So, here you are, trying to get into a routine with your newborn and then all the sudden you hit the “witching hour”. Your baby is fussy and hungry and just wants to cluster feed for hours! It’s exhausting.
I have vivid memories of nursing my newborn for hours on end. Just going back and forth from one breast to the next. It was horrible and I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
It also didn’t help that my guy wasn’t very efficient at actually removing the milk from my breasts. I ended up switching to exclusive pumping, but until then I had to deal with the extremely fussy newborn and the joy that is cluster feeding.
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Why is My Newborn Fussy at Night?
There are several reasons why your newborn can be fussy at night. You’ll just have to go through the possibilities to see which one might be affecting your baby.
Has your baby had an exciting day? Did you do anything new or different, especially if it happened closer to bed time?
Being overstimulated it a very common cause for newborns to be fussy, especially in the evening when they are tired.
They can also become overstimulated and overly tired if they didn’t nap enough during the day. You might think that not sleeping during the day will cause your baby to sleep more at night, but it’s actually the opposite.
If your baby sleeps adequately during the day, then he is more likely to sleep well at night. If you are having trouble getting your baby to nap, there are several things you can do to help your baby sleep.
He’s Going Through a Growth Spurt
During his first year of life, your baby will go through several growth spurts. These are moments when rapid physical or mental growth takes place.
Going through a growth spurt can cause your baby to be more irritable than normal since there is so much more going on.
Growth spurts don’t always cause your baby to be up all night. Sometimes it can cause the opposite and your baby could end up eating very little and sleeping all the time.
Either option is completely normal, so don’t be surprised if your baby is different from the babies of your other mom friends. Every baby is unique.
Your baby could be extra fussy in the evening because he is hungry.
He may be hungrier than usual because of a growth spurt, because he didn’t drink as much as he typically does during the day, or simply because he is trying to take in more calories in order to sleep longer.
That added hunger can lead to cluster feeding.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding, also sometimes called bunch feeding, is when your baby feeds very often in a short stretch of time. This typically happens in the evenings, especially in the first few months.
The feedings are spaced closer together during one part of the day in order to have a longer stretch between other feedings. Since this typically happens at night, it is generally, though not always, followed by a longer stretch of sleep.
Why do Babies Cluster Feed at Night?
Babies cluster feed at night for a few different reasons.
To Take in More Calories
When your newborn is preparing to sleep for a longer stretch, he will need to take in more calories to help sustain him. If he doesn’t, then he is likely to wake up two or three hours later looking for more food.
Cluster feeding helps with this, because it means that he can get in more nutrients and become really full to help him go longer periods between feedings.
Some babies will choose to cluster feed at night because they are looking for the comfort that the feeding provides.
This is especially common for babies that directly nurse. The closeness that breastfeeding provides can be a real comfort to your baby. He may choose to cluster feed to continue that closeness before he goes to sleep.
Because Your Milk Supply is Lower
Don’t panic! I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with your milk supply if your baby cluster feeds.
Cluster feeding is a completely normal behavior for babies and it is not, I repeat, NOT a sign that there is a problem with your milk supply.
What I am saying, is that it is completely normal for you to produce less milk in the evening than you do in the morning.
Your prolactin levels (the milk-making hormone) is the highest between 1 and 5 in the morning. It has something to do with your sleep cycle and the body’s way of recharging itself.
As the day goes on though, your prolactin levels begin to taper off, which means that in the evening your milk supply is the lowest of the day.
Having less milk in your breasts at one time, coupled with your baby’s desire to take in more calories to sustain sleeping through the night, means that cluster feeding is a real possibility.
When Should I Expect Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is most common during or around a growth spurt. These growth spurts typically last 2-3 days, but can take as long as a week.
The most common times for growth spurts:
- The first few days after birth
- 7-10 days after birth
- 2-3 weeks after birth
- 4-6 weeks after birth
- 3 months after birth
- 4 months after birth
- 6 months after birth
- 9 months after birth
Keep in mind these times can vary. Babies will go through their growth spurts when they are good and ready. There’s nothing that we can really do to dictate when it will happen.
