I loathe the term cluster feed. Ever heard of it? My second night postpartum, I asked my nurse to take my son to the nursery so that I could sleep. She shook her head and said that Baby-Friendly hospitals encourage rooming in so that babies can cluster feed. Come again?
By this time, I’d been awake for nearly 48 hours. My son? Nursing all day long. My right nipple? Cracked. Also, I was recovering from the natural birth of a nearly nine pound baby. He’d torn my lady parts to pieces. Sometimes I think the world forgets that childbirth is hard. I decided that what was best for both of us was some uninterrupted sleep.
It was difficult to ask for the help to begin with. After all, I’d waited nine months to meet my son and expected that I’d want to snuggle him 24/7. To receive such a negative response from the nurse took me by surprise. I sort of understood where she was coming from. This was a Baby-Friendly hospital, and Baby-Friendly hospitals champion the breastfeeding relationship. In fact, I’d decided to deliver at this hospital because it promotes Baby-Friendly policies. I wanted to exclusively nurse my son, and I was excited for the help the hospital would provide in order to enrich this relationship. (You can read more about Baby-Friendly breastfeeding policies here.)
Step seven of the Baby-Friendly guidelines encourages moms to room in 24/7 so that babies can nurse on demand. Nursing on demand can certainly mean cluster feeding from time to time. Cluster feeding can be defined as follows:
Cluster feeding, also called bunch feeding, is when babies space feeding closer together at certain times of the day and go longer between feedings at other times. This is very common and often occurs in the evenings. It’s often—but not always—followed by a longer sleep period than usual: baby may be “tanking up” before a long sleep.
This definition makes sense. What does not make sense? The nurse’s advice. My son shouldn’t have been cluster feeding all night. He’d been cluster feeding all day and into the early evening. It was time for a break. Not only was the nurse trying to impose a rule that I’d never heard of before, she was policing the room-in policy without regard to my well-being and wishes.
Speaking of wishes, I wished for a pacifier and was told that pacifiers are against the Baby-Friendly initiative (see step nine). Why the strict no-pacifier rule? Do babies really have widespread nipple confusion? My son, at six months, prefers the boob to a bottle. And this is a kid who will put anything in his mouth. The nurse could’ve offered one in the middle of the night to help soothe my baby for a bit—particularly after I’d expressed that I was tired and in pain. Since there seemed to be zero flexibility, I took matters into my own hands. With the blessing of my pediatrician, I sent a friend home for a pacifier, and she smuggled in the contraband. My son used it on and off for about a week. (It did no harm to our breastfeeding relationship.) It did provide relief to me in the early stages of postpartum recovery.
To me, the best Baby-Friendly policy is a Mom-Friendly policy. Should a baby nurse on demand if possible? Absolutely. Is it a good idea to avoid pacifiers if nursing is going well for mom and baby? Of course. However, every new mom has a unique experience, and it’s unrealistic to expect them all to adhere to a one-size-fits-all postpartum plan. Without lactation consultants helping throughout the night, I did damage to my nipple. This damage eventually led to my first of three rounds of mastitis. It could have been prevented if the nurse had shown the same concern for my recovery as she showed for the Baby-Friendly policies. Had I gotten the support I’d needed in the hospital, I would have been better able to care for my son once I got home.
My hope in writing this is to encourage new moms to advocate for their own needs as well as the needs of their newborn. It’s commendable to seek what’s best for your child. Often, what’s best for your child is a healthy mom. If that means sneaking in a pacifier and sending your baby to the nursery? Own your decision and get some rest. It’s much easier to take care of someone else when you’ve also taken care of yourself.