Congratulations on giving birth to an eating machine!
Seriously, sometimes it feels like babies are never quite full, and that can be more than a little disconcerting, but cluster feeding is not only normal, it’s healthy.
In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, here’s how to turn 24/7 snack time into a feeding and sleeping routine that gives baby exactly what he or she needs. (Hint: consistency is key!)
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby eats a lot of little meals in just a few hours.
These back-to-back nursing sessions can be the sign of a growth spurt and can have a number of benefits, including added nutrition for your little one and an increase in your own supply, much in the same way power pumping can boost your production.
What to expect—and how to be ready
Even though cluster feeding is common, the constant feeding can be difficult to keep up with. By taking control of the pace, you can ensure your baby is fed and happy while you see to all the other tasks screaming for your attention.
- Focus on giving baby heavy feeds all day long spaced about three hours apart.
- This sets up an expectation for when mealtime is coming — just like adults are used to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of snacks in between — and helps baby get more nutrition in one sitting rather than nibbling every few minutes.
- Late afternoon
Start cluster feeds two hours apart. This isn’t always possible as baby may initially have other ideas, but that’s why you’ll be taking notes:
- Write down when baby is cluster feeding.
- Log how long each feeding is.
- Record why and when your baby is cluster feeding — for example, hunger or comfort-seeking.
- Aim to settle in for the last feed in your daily cluster series at about 7 p.m.
- Take the opportunity to fill baby’s belly, then dress her in soft and gently weighted Zen Sleepwear to replicate the Cuddle Effect, to help her get ready to hit the hay as soon as the sleep cues appear.
- Late night
- Schedule one dream feed for some time between 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
- Gently wake baby enough to eat without turning on lights or making enough noise to trigger full alertness.
- This method is a brilliant way to ensure baby is comfortably full before you retire for the night. If you go to bed earlier or later, you may be able to shift the dream feed to suit your personal schedule.
Babies don’t get hungry on schedule. Instead, they regulate their intake over the course of an entire day. As baby fills up on daytime feeds and that strategically placed dream feed, you may be able to eliminate one late-night feeding, getting a longer stretch of sleep so everyone wakes rested — and ready to eat!
No more case of the 2 a.m. munchies? Count us in!
If your baby seems to be feeding nonstop without adequate corresponding weight gain, there could be a supply issue or underlying tongue tie that needs to be addressed.
Seek out the help of a local lactation expert; weighted feeds and an oral exam for baby could help you get to the root of the problem, so you can breastfeed successfully.
Cluster feeding is nature’s way of helping your baby cope with everything from a growling belly to discomfort from an ear infection. Embrace it as part of the process, establish a schedule that works for you, and you’ll be a breastfeeding phenom faster than you can say “burp cloth”!