Warning! Cluster Feeding Ahead!
Congratulations! Your baby is here and you have made it home from the hospital. Breastfeeding is being established, the latch is improving and after the first night home you think just maybe you have this figured out. And then baby starts feeding more frequently, sometimes every 30 minutes or less. What is happening? Is baby not getting enough? Is your milk supply decreasing? Should you supplement? It can be very discouraging for a tired and often emotional mom and self-doubt starts to creep in.
Take a deep breath. You have entered the realm of cluster feeding.
Breastfeeding is based upon the supply and demand system. The more a baby eats, the more the mother's milk supply is increased. By day 4 and 5, breast milk has transitioned into mature milk. During this time baby’s stomach is growing from the size if a walnut to the size of an egg. In preparation of this growing need, baby starts feeding more frequently to stimulate a larger supply of milk.
“But, my breasts feel empty, not full like before. Am I out of milk?”
No. Soft breast make more milk. There is a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL) that is present in breastmilk. When this protein is present in large quantities in the breast, in the case if engorgement, it signals to the body to decrease the production of milk. When breasts are continually kept soft by frequent feedings, the body signals an increase in prolactin to produce more milk.
Change in supply takes about 2 days. By frequently feeding and keeping the breast soft, your baby is signaling your body to boost production of milk. Your baby in the meantime is receiving milk. How can you tell? Look at the diapers. Are you seeing 5-6 wet and 3 dirty diapers each day? Are diapers transitioning from meconium to a seedy yellow stool? If so, baby is likely to be getting the milk she needs.
So now that you know baby is doing what she needs to and is healthy, how can you survive this often exhausting time?
First, know that this time won't last forever. The average growth spurt is meant to increase supply to meet the needs of the growing baby. Once this is balanced, the spacing of feedings should spread out.
Get comfortable. Breastfeeding is not just feeding your baby. It is a time to connect and bond with baby. Take advantage of this time. Have a comfortable nursing spot, or ‘nest’. The more pillows and Netflix the better.
Accept help. Keep a list of things you need help with. When friends and family offer help, giving a specific task will ensure you get the support you need.
Eat and Drink well. Breastfeeding mothers need to intake an additional 500 calories to their normal diet to meet the needs of nursing. Also drinking to thirst will help ensure that you stay hydrated. Keeping a water bottle and healthy snacks in your nursing nest will help keep you nourished.
Sleep. While it may be tempting to do other tasks once baby is finally asleep, take time to rest throughout the day with your baby. You are not yourself when you are sleep deprived. Even just one extra sleep cycle can make a difference in one’s mood and ability to handle stress.
Find support. There are moms around the world, and even in your community going through similar feedings. Find a support group that you can reach out to with questions and concerns. La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are great places to start. Ask your healthcare provider or doula if they can recommend local support groups as well.
Keep with it and listen to your baby’s cue and your own needs. The relationship of breastfeeding is a dynamic one that will be changing from day to day. This relationship will evolve and grow even past weaning. Enjoy the journey!