Can You Run Out of Milk During Cluster Feeding?
No, you will not run out of milk. Even if your breasts feel “empty” you never truly are.
Your body is constantly making milk. The more milk that gets removed, the faster your body will produce it.
Though cluster feeding sucks, it is great for your milk supply. It is your baby’s way of letting your body know that it needs to produce more milk.
Cluster feeding, especially in the evenings, also lets your body know that you not only need more milk in general, but more milk in the evenings. That will help to keep your prolactin levels increased so that your evening feedings will be easier.
Can Bottle Fed Babies Cluster Feed?
Yes. Just because you are bottle feeding your baby does not mean that you can avoid cluster feeding.
A newborn’s stomach is very small. They can only take in so much milk at one time. If your baby is trying to take in more calories, then he is still going to need to eat more frequently.
If your baby is cluster feeding and you are having trouble keeping up with the increased demand, consider throwing in a power pumping session or two for a few days.
Power pumping is the exclusive pumper’s response to cluster feeding. It really does work!
How to Survive Cluster Feeding?
There are a few things you can do to help make cluster feeding easier to get through. Though you won’t be able to “fix” cluster feeding, you can make it bearable.
1. Follow Your Baby’s Lead
Your baby doesn’t know much, but he knows that he needs more milk. Go ahead and follow his lead.
If he is acting hungry even though you just fed him, feed him some more. You can’t overfeed a breastfed baby. Let him eat as much as he wants.
2. Try to Rest
If you know that you’re going through a growth spurt, then try to get as much rest as you can in the early part of the day.
Breastfeeding is exhausting, cluster feeding is even worse. Allow your body some downtime so that you are better able to handle the evening’s festivities.
3. Drink More Water
Breast milk is made of 88% water. Cluster feeding and increasing your milk supply can dry you out.
Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water every day. I personally always shot for a gallon to be on the safe side, but you should aim for at least 100 ounces of water a day.
Not drinking enough water will have an effect on your milk supply. I always kept a water bottle with me throughout the day to help remind me to drink more. I absolutely LOVE my Hydroflask.
4. Eat More
In addition to being made primarily of water, each ounce of breast milk also requires 20 calories to produce.
So, if you are producing 25 ounces a day, that’s an extra 500 calories that you need to consume to keep up your supply.
Have an extra snack or another helping at dinner during your baby’s growth spurts to help handle the extra toll it will place on your body.
You’ll feel better in the long run and your milk supply will thank you.
5. Be Nice to Your Nipples
Cluster feeding is likely to cause your nipples to be sore. Show the girls a little extra love by applying something soothing to them after your nursing sessions.
And don’t worry, the milk is completely safe for baby.
6. Give Yourself a Break
Cluster feeding is hard. My kiddo was so bad at nursing that I thought cluster feedings were going to kill me.
One of the best things that I could do for myself was to take advantage of my morning milk supply.
I would nurse my baby and then pump afterwards to get out as much milk as possible. It was typically just a few ounces, but it was enough.
In the evenings, I would feed him nonstop for a few hours, and then when I just needed a break, I would have my husband bottle feed him that pumped milk and I would go take a nap.
Though you really shouldn’t do that too often if you want to really build your milk supply, doing that every now and then is absolutely amazing!
The pumped milk was typically enough to hold my baby over for a couple of hours so that I could get some much-needed rest and it meant that my husband could take care of him without worrying about him being hungry.
It totally saved me in the beginning.
The biggest thing that you can do to make it through cluster feeding is to relax.
Cluster feeding doesn’t last forever. This is just your baby’s response to something going on. Trust that your baby knows what he needs. It’ll be okay.
Do what you need to do to make it through, and know that you will be able to relax afterwards. You got this, Mama!
Are you struggling with cluster feeding? How are you making it through? I’d love to know. Leave me a comment below.
Until next time!