How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?

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how long does cluster feeding last


Is Cluster Feeding Normal?

I know what it's like having to breastfeed non-stop from 8pm in the evening to 1am the next morning. I remember feeling like I wanted to give up, I also felt incredibly insecure about whether my milk was sufficient for my baby - I mean why did she have to drink so much? It just didn't seem normal. Now many years later, I'm a little wiser (my story) and wish I knew then what I know now. That's precisely why I'm writing this article, to help other mothers out there with similar concerns. 

A cluster feeding can sometimes occur just before your baby is about to have a longer-than-usual sleep. Some babies, (not all) will breastfeed continuously for a few hours in the evening and then sleep all night long. 

Unfortunately, it is also quite common for babies to be fussy as well as extra needy in the evenings. Your baby might cry more or pull off of the breast a few times while cluster feeding. Many mothers will feel insecure and wonder if they are doing something incorrectly. It is imperative during this time that you surround yourself with supportive individuals and mothers who are experiencing similar issues. When I had my children, we didn't have information (the internet) at our fingertips as we do now. You should take advantage of that too. 

Now here is the important bit to remember - If your baby is happy most of the time, your baby is producing enough soiled and wet diapers for his/her age, and is gaining weight well according to a breastfeeding weight chart, then you don't need to worry about a low milk supply. Fussing and constant feeding is very normal! It has absolutely nothing to do with how much breast milk you have, the quality of your milk or whether you are a good mother or not. 

The best thing to do is to allow your baby to breastfeed as much as they want to. 


So, How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?

Something that should put your mind at ease, at least a little, is the fact that most babies only cluster-feed for the first 3 to 4 months. So, this too shall eventually pass!


Should I Supplement to See If My Baby Will Drink More Milk?

No, don't give your baby a bottle. As soon as you give your baby anything other than your breast milk, your body will start to produce less milk. This will just make things worse! 

It is also necessary to note that babies will generally take anything you give them to drink, whether they are hungry or not. 

Another thing to be aware of is that any small amount of formula can change the PH of your baby's gut; this can cause a host of issues. Read more about breast milk and gut protection here. (1,2,3)


Can You Run out of Milk During Cluster Feeding?

Breast milk production works on a supply and demand principle - the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce. Therefore, allowing your baby to continue to cluster feed, will naturally boost milk production. 


Why Is My Baby Fussier in the Evenings?

  • Some believe that milk volume, as well as the flow of milk, is naturally less in the evenings due to hormone fluctuations during the day. Prolactin levels usually taper towards the end of the day. The number of calories, however, that a baby receives should not be any different in the evenings, because breast milk is much higher in fat at night. 
  • Fussiness is often due to gas, which builds up during the day. Babies in traditional African societies show less fussiness in the evenings, they are usually carried around all day and breastfeed on demand. The theory is that the upright position and movement help to push the gas out. Also, if the baby is kept close to the breast, the baby has full-on access to the breasts all day long. 
  • Growth spurts can cause fussiness too. See dealing with growth spurts
  • Overstimulation can cause fussiness. Your baby may be struggling to settle down after a busy day. Remember your baby is learning to cope with new stimuli every day. 


How to Soothe Your Fussy Baby

  • Wear your baby as much as possible during the day. Doing this will also free your hands so that you can do other things. 
  • Consider using white noise to soothe your baby. 
  • Any rhythmic movement can help to calm a fussy baby, namely: bouncing on an exercise ball, swaying, walking or taking a drive in the car. 
  • Skin- skin-contact is such a powerful tool. See the many benefits of skin-to-skin contact. 
  • A sleeping schedule is sometimes all your baby needs. A massage after the evening bath routine may help your baby wind down and expel any excess air that may cause fussiness. 
  • Try to avoid overstimulation in the evenings. Dim the light and keep things as calm as possible. 
  • Nurse your baby while rocking, swaying or walking. 


How to Stop or Reduce Cluster Feedings

  • If at all possible, get your baby to drink more throughout the day. If your baby has only been nursing for a few minutes, breast compressions (pressing down rhythmically on the breast while the baby is at the breast) can get the milk flowing, which may encourage him/her to start sucking again. See how to keep my baby awake while breastfeeding. Get help around the house with cleaning and cooking so that you can spend more time breastfeeding during the day. 
  • Using breast compression while your baby nurses will also help to get the milk flowing; allowing your baby to get more milk during a feed, as well as more hindmilk closer to the end of a feed. 
  • Gently remove your baby from the breast when you notice that your baby is flutter sucking. This is a sign that your baby is only sucking for comfort. 
  • Keep in mind that babies who are experiencing a growth spurt will need to drink more milk. 

Sometimes all a mommy needs is a little break. Ask your partner or a family member to take your baby for a few minutes so that you can have some alone time when you start to feel overwhelmed. 



References

1. Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16882802

2. Breast- v. formula-feeding: impacts on the digestive tract and immediate and long-term health effects.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20450531

3. Effect of Breast and Formula Feeding on Gut Microbiota Shaping in Newborns

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3472256/

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