If you have a baby that treats your breast like an all-you-can-eat buffet, chances are they may be cluster feeding. Some people refer to this as nursing on demand, but either way, it can be exhausting for you.
The good news is it does pass! But how quickly? And what are the signs that it’s happening again? In this post, we’ll address these concerns and more.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
The amazing part about cluster feeding is although it can be limiting for you, it’s actually your baby’s way of naturally jumpstarting your milk flow.
Before you think it means an issue with you or your milk supply, it’s simply your baby’s instinct, especially during growth spurts.
Cluster feeding also involves short eating bursts of about every 20 minutes or so.
They may not stay latched long either.
Instead, they’ll nurse a little bit and then unlatch.
How Does It Impact Your Milk Supply
As mentioned before, your baby’s body knows exactly what it needs. Whether they are fully into the next growth spurt or somewhere in between, cluster feeding is their way of making sure they’ll have enough.
Overall, cluster feeding can increase your milk supply and works much like pumping between feedings.
Any extra (and ongoing) stimulation to the milk-producing glands is going to trigger it to make more.
When Do Babies Start Cluster Feeding?
Aligning with the most common growth spurts, you’ll notice this type of nursing behavior beginning around 3 weeks and again at 6 weeks of age.
The longer you plan on nursing, the more of these feedings you’ll encounter. But again, they only last in short spurts (even though it may not feel like it at the moment).
What sets a cluster feed apart from a normal feeding is the way they try to position themselves to nurse, smacking lips, and rooting around for the breast.
In some cases, your baby may begin to cry as well – all indicators that a longer feed time is ahead.
How long does cluster feeding last?
For most babies, cluster feedings only last a minute of a couple of days up to about a week. Any longer than a week could indicate a calorie shortage and he/she is trying to get more.
To ensure your baby is getting enough calories, make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating calorie-pumping foods.
This will also keep you from feeling so depleted during these bursts of ongoing nursing sessions.
Tips for Dealing with Nursing on Demand
Like most nursing moms, you’re probably looking for ways to alleviate and/or deal with these clusters of feedings. Here are some practical quick tips to keep in mind:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Keep healthy snacks handy.
- Stay relaxed and calm.
- Remember this doesn’t mean something is wrong with your milk supply (you’d be able to determine that).
- Don’t hesitate to nurse on demand (even if you are on the go).
How to Stop Cluster Feeding
There may be times when your ongoing spurts of nursing have turned into more than just short moments of feeding.
If you find yourself nursing on demand a lot longer than you prefer, there ways you can stop cluster feeding altogether.
For starters, you can consider pumping between each feeding. This will help keep your milk glands stay stimulated and produce more milk.
Power pumping is an off-and-on kind of way that mimics cluster feeding. To accomplish this style of pumping, pump for 10-20 minutes, then rest for 10 minutes, and repeat for an hour.
If pumping doesn’t suffice, consider contacting a lactation consultant. They will be able to provide you with a variety tips, holds, and ways to help alleviate the cluster feeding while still giving your baby the nourishment they need.
As daunting as it may be, this type of feeding isn’t necessarily a negative thing. In fact, it’s a way of nature taking its course and your baby naturally doing what it takes to keep up with their growth spurts.
The best advice I’ve ever been given was to see the joy in being able to provide your baby with everything they need. Embrace these moments and remember they won’t last forever.
I’d like to hear from you! Do you have any tips or suggestions for getting through cluster feeding? Share your experience in the comments below!