As a new mom, breastfeeding can be filled with moments of joy and wonder, but it can also feel challenging. One common challenge is meeting your baby's needs when they constantly want to nurse. When this happens, you may feel overwhelmed and exhausted - or even anxious and lost. But know that you're not alone and there are solutions.
Frequent breastfeeding is entirely normal. You may have heard the term "cluster feeding,” which is when a baby nurses very frequently for a period, often in the evening. Babies cluster feed for a variety of reasons, like if they’re experiencing a growth spurt or developmental leap, if they’re feeling ill, or if they’re seeking comfort.
It's normal for newborns to feed frequently throughout the day and night; during the first few weeks, babies often eat around 12 times per day (roughly every 2 hours) or more. If you’re breastfeeding, this frequent feeding schedule helps establish a healthy milk supply and provides your baby with the necessary nutrients for their rapid growth and development.
As your baby grows, they begin to get more efficient at removing milk from your breasts; their nursing sessions will likely be shorter and less frequent, and your little one will start having longer stretches between feeds. Around 2 to 3 months of age, your baby may begin to increase their feeding intervals to every 2 to 4 hours during the day, with longer stretches at night.
Around 4 to 6 months of age, your baby may begin to show signs of increased appetite and may start to cluster feed again. This could be due to growth spurts, teething, or developmental milestones. It's essential to follow your baby's hunger cues during these periods and offer the breast or bottle as often as needed to meet their needs.
In this article, we'll explore why your baby might want to breastfeed constantly and offer tips on addressing this issue with patience and care. And never hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician, OB, or lactation professional for personalized guidance.
Why do babies want to breastfeed constantly?
Understanding why your baby nurses all the time can help you be better prepared. Here are three reasons babies might want to feed frequently:
Hunger: Babies must feed frequently to get the nutrients they need, and their stomachs can only hold a small amount of milk or formula at a time. Those tiny newborn tummies fill and empty quickly (just think about all those diaper changes in the early days)!
Comfort: After they’re born, babies continue to use the sucking reflex developed in utero to nurse. Breastfeeding also stimulates the release of hormones in both the mother and baby that promote bonding and attachment. Since the act of sucking can provide a sense of comfort and security, babies may want to nurse even when they're not hungry. This comfort nursing can have a calming effect on babies and help soothe them when they're upset, anxious, or overwhelmed.
Developmental leaps: As babies grow, they go through various developmental stages, which include significant growth spurts and milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, and even teething. During these stages, babies often experience increased appetite and a greater need for frequent breastfeeding to meet their nutritional demands.
In the first few days of life, babies undergo a rapid growth spurt, which can cause an increase in their appetite and a need for frequent nursing. Similarly, when babies reach developmental milestones such as rolling over or sitting up, they may burn more calories and require additional nutrients to support their newfound physical abilities. More frequent breastfeeding helps ensure babies receive the nourishment they need to thrive.
Understanding these developmental stages and the associated changes in appetite/needs can help parents respond to their baby's hunger cues better and ensure that they’re receiving adequate nutrition.
It's essential to pay close attention to your baby's cues and respond to their needs. By understanding why your baby wants to breastfeed constantly, you can figure out how to provide them with the care and support they need.
The Challenges of Frequent Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding around the clock can take a toll on new moms both physically and emotionally. The frequent feedings can leave you feeling drained and sleep-deprived, making it difficult to care for yourself and your baby. You may experience sore nipples, breast engorgement, and other physical discomforts. You may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or frustrated and wonder if you're doing something wrong.
It's common to experience a range of emotions during this time. You may worry that you're not producing enough milk or that your baby isn't getting enough nutrients. These concerns can lead to feelings of inadequacy or failure, which can impact your overall well-being. To ease some of your concerns about not producing enough, reach out to your baby’s provider and keep an eye on your baby's weight gain and diaper output. (Another gentle reminder to seek out professional support as needed, whether from your OB, a lactation counselor, or a mental health professional.)
The Benefits of Breastfeeding Constantly
While frequent feedings can be challenging, there are numerous benefits for you and your baby. Here are some benefits that can make it all worth it:
Increased milk production: Frequent breastfeeding can help stimulate milk production and increase your milk supply.
