Cluster Feeding and Comfort Nursing: What New Moms Need To Know About Breastfeeding

The minute I found out I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. It’s “free”, helps you lose weight, and provides the best nutrition. Plus it’s great bonding time with your baby. Why wouldn’t I do it? It seemed like a no brainer!

I took two breastfeeding classes, and some of the other child care classes went over it too. They talked about the various holding positions and how to get the baby to latch on properly. And how often to feed them so they gain weight. Seemed pretty basic and easy to follow. Boy was I wrong…

My mom told me that it is harder than you think. She said her mom helped her when she really struggled with it, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I knew your nipples will be sore and you may have painful blocked ducts. Also that your uterus contracts when you nurse and you may leak milk when it’s close to feeding time. And that you need to be near your baby most of the time to feed on demand. But all that seemed reasonable, I wasn’t too scared.

Then the time came. Jack was born and he started rooting for my nipple the minute they put him on my chest. The nurse sat me up and told me offer him my breast. Jack took it instantly—and OH MY GOD DID IT HURT!! But I looked at him happily sucking away and just tried to ignore it. Later when he came back from the nursery, I tried to feed him again and he wouldn’t latch. I started to feel overwhelmed—not to mention that was I exhausted too. My mom helped me get him on but it still really hurt (he had already bruised my nipple).

My nurse called the lactation consultant and she really helped. Jack wasn’t latching on wide enough and I needed to wake him up more so he eat enough before falling asleep. I thought it was all good after that. Wrong. That night he cried every hour to be fed and I didn’t know what to do. The nurse came in and explain it was all normal, and showed me how to massage my boob while nursing to get more out. The feedings in the hospital went a lot better after that.

Then once I got him home he cried to be fed all the time, which once again totally overwhelmed me and I started to doubt myself. I am not making enough milk? Is there something wrong with my milk or my breasts? Is he still not latching right again? Maybe I should just give him formula, maybe it will make him happier?

Then I turned to the internet, I needed more information. If I was doing something wrong I needed to find out how to fix it. To my surprise, I was actually doing things right. Turns out breastfeeding is actually that hard in the beginning. But I found there were a few things I could do to make it easier.

So the following list is things I found out the hard way. But I wish they advertised these better to new moms so they don’t get overwhelmed and give up breastfeeding.

  • It will hurt for the first few weeks. Seriously, it will hurt a lot. A combination of sore/burning/stinging/throbbing. If your baby bruises your nipples like Jack did to me, it will be even worse. And for the first few weeks your uterus will contract as you nurse, it’s like mini labor all over again. Not mention you are exhausted and hormonal, making all the pain a hundred times worse. You may cry as you nurse. It’s okay, let it out.
  • But the pain does go away. I promise. I am 3.5 weeks postpartum now and it just barely stings when he latches and throbs a little bit after. It may piss you off when people tell you to just nurse through the pain, but it seriously works. The more you nurse, the more your nipples toughen up and begin to heal. As you are crying through the pain, look at your sweet angel’s face and remember why it’s worth it.
  • Make sure the is latch correct. Jack bruised my nipples because I let him latch incorrectly the first time and he kept doing it. The lactation consultant showed me to open his mouth wide, put my nipple in bottom first, and gently push his head so his mouth takes in most of the areola. Once I had him on correctly, it was a million times better and I didn’t dread feeding him. Check out this link for more info on the proper latch.
  • Soothe your nipple in between feedings. Put a heating pad on before you nurse if possible. It opens up the ducts so the milk will flow easier and your baby won’t have to suck as hard. After you nurse, put lanolin on your nipples. It’s not vegan, but it’s all natural and works very well. I tried coconut oil but it wasn’t the same. This is one time I am fine with a non-vegan product because I know it is for the okay for my son. Also, if your nipples are still throbbing, put an ice pack on.
  • You won’t have much milk you at first. But you don’t need that much at first.You’ve probably been told that your baby’s stomach is small and so you don’t need a lot of milk at first. So don’t be concerned if when you try to express milk from your breast only a few drops comes out.  It’s totally normal (Ameda)
  • But your supply will increase.  As your baby gets bigger, so will their little stomach. And your body will up your supply with the increasing demand. Keep nursing (despite the pain) and it will stimulate your body to make more (Ameda)
The next two are the most important things I wish someone told me beforehand. But first you need to understand growth spurts. Your baby will go growth major growth spurts several times during their first year of life. During this time they will need to eat more, probably want more snuggles, and sleep more. The first few will be around 3 days, the next around 7-10 days, then 2-3 weeks, and 4-6 weeks. These first few ones will be a major struggle since you still exhausted and recovering from birth.
  • Cluster feeding. I thought something was wrong with my milk supply at the hospital. However, when I pumped between feedings when I got home, I discovered I was making plenty. I didn’t understand why Jack was eating all the time. Then I Googled it and cluster feeding came up instantly. When your baby is going through a growth spurt, your baby may need to eat more frequently, like every hour instead of every 2-3 hours. And they may want to nurse for a longer period of time. Then suddenly they will sleep for longer than normal, like 4-5 hours instead of 2-3 hours. Then wake up and want to start the cluster feeding/sleep cycle all over again. This is all normal—though it will drive you mad. You will feel like you are nursing back-to-back for hours. Your nipples will be throbbing and all you can think about is a nap. Then suddenly the baby is out in a milk coma and stays asleep for hours. As much as you enjoyed your much needed 4 hours nap, now you are all worried something is wrong. I kept thinking, “Why did he sleep so long? Is he okay?”  Then suddenly they are wide-awake and eating their hand because they are so hungry! Now you feel like a horrible mom for letting them sleep so long between feedings. Then the back-to-back feeding starts all over again, stressing you out more. Like I said, it all sucks, but it’s normal. (Sources: Kelly Mom, La Leche)
  • Comfort nursing. I have no problem rocking Jack to sleep and comforting him whenever he wakes up. But I wanted him to get used to falling asleep on his own (trying to avoid co-sleeping because I have insomnia issues and it’s not safe for him to be in our bed if I take a sleep aid on occasion). But sometimes he would be so insanely fussing when I tried to put him to sleep. The only way I could calm him was by nursing him until he fell asleep. Sometimes this can takes 30 minutes. He doesn’t actively suck the whole time, maybe only 10-15 minutes. Then he just gently sucks as he dozes off to sleep. Then he would gently unlatch himself and be sound asleep on my chest. Only then I could transfer him to his bed without him waking up screaming. I was worried I was starting him on bad habit that would lead to him only sleeping in peoples arms or co-sleeping. So I Googled it again and discovered he was comfort nursing—and that it is normal. And it won’t last forever. I like how they phrased it, do you honestly think your child will need to comfort nurse the rest of his life? That they will never outgrow it and be an independent person? That’s ridiculous to believe, he just needs my nurturing and affection right now. So, if I nurse Jack to sleep right now I will not need to go with him to college to nurse him to sleep. (La Leche, Kelly Mom)
If you are truly struggling, ask for help. Contact a lactation consultant at the hospital where you delivered. Talk to  friend or family member who nursed before. Even your doctor or pediatrician can help. Breastfeeding is hard at first, but you don’t have to suffer alone. And eventually you won’t suffer at all, just keep going!

Check out these links for my information and encouragement:

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