Two weeks after I gave birth to my son, things started to get weird in the evening. (Well, even more weird. Life with a brand new person as a brand new mom is weird in general.) He started getting fussy and asking to nurse basically all the time after our designated bedtime and until around midnight. It made me crazy, until I realized he was sleeping longer at night as a result. Apparently, he was “tanking up” so he could rest around four or five hours between nursing sessions at night. Still, that first cluster feeding session was a doozy, that totally rattled my confidence until I figured out what was going on (or, more accurately, until my breastfeeding mama pals — aka my "Breast Friends" — reality-checked my expectations).
After I'd gotten into a rhythm with my son, fixing his latch and starting to anticipate his needs so he wouldn't get very fussy during the day, it was jarring to see him get upset and totally deviate from the pattern I'd come to expect. However, that's what newborns do. They grow so much, so fast, so naturally their timing and internal schedules do, too. (I so wish I'd realized that in advance; could have spared myself a ton of unnecessary second-guessing and worrying.)
Once I accepted that being fussier and eating more frequently in the evening is just a normal thing a lot of breastfed babies do, things got a lot easier. I made sure that we were home around that time of day (not that we went a whole lot of places then anyway, since he was still really new and it was the middle of winter), I picked some new shows to start binging on Netflix and Hulu, and my partner made sure that I was always well fed and had all my favorite soothing remedies — cold gel packs, plus all-purpose nipple ointment (when my nipples were cracked) or regular coconut oil (once they healed) — ready to go the minute our son unlatched.
But before we figured all that out? Oh man. It was like being in a weird dream, where literally nothing makes sense. The following things happen to pretty much everyone during their first cluster feeding session, so if you're in the throes of that lovely experience now, know that you're not alone. (Also, don't change the batteries in your clocks. They're not broken, I swear.)
You’ll Wonder If You’re Losing It
The toughest part of the newborn phase is that just when you start to think you've figured out their particular rhythms and routines, they change. When my baby started cluster feeding, it totally threw off the little groove I was getting into and I started to wonder if I was just messing things up, or didn't do things I swore I did ("I could swear I just fed you and changed you! How are you mad right now?! Did I do that in a dream and not actually in real life?"), instead of him actually changing what needed to happen.
You’ll Question Your Sense Of Time
I must have looked at every clock in the room and did all sorts of random math the first time my son started cluster feeding. You normally eat every 90 minutes to two hours. I don't think it's been 90 minutes, but maybe I just don't know how to tell time anymore because I'm so sleep deprived?
Are you getting enough to eat? Are you starving? Am I starving you? OMG I'm starving you. Wait no, I can't be starving you, because we saw all your dirty diapers from today. If all *that* came out, something must have gone in. What is going on?
You’ll Get Frustrated
Cluster feeding usually happens early on, which means it also happens when moms and babies are still trying to get the hang of nursing comfortably. So when baby is asking to nurse again when you feel like he just gnawed your nipple off, it can be frustrating. And by "frustrating," I mean "aggravating to the point where you question all your life choices."
(This is where those soothing remedies really come in handy, as would a partner or friend who's willing to give you a shoulder rub or something.)
You’ll Feel Trapped
Should I even bother to move if we're just going to be back here again to nurse in some stupid short period of time? Yeah, probably not.
You’ll Wonder If Your Baby Is Busted
There's just no way you could need to eat this often. It's literally not possible. What is happening?
Rest assured, mama, your baby knows how to baby. They're getting what they need, so as long as they're latched well, just keep calm and nurse on.
You’ll Wonder If Your Boobs Are Busted
I sent in all those little registration cards to stay in the loop if all the baby's stuff gets recalled, but who do I talk to if my boobs need to be recalled?
Most likely, no, they don't need to be recalled. Your boobs know how to boob, so as hard as it might be — particularly if you have people around you who don't understand what normal looks like for a breastfed newborn — resist the temptation to give them a bottle (unless you'd rather combination feed than exclusively breastfeed). Breastfeeding is a demand and supply process, so if you give your baby a bottle instead of letting them latch and nurse, your body won't realize it needs to make enough milk to cover that feeding, and that could compromise your milk supply.
You’ll Worry Some More
Am I making skim milk or something? What could possibly be causing this?
You’ll Gripe To Your Partner/BFF/Anyone Who Will Listen
I mean, somebody else needs to know about this sh*t. The absolute nerve of this baby, being all demanding and fussy, like your body isn't working your butt off (literally) melting parts of itself to make food for them. Get a grip and get it quick, little one.
You’ll Reach Out To Your Mom Group
Cluster feeding is definitely one of those times when your breast friends are your best friends. They, unlike extended family members and others who don't necessarily know what a breastfed newborn's "normal" looks like, can reassure you that what's happening is totally normal. They can set you straight, and offer reassurance, encouragement, and pro-tips that will help you survive this (ultimately short) time in your breastfeeding journey.
You’ll Start To Accept That This Could Be Normal
If you're especially skeptical, you might have put in a call to your midwife and/or IBCLC, in addition to consulting Dr. Google about your baby's latest feeding habits. Once they all come back saying, "Yeah, basically every baby does this so just keep nursing," you'll finally start to think that, OK, maybe this isn't a problem so much as a challenge. Like climbing Everest, only harder on your patience (and your nipples).
You’ll Figure Out How To Make This Work
Welp, if this is just what we do every evening, better get used to it. It doesn't count as screen time if I watch Netflix in front of a nursing, half-asleep baby who can't see very far, right? Right. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Better text my partner for some more snacks...