Improved bonding: Breastfeeding is not just about nourishing your baby but also about building a strong emotional bond with them. Frequent breastfeeding can help strengthen the bond between you and your baby, promoting a sense of security and closeness.
Reduced risk of illness: Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect your baby from a range of illnesses and infections, reducing the risk of some short-term illnesses such as respiratory infections, ear infections, and gastrointestinal infections.
- Reduced risk of postpartum depression: Breastfeeding releases hormones that promote relaxation and reduce stress, which can help reduce the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.
How to Handle Cluster Feeding: Tips for Parents When Baby Wants to Breastfeed Constantly
Check for hunger cues: Hunger cues can vary from baby to baby but may include lip-smacking, rooting, sucking motions, or putting their hands to their mouth.
If your baby is showing signs of hunger, offer the breast or bottle and observe their feeding behavior. It's important to let your baby feed until they’re satisfied, rather than imposing a feeding schedule or time limit.
Offer both breasts: Offering both breasts during a nursing session is an effective way to help ensure that your baby is getting enough milk and encourage proper milk production.
It's essential to try to drain each breast during each nursing session - avoid switching sides too quickly or only nursing on one side. This helps to ensure that your baby is getting enough milk (both foremilk and hindmilk); it also signals your body to produce more milk in the future.
In addition, trying to drain both breasts can help prevent breast engorgement and mastitis, which can occur when milk is not effectively removed from the breasts. By nursing on both sides, you can avoid the buildup of milk that can lead to discomfort and infection.
As your baby grows and their feeding needs change, you may find that they prefer one breast over the other or that they’re satisfied with only one breast per feeding session. It's important to be flexible and responsive to your baby's cues while also ensuring that they’re receiving the proper nutrition for their development - and ensuring you’re paying attention to your own breast health.
Switch up breastfeeding positions: Trying different breastfeeding positions can help your baby latch on better and get more milk.
Pump and bottle feed: If you need a break or if your baby is having difficulty latching, consider using a breast pump to express milk and feed your baby with a bottle.
Skin-to-skin contact: Skin-to-skin contact can help promote bonding and soothe your baby. Try holding your baby skin-to-skin during and after feedings.
Consider pacifiers: If your baby seems to be seeking comfort rather than food, there are various ways to help soothe them. One option is to consider using a pacifier. Pacifiers can provide a comforting sensation for babies, helping to satisfy the need to suck even when they’re not hungry.
You can also try gentle rocking, singing, or white noise to help calm your baby. In addition, some babies may find comfort in non-nutritive sucking on their fingers or hands. This is a natural behavior and is not harmful as long as proper hygiene is maintained.
It's important to note that pacifiers or other soothing methods should not be used to replace feedings or to delay feedings if your baby is hungry. If your baby is showing signs of hunger, such as rooting or sucking motions, offer the breast or bottle to ensure they receive the proper nourishment.
Seek support: Seeking support is essential for new mothers, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding support groups, lactation consultants, and other resources can provide valuable guidance, encouragement, and help if any breastfeeding challenges arise. Don't be afraid to reach out for help if you need it, as it can make all the difference in your breastfeeding journey.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a professional who specializes in breastfeeding support and can provide personalized advice and guidance tailored to your specific needs. An IBCLC can watch you nurse and help you find the optimal position, as well as offer advice on issues such as tongue ties, tongue tie revisions, nipple shields, and more.
In addition to professional support, there are ways to make yourself as comfortable as possible during breastfeeding. Investing in a high-quality nursing bra that provides both support and comfort can make a big difference in your breastfeeding experience. Look for bras that are made from soft, breathable fabric and provide easy access for breastfeeding.
It's also important to find a comfortable and quiet space to breastfeed, whether it's in the privacy of your own home or a designated nursing room. If you can, take the time to relax and enjoy the bonding experience with your baby during feeding times, and don't be afraid to take breaks if you need them.
Whether you're a first-time mom or a seasoned pro, we’re here to support you as you navigate this sometimes challenging step in your breastfeeding journey. You’ve got this!
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice that has been medically reviewed. Please reach out to your midwife or doctor with any questions.