Is your baby feeding every hour and not sleeping well? Learn how to handle cluster feeding and a baby still hungry despite frequent feedings.
You knew babies ate a lot, but this much? Over the last few days, your baby has constantly been eating every hour. Your breasts feel empty, which makes you wonder whether you’re not producing enough. Is he eating so often because he’s not getting enough milk?
And when he takes 20-25 minutes each nursing session, no wonder you can’t get any breaks.
Initially, you understood the demands of a newborn. But at this point, you’ve had it with feeding on demand and waking up multiple times a night. You miss having a full night of sleep, and find it unfair when babies born after yours are already sleeping in five-hour chunks.
And with you going back to work in a few weeks, you’re desperate to find a way to get your baby to sleep longer.
When your baby is feeding every hour and not sleeping
I was so sleep-deprived with my eldest (and later my twins) that I barely had time to even catch a quick catnap with his newborn schedule. When I’d hear him wake up, I’d peer at the clock, hoping that at least a few hours had gone by since the last time he ate. But nope—he had only fed an hour ago.
It didn’t help that falling asleep after he had just fed wasn’t always guaranteed either, and I’d be awake the entire time. I was so jealous of moms whose babies were already sleeping five to six hours straight, or weren’t feeding nearly as often as mine.
And as a first-time mom, I wondered whether I was doing something wrong that my baby was still feeding so frequently.
Frequent feeding shouldn’t be a permanent fixture in your life. For many reasons (cluster feeding all night, growth spurts), your baby will nurse often, but that shouldn’t be the case every day. Take a look at a few tricks I tried to lessen the amount of feeding sessions while still meeting my baby’s needs:
1. Make sure your baby is actually eating
Does it feel like you’re a human pacifier for your baby? Where he’s been nursing for an hour but is still hungry? That might be because he’s relying on nursing to fall asleep, and not to actually consume calories. After all, sucking helps him fall asleep, and nothing beats being in your arms.
How can you make sure he’s actually eating and not using you as a pacifier? Check his throat to see if it moves. If he were actually drinking, you’d see movement in his throat, just as yours would if you were to drink a glass of water.
Then, listen for a swallowing sound. He might not be eating if he’s not making any noises that indicate actually consuming the milk.
And finally, make sure he doesn’t fall asleep while he eats. He could be genuinely hungry but isn’t taking in as much as he could because he falls asleep. To keep him awake, tickle him, remove pieces of clothing, or change positions or burp him in the middle of a feeding.
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2. Offer a pacifier after feedings
Let’s say your baby does use feeding sessions to soothe himself to sleep. One trick you could try is to slip a pacifier in his mouth as he begins to doze off at the tail end of a feeding session.
Break his hold on your breast or bottle by inserting a finger in his mouth. This opens up the suction and allows you to pull away. Then, insert the pacifier in his mouth so that he can continue to suck on that instead of your breast or bottle.
He gets to continue to suck and soothe himself to sleep, but with a pacifier instead.
3. Dreamfeed before you sleep
You likely put your baby down to sleep before your own bedtime. Perhaps she’s asleep by 7:30pm, and you’re in bed at 9pm. One trick that can buy you some time is to dreamfeed her before you fall asleep.
Feed her as you usually do, then, before you head to bed, feed her once more. Yup, even if she’s asleep. She’ll have a full tummy, giving you some extra time for your first stretch of sleep. Because she’s still so drowsy, she’ll be able to fall right back to sleep.
You’re able to feed her so she isn’t as hungry, but at a time of the night when you’re still awake (instead of groggy and sleep-deprived).
4. Work in shifts with another adult
One way to make sure you get a good chunk of sleep is to work in shifts with another adult, like your partner or parent. For instance, your spouse can be on “baby duty” from 7pm to 12am, giving you a good five-hour chunk to fall asleep. Then, you would cover the following hours, from midnight to 5am.
If you’re breastfeeding, prepare pumped bottles ahead of time so that another adult can also feed the baby. If need be, wake up once in the middle of your five-hour stretch to pump. You’re still waking up, but at least you can fall right back to sleep after you’re done.
5. Let your baby fuss a little
Do you feel compelled to feed your baby the minute you hear him fuss and whine? See what happens if you give him a few minutes before you feed him.
You might find that what he was complaining about was pretty minor, and he’s able to settle himself back to sleep. He might not even be hungry to begin with, so he’s only nursing or feeding to soothe himself. Or he just might break the association of waking up and expecting to feed right away.
If you don’t want his cries to escalate, listen to how they sound. Hold off for a little if they sound like slight whimpers or small complaints. He might go back to sleep if you don’t jump to feed him the second he makes a sound.
6. Create a routine
We might not realize it, but babies pick up a whole lot more than we give them credit for. Even though they might not understand the words we say, they can certainly benefit from having a consistent routine. To start, they’ll know that feedings happen after certain activities.
If you’ve been lenient with a routine, up the ante if your baby has been feeding every hour and not sleeping. Give him a bath, dress him in fresh clothes, and cap it with a long feeding session, for instance. Keep this up for a few days, and he’ll begin to expect bedtime feedings after you go through your routine.
7. Use a swaddle
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Like with a pacifier, feedings can be one of the ways your baby relies on to fall asleep. When he wakes up, he doesn’t know how to put himself back to sleep just yet, and cries to be fed once again.
But if he’s wrapped in a swaddle, he’s less likely to wake up and cry. He loves the familiar snugness of being in a swaddle, which will help him sleep longer. Besides a swaddle, you can also use white noise to muffle loud or sudden sounds that can startle him awake.
It’s never easy when your baby has been feeding every hour and doesn’t sleep in long stretches. Should that happen, make sure that he’s actually eating when he’s feeding. Offer a pacifier, especially if he just needs to suck to soothe himself to sleep.
Dreamfeed to fill him up before you go to bed, and consider working in shifts with another adult to get a long chunk of sleep. Let him fuss a little instead of feeling compelled to feed him at the first whimper. Create a routine to set expectations, and use a swaddle (and white noise) to extend his sleep.
Frequent feedings shouldn’t happen every night. Now you know what you can try to get your baby to feed between longer stretches!
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed Constantly
- When Breastfeeding Hurts (Even with a Good Latch)
- 6 Ways to Handle Your Newborn Constantly Feeding
- Baby Wakes Up Every Hour? Must-Know Tips for Parents
- 12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Fights Sleep
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