Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cluster feeding

©Loma Linda University Children's Hospital

You know how after you get pregnant or give birth, something will happen and you'll think, "Why didn't anyone tell me this would happen?" It seems for every aspect of your journey into motherhood, there are moments when you think "Does this happen to everyone?" and usually the answer is "yes." But if it happens to us all, why doesn't anyone talk about it?

WHY doesn't anyone tell you about cluster feeding, or nursing sessions spaced closely together? For the first few months of my son's life, he would nurse constantly from about 6pm until 10 pm. Because no one had told me this would happen and that it's totally normal, I was convinced he either transformed from a sweet, happy baby into demon spawn at 6 pm, or I had no milk and was STARVING MY BABY. I would pass him back and forth from boob to boob for hours on end. He'd nurse, pull off, cry. Wash, rinse and repeat. Sometimes he would fall asleep briefly or allow Dad to hold him or walk with him in the Bjorn for a few minutes, he eventually he'd be screaming again for the breast.

At my most desperate moment when he was a couple of weeks old, I remember saying, "We have to give him formula, this breastfeeding is just not working!" I was in tears. My husband opened up the package of bottles we'd received as a gift (I don't even think we sterilized them, that is how clueless we were about bottles and formula) and poured in some of the Similac sent to us courtesy of my OB/GYN (thanks, Dr. Uknowwho!) As soon as that nipple touched his mouth and some formula dripped out, my son screamed bloody murder! Thankfully, he didn't want anything to do with it. Well, I thought, I might not have much milk, but at least I know he wants me and not the bottle. So I latched him back on and after another hour or so, he drifted off to sleep.

Using Google as my Oracle, I figured out that what my son was doing was cluster feeding or bunch feeding. Basically babies tend to want to fill up before bed and are often just fussier at night. Combine those two factors together and you have a baby who wants to nurse non-stop both because he is hungry and he is looking for comfort. This doesn't mean you don't have adequate milk for your baby! Giving formula at this time would only tell your body to make less milk and make the situation much worse. The good news is that this is generally short-lived: by about 3 months old, my son had stopped cluster feeding. Eventually I learned to accept it as my reality. I would camp out on the couch with my son and the nursing pillow and watch TV with my man. It became our sort of evening ritual: we'd watch our shows snuggled up in the dark while the baby nursed. Daddy would take him so I could do my nighttime rituals, and then we'd all jump in the bed to read (usually David Sedaris) while baby finally nursed off to sleep for the night. Yes, it was a rough couple of months, but we did move into a much better groove afterwards. Keep your head up, this too shall pass.

Baby fussy, but not cluster feeding? For tips on how to calm a fussy baby, go here.

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