Babies do not come with an instruction manual and they are figuring things out just like you are. Babies need to feed very often, especially in the early weeks and months as they teach your body how much milk to make and to get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. When baby has the instinct to feed and be close to you, it can often make you feel like you’re feeding constantly. This is very normal.
Breastfed newborns need to feed often –at least 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. This is because breastmilk is more easily digested than formula. Baby’s stomach is the size of a small marble when first born so it needs to be replenished more often with frequent feedings. Even as baby grows and their stomach capacity increases, they still continue to nurse frequently—again, completely normal!
Cluster feeding happens when babies want to feed more often and in a more condensed period of time. This often happens at night and can coincide with baby preparing for or going through a growth spurt, preparing for longer stretches of sleep (though this is not always the case!) or they may be catching up if they didn’t eat as much during the day. Unfortunately, it can also coincide with baby being fussy. Life changes can also impact baby and they may want to be closer with you resulting in longer feeding sessions. This is often the case when baby is feeling discomfort from being ill or teething. It can also coincide with a change in your situation like your return to work, baby’s teething, or some other discomfort in baby’s life can also cause cluster feeding and fussiness.
In addition to being frustrating, cluster feeding can also invite concern and can cause anxiety in concerned relatives who may assume this behaviour has something to do with your milk supply. It really doesn’t! Not offering the breast or offering an alternative to breastfeeding like a bottle will not help in this situation and is not recommended as it can affect baby’s nutrition and your bonding as well as your milk supply. Soothing, rocking, walking, and offering the breast are the best things you can do. One paediatrician advised a breastfeeding Lansinoh mum to, “find a soft spot on the couch and hunker down.” Her baby cluster fed for three hours a night, every night, for two months. Remembering that this will pass is critical! This stage is exhausting but it won’t last forever.
Remember that breastfeeding is not all about the nutrition, though that is very important. It is also about baby wanting to be close to mum. You and your baby will have many ups and downs and you will both get through this. Be patient, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a breastfeeding specialist for tips and reassurance with this or any situations as you and your baby continue on your breastfeeding journey.
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