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Cluster Nursing Your Baby Barracuda

Cluster Nursing Your Baby Barracuda

By Amalah

Amy! I am such a huge fan girl of everything you write, blog, advice, everything!

I have a sweet, funny, amazingly cute 10 (almost 11) month old who is a breastfeeding addict. He would literally be attached to my boob every second of the day if I let him. He has been like this since he was born (the kid loves to nurse) but more so in the last month or two.

I work part-time and when I am gone, he only has a bottle before each nap (2 naps) and regular food for meals and snacks. (He eats a huge amount/variety of finger foods) but when I am home he wants to nurse non-freaking-stop, sometimes every 10 or 20 minutes! More when he is tired or grumpy so I’m thinking this is a lot of comfort /separation anxiety nursing. The problem is, this kid is persistent! When I try to distract him he will continue to scream and arch his back for up to an hour, wanting to nurse. Walks, snacks, sippy cups, nothing will take his mind off his goal. So I end up giving in because nursing him is so much easier than an hour of tantrums! And I start second guessing myself, thinking why would I take away something comforting he loves so much? I’m a pushover!

I have tried looking this up but any articles on “weaning” are so judgmental and make me feel like I am just being selfish. I am happy to keep breastfeeding past a year and I have no rush to completely wean him but not nurse every 20 minutes!

Anyway! My question is… How can I gently cut back on the endless nursing or is it better to just wait it out and hope he stops on his own?

Love,
Tired of unclipping my bra

As my own breastfeeding experiences fade further into the past, I admit that whenever I get a question about nursing I head over to KellyMom.com for a quick refresher before I formulate my answer. And indeed, the site has a pretty good in-depth take on the “velcro child/baby barracuda” stage of non-stop, clingy nursing. 

(I was once told to ignore all advice regarding infant sleep, diapering and breastfeeding from any parent who hadn’t actually lived with an infant in the past two years. Probably not a bad idea, though it would put me out of a job so maybe let’s forget I said anything.)

Even though you don’t technically really want or plan to wean, I would suggest following the weaning mantra of “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” He’s a bit on the young side to understand nursing-access limits or that tantrums aren’t how we get our way, so I don’t think you’d be successful trying to teach those lessons for at least a few more months. Since your attempts to distract him with other things don’t work, it’s possible that he views those attempts as you “refusing,” which just makes him unhappy, more determined and perpetuates his desire to NURSE ALL THE TIME NURSE NURSE NURSE whenever he has access to you. Nursing right now is serving both a physical and an emotional need for him, and I would also probably just give in from the get go, let him breastfeed on demand to avoid escalating the separation anxiety situation. (Which kinda sounds like that might be happening a little bit, with the raging tantrums.) You’re not being a pushover. You’re just nursing your particular baby in his particular nursing style.

THAT SAID.

I am NOT suggesting that oh, there’s nothing to be done, just suck it up and deal, MOM. This is a PHASE, and it will STOP, I promise it will stop, even without you following Simple Miracle Solution Steps One, Two and Three. Be patient with him and yourself, because I Get It, it’s frustrating and tedious. But very common for his age…and increasingly LESS common as babies get older and grow more confident/secure in their attachment to Mommy as a person and not just as a milk source. Mommy goes away, Mommy comes back, Mommy will meet my needs, keep me safe, but also OH LOOK I CAN WALK AND CLIMB LET’S PARTY! He’ll find his independence, in time.

This is going to sound so freaking cliche and patronizing and Exhibit A for not seeking advice from people who haven’t nursed a baby in the past two years but oh my God: It goes by so quickly. He is going to move on and wean completely before you know it, and the day to day slog of the frantic cluster nursing that feels like FOREVER right now will suddenly vanish into a single moment of: Blip. Blink. Over.

THAT SAID.

It’s okay to take breaks from him. And no, working part-time doesn’t count as your “break.” It’s okay to ask your partner to take over one night a week while you grab drinks/dinner with friends or see a movie. Or have Grandma babysit so you can have a date night. It’s also totally okay to take your break during the prime clusternurse hours, even if it’s just hiding upstairs to take a bath for 20 minutes. When you’re there and WITH HIM, don’t refuse him. Nurse him, then try to engage him with something else in hopes of prolonging the length of time you can keep your bra on. But when you’re gone, DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. Let him work on his attachments to non-boob people and get additional experience with that whole “Mommy goes away, Mommy comes back” lesson.

