Gill O’Connor, Infant Feeding and Breastfeeding Development Coordinator:

Cluster feeding

Breastfeeding mothers often find they lose confidence when their babies are ‘cluster feeding’ (feeding frequently or even constantly, usually in the evenings). It is understandable that mothers who are tired and anxious with hormones fluctuating can worry that they are doing something wrong, that their milk is of ‘poor quality’ or their baby is too hungry for their milk supply to keep up with demand.

It is important to seek help and advice from your Health Visitor at this time whether by a phone call (which may give sufficient reassurance) or by attending Baby Clinic. If your baby is assessed to be latching on well and feeding efficiently then this frequent feeding may be because of cluster feeding.

This very common and usually occurs in the evening when babies feed frequently, although this is not always the case. When this is happening it can be exhausting. Mothers often feel their baby is permanently attached to them, and this natural feeding pattern may dominate their evening, but the good news is that it does usually come to an end by three or four months.

The exact reason for cluster feeding is unknown and it does not necessarily mean a low milk supply. However, it can be assumed that this is nature’s way of building up the milk supply to cope with babies’ rapid growth in the first months. It may well be that the baby has periodic ‘growth spurts’ usually around 10 days, three weeks, six weeks, and six months. This frequent feeding allows for the milk supply to build up and meet any demands the baby has.  It is also important to remember every baby is different and so a friend’s baby may have entirely different feeding patterns, which can also undermine confidence.

Coping with cluster feeding:

  • To help cope with this increased demand, assure yourself that this will pass and plan accordingly to minimise anxiety and stress which can impact on supply
  • Mothers can try to make this a time for cuddles and relaxation and it is wise to take time to prepare by staying hydrated and having a meal either prepared or eaten before the time baby ‘cluster feeds’
  • Once comfortable then a ‘nest’ of cushions, reading materials and everything you need can be placed within easy reach
  • Sometimes this is not an option if this is not your first baby and a sling may help to keep your baby comforted. It is useful to get used to this early on and seek advice from your local sling library or they can be purchased.  A sling can also help settle a fractious baby. RoSPA has useful information on the correct and safe use of a sling and the Consortium of UK Sling Manufacturers that used the acronym T.I.C.K.S:

Tight
In view at all times
Close enough to kiss
Keep chin off the chest
Supported back

Support is necessary at this time which can be exhausting and family and friends, particularly those that have had or are experiencing babies cluster feeding patterns, can help mothers through this demanding time.

Links: RoSPA and T.I.C.K.S. advice.

Comments

  1. Lizzie Start says:

    Local parents can contact me at Sling Start for advice and support with carrying their babies 🙂

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