If you’ve ever dealt with cluster feeding, those breastfeeding sessions that never end, you can relate when other Moms say they are at their wits end with it. I’ve probably survived fifty cluster feeding phases myself (I have 2 kids) , so I have first hand knowledge of how desperately you may want it to end. But cluster feeding, as with comfort feeding, provides numerous nutritional, mental and emotional benefits and because of that you should never try to stop your baby from cluster or comfort feeding.
I had no information on cluster feeding before my first child was born! I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t prepared for it and therefore was blindsided by it. Just before he turned 2 weeks old my son started nursing nearly every thirty minutes, sometimes even more frequently! He’d nurse and nurse and nurse and cry a lot more often as well. I was really confused by the sudden change and pretty concerned.
I recall at the same time a relative actually saying to me, “Don’t let that baby use you like a pacifier. He will if you let him and it spoils them.” I didn’t know that was a thing then, but I certainly didn’t feel like what she was saying to me were words of wisdom. It felt cruel to keep my baby from my breast and his persistent cries were gut wrenching. There was no way I was going to NOT let my baby use me like a pacifier, no matter how spoiled that might make him.
I didn’t Google anything at that time and I wish I had. I would have found that my baby wasn’t using me. He needed me. He was listening to his instincts by finding comfort in me, his mother. And by nursing constantly he was stimulating my body to produce more milk, which he also needed. I’ll explain all of that and where that information comes from in this post!
Luckily, I trusted my Mama gut and listened to my newborn baby. From that moment, no matter who told me not to, if he cried to be at my breast, I felt an instinctual obligated to nurse him.
Later, as I became more comfortable, confident and “seasoned” with breastfeeding, I wanted to learn as much as I could. So in the past 4 years I’ve read hundreds articles by experts on breastfeeding and found my passion for helping other Moms succeed with breastfeeding. Here’s what you need to know about cluster and comfort feeding.
The Difference Between Cluster Feeding and Comfort Nursing
What you should first understand about these two breastfeeding terms is that it doesn’t matter which is happening, they are equally as important. But a lot of us new moms worry a ridiculous amount in those first few weeks. And we hear and fear the worst things about breastfeeding. Understand this: your number one job in those early weeks is to simply listen to your baby. They really do tell us what they need and if we listen, things will go more smoothly than if we try to make our newborn settle down.
Why Do Babies Cluster or Comfort Feed?
Cluster feeding is a sign of growth. Each growth spurt (or leap in development) will usually begin with or result in cluster feeding. It’s just nature’s way of communicating with your body that either more milk is required or a change up of the milk’s components is.
Comfort feeding also correlates with times of developmental changes. As babies grow, both physically and cognitively, they may have physical aches, they may feel stressors as they become more aware of new sounds, lights or voices. Experts say that babies feel more bonded to their Mother through breastfeeding. All of these can trigger an instinctual desire to be as close to you as possible.
So, you see, a baby who breastfeeds even though they shouldn’t be hungry because they’ve just emptied your breasts is a baby doing what’s known as comfort feeding. And in a nutshell, comfort nursing is a sign that baby needs to feel close, safe and loved by you. And that you are there to guard him when he feels nervous or vulnerable.
The Physical Benefits of Cluster Feeding
There are several physical benefits of cluster feeding that should help you feel even better about answering your baby’s cries instinctively.
- Cluster nursing sessions promote high quality breast milk. Your baby’s saliva passes through your nipples and sends signals to your body about your baby’s current nutritional requirements. Cluster feeding speeds up the signaling between your baby and your body.
- Cluster feeding also enables the transfer of antibodies from mom to baby. That’s why sick babies want to nurse more often as well.
- Cluster feeding keeps your baby well hydrated as they fight illnesses or go through growth spurts.
- Cluster feeding boosts your milk supply better than anything else. It’s that demand-and-supply system I keep talking about in all of my posts. Those constant feedings stimulate more milk production as it’s needed.
The Real Disadvantages If You Stop Cluster or Comfort Feeding
After understanding the critical benefits of both cluster and comfort nursing, you can imagine how damaging it could be to stop either of them. Babies who are refused the breast may feel more fearful, panicked and vulnerable. They may not sleep well and will likely cry more frequently.
