Struggling with your newborn cluster feeding all night and not sleeping? See how to make this stage easier and stay motivated to breastfeed.
Cluster feeding has become so predictable these days.
Starting around bedtime, it seems like you’re feeding your baby for several minutes every hour. By the time you’ve burped and swaddled her, she seems hungry yet again. In fact, she’d cry all night if you weren’t feeding her during for a good four to five hours.
With the constant breastfeeding, your nipples have begun to hurt. You’re exhausted and have no time for anything else, and this doesn’t even count the frequent feedings all day long. You wonder if you even have enough milk, and how she could be this hungry.
Despite your goals to breastfeed, it’s times like these when formula is starting to look like an appealing option.
How to handle your newborn cluster feeding all night
I hear you, mama.
As a first-time mom, I felt glued to my baby, resenting each time he cried to be fed. I even wanted to convince myself and my husband that he was crying for other reasons like sleep or boredom.
This is understandable, considering that the birth of a baby can come as a huge shock for moms not used to nursing round the clock. It didn’t help that he’d nurse for long stretches—some 40 minutes at a time—only to want to eat again soon after.
In fact, right on cue, he’d want to cluster feed from about 6:30pm all the way through the late evening. If I put him down any earlier than that, he’d cry a few minutes later and wouldn’t stop until I fed him again. Even when I learned that this was a phase, I didn’t know how long it would last.
If you find your newborn cluster feeding all night, rest assured you’re not alone. More importantly, this is a phase that will eventually peter out with time. That said, what can you do to make cluster feeding more bearable?
Take a look at these tips that can help:
1. Nurse lying down
One of the biggest roadblocks with cluster feeding is the sleep deprivation that goes along with it.
During the day, feeding constantly was a bit more bearable—after all, this is the time we’re supposed to be awake. But I’d dread the nights when I knew I’d be battling my own sleep needs with the baby’s frequent wake ups.
An easy hack? Nurse lying down. This allows you to rest at least while the baby is feeding instead of having to sit up in bed. Even if you don’t co-sleep with the baby (I didn’t), you can still nurse lying down to make yourself a bit more comfortable during the feed.
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2. Get others to do what you can’t
Dishes piled up, dinner unprepared, the houseplants all but drying up… these are enough to drive any mom crazy. Imagine keeping a running tally of all the things you still have to do, except you’re stuck feeding the baby.
Since you’re the only one who can nurse the baby, hand these undone tasks to other people. Your partner can change diapers, your mom can burp the baby after you breastfeed, even your three-year-old can put his toys away.
Give yourself the permission to do nothing so you can focus on your baby’s feeding needs. To help you feel better about devoting so much time to her, get others to fill in and do what you can’t.
3. Make sure your baby is actually eating
See if this sounds familiar: You fed your baby for nearly 40 minutes, put her down in the crib… except she woke up and acted like she hadn’t just eaten.
How can she be hungry again?! you wonder.
Sometimes, she’s actually not eating that whole time she was on your breast. She could’ve been comfort nursing, soothing herself to sleep by sucking. That’s why, when you finally put her down, she’s still hungry—because she didn’t actually eat.
The next time she nurses, make sure she’s awake and eating. Listen for sucking sounds that indicate she’s taking in the milk. Look at her throat to see if it moves—this is another sign that she’s swallowing. And keep her awake, even slightly so, while she nurses.
There’s nothing wrong with comfort sucking, but if you’re wondering why she seems hungry after all that time, she might not have been eating.
4. Make the most of it
Sometimes all it takes to turn things is around is a simple change in perspective. Sure, you can list several problems with nursing all evening, but you can also probably find creative ways to make the most of it as well.
See this not as a time you’re “stuck” with the baby, but as a chance to read a book, catch up on emails, or watch your favorite shows. Consider this your excuse to not have to do so many chores, or to take a much-needed break. Come prepared with plenty of snacks and water nearby, and try to enjoy the moment.
Remind yourself of the benefits of cluster feeding, too. Many moms have reported that their babies will sleep in longer stretches after a cluster feed than if they didn’t nurse for so long. Remember that you’re increasing your milk supply the longer you nurse.
And know that this is temporary.
In fact, for the first month after my babies were born, I made it a point not to leave the house, other than for appointments. Giving myself that month reminded me that this truly is the time to take it easy, not to get life back to normal. It’s easier to tough it out when you know it won’t last forever.
5. Take care of your breasts
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There’s no getting around it: constant nursing can take a toll on your breasts. We’re talking cracked, bruised, or bleeding skin, all while your baby is tugging at them. It’s hard to enjoy the moment when you’re in serious pain.
That’s why it’s important to take care of your breasts and not just try to weather the pain. Reach out to your doctor, especially if the pain is unbearable, as you might have an infection that could only be remedied with prescription.
Then, do your best to nurse them back to health. You can:
- Use lanolin cream before and after breastfeeding
- Air dry your breasts, either by not wearing a top or using breast shells
- Use compresses like these
The quicker your breasts can heal, the more comfortable nursing your baby for long stretches can be.
Struggling with your newborn cluster feeding all night is no joke. You’re sleep-deprived, delirious, and downright exhausted from the constant nursing.
Rest assured that you can still do plenty to make this phase go by more smoothly. Nurse lying down so that you have one less obstacle—sitting up—during those nursing sessions. Recruit others to tick off tasks you can’t do, so that you’re not itching to do them yourself.
Check that your baby is actually eating—comfort nursing can trick you into thinking that she’s full when she hasn’t been eating all that time. Make the most of your nursing sessions, from watching movies to reminding yourself of the benefits you get out of them.
And lastly, take care of your breasts, making sure to reach out to your doctor and using home remedies to ease the discomfort.
Hang in there, mama. What you’re experiencing is normal—down to those predictable hours in the evening when your baby starts cluster feeding.
Get more tips:
- Baby Feeding Every Hour (And Not Sleeping, Either)?
- 5 Reasons Your Newborn Is Constantly Hungry and Crying
- 6 Ways to Handle Your Newborn Constantly Feeding
- What to Do When Your Baby Wants to Breastfeed Constantly
- 5 Tips to Stop the Pain After Breastfeeding
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