The Best Advice for Newborn Cluster Feeding

The newborn phase after birth is also the best time to get a good start at breastfeeding. That usually involves and depends on newborn cluster feeding. Therefore, a newborn should be allowed to cluster and cannot cluster feed too much. As a Mama who went through most of the challenging stages of breastfeeding for 4 years straight, here’s everything you should know as you begin your breastfeeding journey.

Why newborns cluster feed

Newborns cluster feed so much more than older infants, for 3 main reasons. First of all, their mouth muscles and digestive tract muscles need the practice. Babies are born with the instinctive drive to nurse often from the very start. It takes about 2 months for their mouth muscles and digestive tract to build adequate muscle tone and move milk all along the digestive system.

Secondly, newborns cluster feed in order to build Mom’s milk supply to the appropriate quantity and consisting of the things baby needs. A newborn’s needs change daily, if not more often, and cluster feeding allows their body to communicate those needs to Mom’s body and ultimately her milk.

One big mistake new moms make is pumping in those first few weeks, instead of letting baby nurse every last drop. Not only is breastfeeding much more efficient at pulling milk from Mom’s breast, but the chemical interactions that take place at the molecular level are essential at this time. Those interactions are critical for establishing a healthy milk supply and reassuring baby that Mom can be trusted when baby cries. For those reasons, you should hold off on pumping your milk for as long as possible, if ever.

The third main reason a newborn will cluster feed is their instinctive drive to nurse in order to bond with Mom. Some may confuse this with comfort nursing or say they are just pacifying themselves, but in the first 6 weeks, newborns need to be as close to Mom as possible any time they want. This is another crucial goal not to miss and it’s why I wouldn’t relate comfort nursing to a newborn who wants to nurse often.

How long does newborn cluster feeding last?

Newborn cluster feeding lasts 1-3 days, but happens more often than at any other age. Cluster feeding usually starts around day 2 or sometime in the first week after birth. But again, since their mouth muscles aren’t well developed yet, they may only nurse for 10 minutes at a time. Watch for cues every hour or 2 that baby wants to nurse again. Think of it as practice, building skills and muscles to breastfeed normally later.

Newborn cluster feeding will likely continue to occur every week for at least a day or two until baby is about 2 months old. After that, infants cluster feed most commonly around baby leaps or growth spurts. I go into more detail about infant cluster feeding and comfort nursing in this post.

Signs of cluster feeding

Newborn cluster feeding is pretty easy to recognize. Newborns usually want to nurse right when they wake from naps. They will lick their lips and stick out their tongue, put their fingers in their mouth, and if you miss those signs they will start to make a loud fuss! Cluster feeding newborns give the cues of hunger more often than “normal”.

It’s important not to misread frequent signs of what looks like hunger in your newborn. Contrary to what some – less knowledgable – people might tell you, newborns who want to nurse all the time are not telling you they aren’t getting enough milk. They are simply communicating to your body in the only way they can – by nursing. And they are either communicating that they do in fact need your body to produce more milk or they are telling your body to deliver particular components in the milk.

So if your newborn baby is acting hungry all the time, breastfeed her! Listen to her cues and let her nurse. Doing so will ensure you are able to establish a good, healthy milk supply.

Newborn cluster feeding at night

It is very common for newborns to cluster feed at night and some babies choose nighttime as the primary time of day to cluster feed entirely. This might be exhausting for you, but it could simply be the most comfortable time to cluster feed for your newborn. You could encourage your newborn to cluster feed during the day by making sure to let them nurse on demand, instead of distracting them with an alternative or offering a pacifier.

Safe bed sharing made newborn cluster feeding at night manageable for me. In fact, I side-nursed my babies through the night every night, whether they were cluster feeding or not. I was a pretty well rested mama! My husband and I did have to sacrifice our nights, but it was a small price to pay for a short amount of time. Although it doesn’t feel like a small price in the midst of it, 2 years goes by quickly!

Tips for mom when newborn cluster feeds

Cluster feeding is not easy at first. Those first 6 weeks are intense. You will feel overwhelmed at times, especially several weeks in. You may get cracked, bleeding nipples. You may develop clogged ducts or mastitis. But these things are part of being a mother. And if you choose to breastfeed you need to remain dedicated no matter what obstacles come your way. And you can! You can overcome sore nipples, clogged ducts and mastitis.

And you must! You must push past the temporary discomforts for your newborn, because the truth is, if you can remain committed and make it through the newborn stage of breastfeeding you have a fighting chance at exclusively breastfeeding for how ever long you want!

Resources to help you along your breastfeeding journey:

I am a huge advocate with a passion for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, so much bad advice regarding breastfeeding is give to new moms, including in doctor’s offices. And because of that only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed past 6 months. So, to help new mothers who want to succeed at breastfeeding a large portion of the posts on this site are meant to do just that. Because the rewards of breastfeeding are endless for you and your baby and you deserve as much support and encouragement as possible! I hope this helps. Come back to All Things Family and Baby any time you need breastfeeding answers.

How to Survive the First 6 Weeks of Breastfeeding

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Cluster Feeding & Comfort Nursing

How to Treat Mastitis At Home Without Antibiotics

Solutions for Nursing Strikes

Breastfeeding Premature Babies & Pumping Guide

When is it Too Late to Start Breastfeeding

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