[Updated June 28, 2017]
Decoding Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings
Breastfeeding creates an unmistakable bond between you and your baby. This bond brings emotional security and comfort to your baby, while providing the best nutrition possible. So, it’s no surprise babies are eager to nurse often and enjoy that special time with you.
But even if you love that special time with your baby, many moms question whether their little one’s behavior is typical and how to manage frequent nursing demands. That’s why we’ve tackled cluster feedings and why your baby tends to get fussy in the evenings – so you can rest easy knowing your baby’s behavior is completely normal.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby has several feedings close together during a certain period of time – often in the late afternoon or evening. So even though you are feeding your little one every couple of hours most of the day, cluster feeding is characterized by your baby nursing for short periods, coming off your breast, nursing a little more, fussing, nursing more, hiccuping, and so on and so forth. Don’t worry – it’s completely normal and some babies may cluster feed every day. Cluster feeding is most common in very young babies, but can also happen with older babies who have a tummy ache or are going through a growth spurt.
Will I have enough milk when my baby is feeding this much?
A mother’s body is very in tune with her baby’s needs. For that reason, it’s always best to nurse whenever your little one wants to. Nursing or pumping often is the best way to maintain supply and ensure your baby is getting all the breast milk he or she needs. And while many moms find cluster feeding difficult to manage, know that over time, your baby will nurse less often and for less time, especially after introducing solids.
You know the drill. Your baby is happy and content all day, and then dinner-time hits, and suddenly he or she is ornery, fussy, and seemingly inconsolable. This type of fussiness often goes hand-in-hand with cluster feeding. So, what gives? While it’s not totally clear what causes this common night-time ritual, researchers have some ideas:
- Baby is Overtired. It’s hard being little! If your baby isn’t getting plenty of nap time during the day, it’s not unusual for them to get tired toward the end of the day and start to get fussy. And, unlike adults, babies aren’t able to calm down and just go to sleep – they rely on you to comfort them, snuggle them, nurse them, and help them relax so they can drift off to sleep.
- Baby is Overstimulated. Many doctors believe evening fussiness is caused by your baby’s immature nervous system. Basically, what that means is that your little one isn’t used to all of the stresses of stimuli of everyday life, so he or she reacts to this overload by crying. Your best bet is to keep your baby close to you (or your partner!) by snuggling and carrying them, nurse them when they want to nurse, and reduce stimuli like bright lights, loud sounds and busy or cluttered rooms.
The good news is, many babies outgrow this fussy stage by 3 to 4 months old. In the meantime, be patient and know that every ounce of milk and love your little one gets is precious.
How can I soothe my baby?
What makes cluster feeding even more challenging is that it often happens during your baby’s fussiest time. Your little one might nurse for a few minutes, then fuss, then take a little more, and so on. If that sounds familiar, try some of these soothing techniques to help calm your baby:
- Move around. Whether it’s rocking, swaying or walking, sometimes motion can help soothe your little one.
- Sing, hum, talk, or listen to soft music or white noise.
- Hold your baby or wrap them in a sling or baby carrier to help them feel close and secure.
- Reduce stimulation by taking your little one into a quiet, dark room or try swaddling them.
- Give yourself a break. Fussy babies and cluster feeding can be frustrating, so it’s important to take a moment to relax. Hand off your little one to your partner, or put them in their crib if they’ve finally dozed off, and go for a short walk, take a shower, or just sit by yourself for a few minutes.
Moms, how do you manage cluster feeding and fussy evenings? Share your tips in the comments below!