy appetite, they will begin to eat more. The more frequent feedings stimulate the breasts enough to secrete more milk. This opens the ducts in a way that allows for a more optimized flow of nutrients to your baby.
The combination of stimulation and contact with your baby provides a mother with much-needed “feel-good” hormones that make it easier for her to produce milk.
It’s important to remember that just because your baby is demanding more milk doesn’t mean you weren’t supplying enough in the first place. Your body is specifically tailored to your baby’s nutritional needs, with just the right number of antibodies for their age, weight, and appetite.
When your baby is not cluster feeding, some moms prefer a power pump. Power pumping is when lactating mothers pump their breasts in a way that mimics cluster feeding a baby. After a few days, a mom will see her milk supply increase to either support a hungrier baby or just store up more milk for daycare!
Growth Spurts Will Cause Cluster Feeding
The more babies grow, the more nutrients they demand! Every time they hit a minor growth spurt, they will begin cluster feeding. Consider it as a hungry teenager reaching puberty and eating you out of your house and home. Your extra supply of milk will be just what they need to promote healthy weight gain and meet their nutritional needs.
Of course, every baby is different and will have varying numbers of growth spurts at different times. On average, though, cluster feeding happens between 2 and 3 weeks into a baby's first month of life.
Their next growth spurt could be just three weeks later. After the newborn phase, babies will go through around 3 more growth spurts every 3 months or so.
Growth spurts only last a few days, so you’ll continue cluster feeding day and night (mostly at night) for about 3 days. Once it’s over, you’ll go back to a normal feeding schedule.
Right after a growth spurt, you may be able to notice their weight rise slightly! It’s good to know your hard work is paying off.
Proper Diet and Hydration are Necessary
When you breastfeed, you’re giving your baby much of your calorie and water supply. To compensate for all the milk being given to your baby, you will need to eat and drink your fill!
It will be beneficial to keep a water bottle close by to keep you hydrated during the cluster feeding process. Keep up with your water supply and drink a glass of water at least every hour.
You should keep snacks nearby as well. Breastfeeding already makes you hungry enough to be absolutely ravenous! Keeping some healthy snacks nearby, like protein bars, fruits, or crackers, will provide you with enough calories and protein to efficiently store up for yourself and pass on to your baby.
You might want to enlist a breastfeeding pal to help you keep up with your water and snacks. Your partner owes you one!
It Will Happen Again
The first cluster feeding episode may occur just after your baby is born.
If you recall, just when your baby was born, colostrum was likely the only milk supply you could muster for your newborn. After a few days, they will begin to demand a better milk supply, causing a spell of cluster feeding.
A cluster feeding episode can always be identified when your baby suddenly starts giving hunger cues more frequently throughout the day. It usually only lasts for a few hours, and they will continue to have the same amount of wet and dirty diapers as normal.
Cluster feeding spells commonly take place in the late afternoon or early evening hours, and they may sleep longer afterward.
Older infants will have cluster feeding spells that last several days! This could be just another growth spurt, or it could be caused by a teething episode when feeding is more comfortable for them.
Try not to confuse cluster feeding with colic or another newborn issue. Cluster-fed babies will cry, but they can be soothed with a simple supply of milk. Colic babies aren’t so easily placated by nursing.
Let Them Feast!
Whatever the reason for your baby’s sudden appetite, it’s best to just let them eat! Newborn cluster feeding has more benefits for both you and your baby. As sleepy as you may be from constantly giving them food, just remember the long nap at the finish line!
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