What’s worse, Mom’s milk production will be unable to keep up with baby’s needs, resulting in slow weight gain, baby being irritable at the breast and an all around “fussy baby”. They may not get milk components that help them fight sicknesses either, which could prolong a simple cold or even promote something worse developing, like pneumonia.
And if that isn’t reason enough not to refuse to let your baby nurse even when they want to breastfeed constantly, their trust in you weakens. They will, eventually, learn that you will not offer comfort and protection when they call for you. There are many research studies that have examined the emotional and psychological damage that does to them.
What You Can Do When Your Baby Cluster Feeds
As a breastfeeding mom who has survived dozens of these tiresome cluster feeding sessions, I can say that coping gets easier with practice. At first, the first handful of growth spurts seem to be way too overwhelming to keep going. You’re tired, hungry, thirsty and touched out and every time baby cries to breastfeed you cringe or cry!
And then, down the road a little ways, you don’t even flinch when cluster feeds happen! You look at your calendar and go “ah, that makes sense” and somehow you’ll manage to do everything either toting around your kiddo as they nurse or in between their constant feedings. It won’t feel like you’re going crazy. You certainly won’t cry. You might even welcome the familiar phase and find joy in knowing that you are this important to the growth of your child.
There’s a whole host of things you can do to survive though, in those early cluster feeding stages, when you feel like you’re going to lose your mind. I wrote about the coping strategies I’ve developed that helped me handle cluster feeding and even comfort feeding too. In that post I also address the 5 biggest mistakes moms make when babies cluster feed, so go check that out when you’re done with this post!
When Do Babies Cluster Feed?
Your baby will probably need to cluster feed every time they go through a leap or growth spurt. I called these the birth week since my babies would go through growth spurts on the calendar week of their birth day each month. To better explain, my son’s birthday is September 24. His growths spurts happened almost every month in that first year and always somewhere between the 20th and 30th of the month, that last week or two.
I used a couple apps that help you track baby growth spurts and leaps, which was also really helpful because they notify you when baby is headed for a leap and also show you the new developments baby is going through. Then you can gauge whether or not you should expect more comfort feeds or cluster feeds.
When it comes to comfort feeding babies are a little more sporadic and unpredictable. When my two were babies they would comfort nurse anytime they were overtired, overstimulated or felt bad. My son comfort nursed more than my daughter, but he also dealt with digestive issues whereas she didn’t. Comfort feedings usually last a few minutes or until the baby falls asleep. I loved comfort nursing my babies to sleep. The peace that I could see they were feeling made me feel like I was doing things right at that moment.
How Long Will Cluster Feeding Last?
In my experience cluster feeding lasts longer when babies are really young and starts to get shorter as they grow through their first year of life. In the first six months, both of my babies would cluster feed for an average of four days. They literally nursed about every hour as I remember. Each day, getting a little less frequent. After six months of age, my infants would have shorter cluster feeding periods, maybe just for one or two days.
You should expect it by the second week after birth, then each month or so after.
Other moms say a week long of cluster feeding was normal for them in the beginning. And remember, cluster feeding is necessary to both increase your milk supply and change the components of it to match what baby needs. It’s very important to keep that in mind in those early months, when you think you hate breastfeeding. You don’t, you just feel overwhelmed.
But cluster feeding stages end as quickly as they come on. Just when you think you can’t handle another day of it, your baby will go back to being settled by himself, nursing every few hours, not crying if you’re not breastfeeding and napping longer. And you may have two or three weeks of a regular schedule before your baby leaps again.
All babies are different. You may not experience cluster feeding and comfort feeding quite as often or for quite as long as I’ve talked about here. This post was written based on the experience with my two babies and the experiences of other moms as well. However, the reasons for cluster feeding and comfort feeding are the same for all babies. Therefore, the reasons NOT to stop your baby from cluster and comfort feeding are the same too.
Hopefully this post has helped you find peace in these challenges of breastfeeding. These phases seem so big when you’re going through them, so impossible, I know. But then, they are just memories that you barely think of when you think of your whole breastfeeding journey and hopefully you can be proud that you muscled through it and answered your baby’s needs.