While attempting to get my son to latch or pumping at 3 a.m. after waking up to an alarm, I remember glaring at my husband and his useless nipples. How dare you. Thus, I think it's important for new parents to know how dads can help with cluster feeding, because there is so much responsibility on mom alone, and she may be feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, emotional, angry, and frustrated. Or at the very least, angry at her partner for having useless man nipples. Obviously, dads can't offer to help feed the baby if they're exclusively breastfed, but there are some important ways dads can help moms feed a hungry baby.
For new parents-to-be who are trying to do all their research about breastfeeding before baby comes like I did, cluster feeding is also called bunch feeding, according to Kellymom, and it's when babies begin to have their feeding times closer together. Basically, you feel like your baby will never ever get full, and their fussiness makes you question your diet, whether they're getting enough milk, as well as question your sanity.
Thankfully, Tori Hamilton, an obstetrical nurse, IBCLC, and LLL leader, tells Romper, "Cluster feeding is completely normal and does not mean that you are not making enough milk. It often happens in the evenings when prolactin levels are lowest."
And for more good news that comes from cluster feeding, this behavior "often precedes a longer sleep stretch (we're talking four to five hours)," according to Hamilton. Hey, that's a lot of uninterrupted sleep when you have a newborn. "Think of it as your baby's way to efficiently build your supply while increasing maternal proximity," she says.
When can you expect cluster feeding to happen? Andrea Tran, a registered nurse and IBCLC says, "After the milk comes in, babies typically will have one or two cluster feeding periods a day. Late afternoon or early evening is a common time for it to occur. It seems to go away around three months, but may recur with a growth spurt."
Tran adds that the second night with your baby can be a little intense because your baby may want to feed constantly for hours. So partners, take a look at the way you can help during this intense time.
1. Provide encouragement and support.
"It can be easy for moms to second guess themselves during these tough times. A dad's encouragement to keep going can make all the difference," says Hamilton.
Even though my husband had useless nipples, him getting up with me when I had to pump or try to nurse meant the world to me. I didn't feel as alone and I felt supported. He was there to cheer me on as he tried not to doze off next to me.
2. Swaddle the baby and take them for a walk.
"If mom gets to the point where she needs a break, Dad can swaddle the baby and take it for a walk for an hour so Mom can get in a power nap," suggests Tran.
Swaddling can provide comfort as well, which could potentially help with the fussiness long enough for mom to get a break.
3. Entertain older siblings.
Hamilton says, "Cluster feeding is much easier to handle when that is the only thing mom has to worry about." So even though you're not getting a break from the feeding itself, at least you don't have to entertain your other children who are probably clamoring for a snack of their own.
4. Take over household duties.
Hamilton tells dads to be hypervigilant about household duties during this time — and this includes cooking meals. "Because cluster feeding often happens around dinner time, dads can help by making dinner, or at least helping to make dinner," Tran says. Plus, the last thing moms can think about or want to think about is how messy the house is. For me, a clean house makes me feel calm and less anxious, and that helped me during the stressful infant months.
5. Give the baby a bath.
"During those tough evenings, dads can help by stepping in to give mom a quick break so she can go to the bathroom, have a shower or eat some dinner ... and that includes giving the baby a soothing bath," Hamilton says.
6. Rock, read, or sing to the baby.
Basically, giving mom a mental and physical break is crucial to helping everyone get through cluster feeding. Whether that means taking the baby for a walk, giving them a bath, rocking them, reading to them, or singing to them, taking the baby somewhere else even for an hour can be a huge help to moms who are cluster feeding.