1. Milk it-
As a struggling rookie, I was completely thrown by my daughter’s new feeding pattern at three months old of nursing a little, fussing, nursing more, falling asleep, and nursing a little more … for hours on end in the evening. I felt trapped, bored, and, even worse, convinced that her erratic eating (and my subsequent frustration) were proof I was a bad mother. Then I learned that a cluster-feeding baby can try the patience of even the most seasoned nursing mother, that it’s completely normal, and it has nothing to do with me. Here are 7 things that helped me get through this feeding phase without losing my marbles. I hope they help you, too!
2. Change the scenery-
At first, I would always feed my daughter in her room, which was all lovely and cozy when it took an hour or less. But when she was cluster-feeding, I began to feel isolated and irritated in there, so I started setting up camp in other rooms of the house: in bed when I was tired, in the rec room (my husband’s chief hangout) when I wanted company, and in the living room when I wanted a view. Though the rocking chair in her room was particularly comfortable for nursing, I soon found that I could get comfy enough anywhere so long as I had my nursing pillow and a safe and easily accessible place to put her if she nodded off (so that I could get up and stretch, use the bathroom, or run to the fridge).
3. Get a breast pump-
If you haven’t already, buy a breast pump and learn how to use it. Yes, the learning process may be frustrating and uncomfortable — it certainly was for me — but the payoff was huge: My husband got to feed the baby, which was a very nice bonding experience for the two of them and an important learning experience for her. I got to leave the house and take a nice, long, sanity-restoring walk. Win-win-win.
4. Milk it-
No, that’s not a typo; I mean milk this unique situation in which you find yourself. Instead of fretting about what cluster-feeding is keeping you from doing, think about what it can get you out of doing. I wasn’t above sending my husband out to pick up my library books, or ice cream, or even, on just a few occasions, upstairs to get something I forgot. A cluster-feed is a good time for a back or foot rub, too.
5. Stock your kitchen-
In the beginning, cluster-feeding made me “hangry” (so hungry that you’re angry). On one desperate occasion, I remember rummaging through the fridge, my baby girl under my other arm like a football, until I came up with the only thing edible that didn’t require any preparation: leftover chicken wings. Unfortunately, chicken wings are perhaps the worst possible thing to eat with one hand. Long story short: I got barbeque sauce on my baby; I was a country song come to life. If you love to eat as much as I do though, noshing with abandon is another upside to this cluster-feeding deal. Most of those calories go straight to the baby, so she’s the one who will plump up. (At least that’s what I told myself, and it turned out to be true.)
When it comes to losing the last of one’s pregnancy pudge, a cluster-feed is a good time to get that little bit in. Use light weights — the kind you can attach to your arm or ankle with a velcro strap are particularly handy for a few bicep curls or calf raises while sitting upright in a chair with good back support and a nursing pillow. Ready for the advanced class? Sit on a balance ball instead of the chair; simply maintaining good posture while doing so will strengthen your core muscles. And of course, there’s Kegels …
7. Use your head-
When I was up for something a bit more intellectually demanding, I did the Sunday Times crossword or read, usually aloud, until my baby started to fall asleep (I highly enjoyed David Sedaris’ awesome essay collection, Naked; hopefully she retained none of it). When I felt the need to be “productive,” I flipped through my cookbooks, planned meals, and made grocery lists. I also made appointments and called my sister. There were even a few times when I managed to arrange the nursing pillow just so with my laptop across my legs and did things that required a minimum of typing, like check email/Facebook/Twitter, edit photos, and catch up on the news.
Cluster-feeding is a great time to indulge in your mindless pleasure of choice. For me this meant watching TV. But rather than be at the mercy of regularly scheduled programming, I used Netflix and borrowed seasons of shows on DVD from friends. (It’s thanks to cluster-feeding that I became hopelessly addicted to Chuck.) I also listened to lots of podcasts and public radio. And when I was so tired that even these activities seemed taxing, I’d set up camp in my bed, and we’d drift off together. It took me some time to figure out how to nurse lying on my side with the baby next to me, and I did more daydreaming than actual sleeping, but it was still very relaxing.
I realize it may seem like I simply latched the baby on and then went about satisfying my own needs, but truly that wasn’t the case. I found that the coping strategies I came up with — changing the scenery, stocking the fridge, stimulating my mind — gave me more ways to engage with her, not less. We talked recipes, puzzled over crossword clues, and chatted with Grandma on the phone. Letting my husband sub in with a bottle gave me more energy and patience for the fussy times. And no matter where I was, or what I was eating or doing while she nursed, I still had plenty of those blissful Renaissance-Madonna-and-child moments where I simply stared at her in adoration — they were just all the sweeter for being interspersed with the odd status update or snooze. And now that my daughter is a busy 10-month-old who can barely keep still for a 10-minute nursing session, let alone a two-hour snuggle, I miss those cluster-feeding days. Just a little bit.