In today’s world, cut-and-paste parenting has become the norm. Almost every parent wants the best for their child, which is why so many parents are eager to breastfeed their baby. However, this new generation of parents doesn’t have another infant to help them out, and as a result, some unfortunate and pitiful coping mechanisms have taken root. Our culture fears being alone more than anything else…
Much more than being unloved or not accepted. So when your child is crying for you but nobody else can respond or feed him directly, you send a subliminal message that says, “I am alone, and no one loves me enough to help me right now.” As a result, your brain sends a signal saying, “It’s not safe or realistic for me to attempt to breastfeed my baby because people might abandon us if they see us struggling. So we will stick with bottle feeding instead.” Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened in more and more homes today.
The good news is that you can recover from cluster feeding.
Yes, you can nurse your baby at any time you want. All you need to do is to practice mindful and intentional nursing and be patient and forgiving with yourself and your baby. There’s no need to stress or feel guilty about wanting to pump your breast milk to store it for later. If you feel like you must pump because you constantly go without, you show guilt and shame about being a breastfeeding mother. If you don’t feel like you can handle it, then don’t try. If you feel like you must pump because your baby always wants to be adequately fed with a bottle, you show guilt and shame about your breastfeeding abilities. And if you feel like you have to pump because you don’t have anyone else to help you, then you are showing shame and guilt about the state of your family.
Don’t panic, and don’t give up!
This breastfeeding stage is a natural part of your baby’s development. Some breastfeeding experts will tell you it is part of your body’s fight-or-flight response! However, this stage is rough for some nursing moms because they are caught off-guard by how much their body wants to breastfeed. And, like most times of panic, it causes you to make impulsive decisions (like trying to pump for your baby or giving up on nursing entirely) that worsen the situation (and your body). In order to not get caught up in the panic of cluster feeding, you should try to do three things:
- Connect with your body and your baby: Breathe slowly and connect with your body while you are trying to breastfeed. If you panic, remind yourself that your body wants to breastfeed and that you are not alone.
- Stay calm while you are nursing: It’s common to panic while trying to nurse your baby, but it’s even more common to panic while pumping. Stay calm while nursing; you will be less likely to pump for your baby or give up entirely.
- Be patient: Be patient with yourself and your body as you learn to breastfeed. Your body is still learning to adjust to being a mother, and it takes time to figure out what works best.
Try these strategies to survive cluster feeding.
- Try to feed your baby whenever he is hungry, not just when crying.
- Try to feed your baby in intervals of at least 30 minutes, not 10.
- If your baby only wants to nurse in one position, try to nurse in another position.
- Covering your nipple with a tissue or shirt sleeve or nursing behind a pillow.
- Try alternating between breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
- Try nursing while you are walking around the house or while you are doing other tasks around the house.
- Try to find a way to have some privacy while nursing.
- Determine when you will most likely have cluster feeding episodes in the day.
- Try to anticipate when cluster feeding is likely to happen so you can prepare yourself.
- When cluster feeding is happening, don’t give up. You can still breastfeed your baby, even if you don’t like it.
- Remember that you can also pump and put your milk away for later. You don’t have to exclusively feed your baby with your breastmilk.
Help your baby regulate by self-feeding first.
If you struggle to get your baby to latch correctly, you should try feeding him on his own first. This method can be especially helpful if your baby is the type of newborn who likes to take a lot of fussy or “thrashed” feedings during the day. In that case, you should try to feed your baby while he is calm and quiet.
Offer the breast for “demand” nursing sessions only.
You should never let your baby “demand” nursing as long as you are nursing in intervals of at least 30 minutes. This means your baby can only “demand” you to latch on to his mouth and feed him directly for a maximum of 5 minutes. Otherwise, your baby will become used to the notion that he will only get milk if he “demands” it. And who wants to be in a food fight with a 2-year-old? When your baby is done “demanding” milk for the day, try to initiate longer intervals of non-demanding nursing. You can use the following strategies to help you do this:
- Neatly arrange a stack of clean washcloths nearby.
- Open a bottle of your favorite soothing milk, preferably with a flavor your baby likes.
- Put on a playlist with music that your baby likes.
Don’t get stuck in a routine — mix it up!
Cluster feeding is a temporary stage in your baby’s development. It will pass, and your baby’s desire for regular, consistent nursing will become known again. The best way to deal with this transition is not to get stuck in the mindset that you must nurse exclusively for long periods. Instead, keep offering your breasts and offering them for longer durations, and do not exclusively initiate bottle feeding. If you need to feed your baby, try to feed him on his own for a while, offer the breast for longer periods, and initiate bottle feeding only. Remember that it is OK and normal not to be able to exclusively breastfeed your baby all the time, and it is OK and normal to give your baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk only a few times a week.
Cluster feeding is an awkward but temporary phase in your baby’s development. It will pass, and your baby’s need for regular, consistent breastfeeding will become known again. The best way to deal with this transition is not to get stuck in the mindset that you must nurse exclusively for long periods. Instead, keep offering your breasts for longer durations, and do not exclusively initiate bottle feeding.