This issue, night nanny Georgie Bateman advises new parents Laura and Mike on the benefit of using a dummy
This is my second week with Laura and Mike, caring for baby Polly who is now 10 days old.
I was booked to come for five nights during the first few weeks, and we’ve already covered many issues during our chats. Polly and Laura have got the hang of breastfeeding, and Laura is remembering not to sit down for a feed unless she has a pint of water beside her to keep her hydrated. She is feeling less tender following the birth and has had the support of the midwives when they visit.
I last left Laura and Mike on Saturday morning with Polly in their arms, contented and growing in the confidence of their own parenting ability, happy to do two nights on their own.
When I turn up on Monday evening, Mike greets me at the door. “Gosh, we’ve missed you!” he exclaimed. “Polly just doesn’t stop feeding, and we seem to have lost control over timings.”
Laura is on the sofa, looking as if she hasn’t moved all day. “Well, I certainly haven’t moved all evening,” she tells me, wearily.
I smile. “I think I’m looking at a classic case of cluster feeding.”
Although we thought there was a pattern in Polly’s feeds, things can be a bit random in the early weeks, which is why it is helpful to have some support. Once you can see a pattern emerging, you know where you are. You know your baby will have feeds at regular times, and therefore naps at regular times, and life begins to fall into a routine.
But new babies need to regulate the supply of milk, and will do this by cluster feeding – lots of shorter feeds with short intervals between them. It can seem to a new mum as if she doesn’t have the milk supply or that her baby isn’t feeding or latching on properly. And once a tired mother begins to worry, her brain will produce hormones which inhibit breast milk production.
I explain to Laura that this is perfectly normal behaviour in babies up to one month old and can even happen in older babies in advance of a growth spurt. Generally, cluster feeding happens in the evening, and sometimes people will ascribe it to the quality of the milk which, after a tiring day, is not as rich as the morning milk and so, the thinking goes, a baby needs more of it.
But the upside is, like so much in a baby’s life, it tends to happen at the same time every day, so you can anticipate it.
“Look for the hunger cues of a fidgety baby instead of waiting for her to cry – offer the breast before she gets too stressed,” I suggest.
If you are prepared for cluster feeding with a good book and a drink, you can relax into it and not worry. And if you are relaxed, your brain will produce the ‘right’ hormones to enhance breast milk production. If possible, try to eat before a cluster feed, even if it is just a sandwich, so you are comfortable.
I tell Laura about a client I had who got herself a cluster feeding ‘buddy’.
“A what?” exclaimed Laura.
“Exactly that! She teamed up with a friend whose baby was going through the same thing as her own baby, and they would sit on their sofas texting each other.”
“What did they talk about?”
“Oh, anything – their babies, mostly, but also what they were watching on television, or stuff they’d found online. It just helped to take their minds off the feeding, and it’s mutual support – it helps keep you going.”
“What a brilliant idea. I’m going to text my antenatal group now to see if anyone else feels glued to the sofa!”
“And I’m going to get you a glass of water, a cup of tea and a sandwich!” smiles Mike.