Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings

There are several theories as to why babies tend to be fussier in the evening hours. The important thing to remember is that while it can be very frustrating for new parents, as long as your baby does not appear to be in pain, it is a normal newborn behavior to be fussy and want to cluster feed in the evening.

Cluster feeding is when baby want to nurse frequently, sometimes continuously, with little break between feedings. Baby may nurse for a few minutes then pull off the breast then want to go back on, nurse for a few minutes and pull off. Mother’s often feel that it’s something that they are doing wrong or that they don’t have enough milk to satisfy their baby. As long as your baby is happy during the day, content between feeds and does not seem to be in pain, this is all entirely NORMAL newborn behaviour. The good news is that it does not last forever. However, it is important to be prepared and have a few tricks up your sleeve to help calm and console your baby...and yourselves!

Invest in a baby carrier. This gives you free hands and allows your to go about your day. Babies find the movement, your smell, your heart beat and your warmth all very soothing.

Take turns and allow the other parent to leave the room and get some distance from the fussy babe. Go have a shower, a walk around the block, phone a friend, phone your mom, she will understand and sympathize with you!

Change things up. If one tactic isn’t working try something else. Swaying movement, swaddling, shh-shh sounds, baby massage, warm bath, soothing music or nothing at all. Sometimes babies become so overstimulated by parents trying to calm them that it actually frustrates them more. Sometimes sitting in a dimly lit room, gently rocking or swaying and either breastfeeding or skin to skin snuggles will help calm an overstimulated, overtired baby.

Continue to offer the breast but recognize your baby’s cues and if they are telling you that they are angry and frustrated at the breast then try something else. You want to keep the breast a happy and comforting place for them.

Throw the schedule out the window. Follow your baby’s cues and there will be a lot less frustration on your end.

Stay calm. Easier said than done sometimes but your baby will feel your tension. When you feel like you can no longer stay calm it is time to give someone else a turn or lie baby down in his crib and walk away for 5mins. If you are calm and relaxed your baby will feel it.

Do not blame yourself. This is normal newborn behavior. It is not your fault, you did not cause this and they do not hate you. This too shall pass. It often has nothing to do with a mother’s milk supply or something that she may have eaten during the day that is now upsetting baby’s tummy. If you have a happy baby during the day who is healthy and gaining weight well this is truly a behavior issue.

Do not give your baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk or formula. A newborn baby will drink and drink and drink from a bottle, end up with an over-distended tummy and be even more upset about it. The fact that they will drink from the bottle does not mean that they are starving. Newborns have sucking reflexes and the firm nipple of the bottle stimulates that reflex. They will suck and suck and suck without realizing that they are not in fact hungry at all. Now you have a fussy baby with a tummy ache and there is very little you can do to help that. Instead, reduce the stimulation in the room and offer the breast. While baby is on the breast, use compression to maximize milk transfer.

If your baby has a pattern of being fussy in the evening try to sneak in an afternoon nap to help prepare yourself for the long night ahead. Adjust your daily schedule to accommodate for this fussy time. It may not be a good idea to invite guests for dinner or make plans to leave the house in the evening for awhile. Schedule your appointments for later in the morning so you can try and catch up on some sleep.

It’s like preparing for a storm, get all the supplies you need and get ready to ride it out. It will eventually pass and you will eventually see the daylight again and look back on it amazed that you survived.


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Melanie Pinet

IBCLC Lactation Consultant

Holistic Sleep Educator

Alberta, Canada