You have your limits and that’s okay. We all do, and we all have to figure out ways to cope with the endless, non-stop demands and sacrifices of parenting while holding on to our patience and sanity. This too shall pass, and listen to this old irrelevant lady when she tells you that SERIOUSLY: Blip. Blink. Over. So fast!

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Annabel

    I started only feeding my baby every four hours a couple of months ago – I’m not suggesting you do this but it did work for us – and I found/find it really helpful to wear thick and high necked clothing, like a hoodie or something so that the milk source isn’t right in front of him.

  • Erin

    This might also be a good time to try limiting the time that your son nurses occasionally. You can still nurse every time he demands it, but for a shorter period of time that suits you. When my son was about this age, I started counting backwards from 10, declaring “all done!” and popping my son off. He’s 19 months now, and will pop off on his own when I say “all done!” It took a while to see him starting to get it, but it was still a major boost to my sanity.

  • Jeannie

    I’ve had two *committed* nursers — now several years weaned — and I did find that at that age it was easier to let them nurse on demand as much as possible. The more I did that, the less they asked. If they know it’s always there when they need it, they seem less anxious and they get less demanding. So I would give in, if I were you, OP, and wait for this phase to end. It will, I promise!

  • hp

    I agree with the above commenters. I had a nursing monster (we weaned at age 2 b/c I got pregnant with #2 and it HURT but he would probably still be going strong). He would take one bottle all day (and I work full-time). Right before his noon nap, he would chug the bottle down like a miniature frat boy and refuse any other bottles that were offered. Before one, I let him nurse when he wanted because denying him would set us up on a cycle of desire->refuse->anger->give in->repeat. If I did nurse him when he first asked, we would stop the cycle and he would be pleasant. I also would time limit him when needed and tell Dad he was up when I was really tired of it. Around one year, I instituted no-nursing times (aka midnight to 6 am) and gradually increased these as I saw fit. By two, we were down to nursing only at 6 am (because he KNEW when 6 am was). I am waiting to see what #2 will be like (2 more months!)

  • Sarah

    baBywearing is a great way to save your sanity. You can nurse in any carrier, but a ring sling or wrap is the easiest to nurse in. Join a babywearing group with a lending library to find what works for you.

  • autumn

    My daughter was an after work cluster feeder, and that age was pretty tough!  First thing she wanted when we were in the door was some boob time, and then more for the next hour or 2.  I found that I dealt with the situation better if I was  prepared, so I would run into the house with all my work stuff and her daycare bag, pour a glass of wine, and then go bring her in, so I could sip my wine while she nursed, watching Friends reruns on TV.  If she was secure that boob would be available, she was happier.  And once she became more independent with moving around, she was too busy to nurse as often

    • Karen

      Same here. Minus the glass of wine, but that would have been awesome. I guess I sort of “leaned in” to my kid and it made things easier to reset my expectations (same was true of a lot of other phases of parenting). Then poof, it was done.

  • Elf

    I may be talking out of my ass,since my son is only two months old. I also work part time, and don’t have difficulty pumping, so if constant eating is getting to me in the evenings, I will sometimes offer a bottle instead. I don’t know if your baby will take a bottle from you, but it might be worth a try. 

  • MR

    OP, I’m so sorry. My first was like that and it was super rough. I figured out with my second that there was something that could be done. Get a Baltic amber teething necklace and have your baby wear it nonstop. Baby is working on his one year molars and that is a miserable months long process. Seriously, this will save your sanity!! http://www.amazon.com/Art-CureTM-Guaranteed–Flammatory-Twist-/dp/B0042G8YCY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1427814622&sr=8-2&keywords=baltic+amber+teething+necklace Also, buy several cucumbers and keep them in the fridge. Peel them and cut them into strips long enough that he can hold them and get them to his back gums. He can happily mash those and they deliver cold right to the parts that hurt. Pickles also work for that, but I found the vinegar gave my gal diaper rash, so I switched to just the plain cucumber strips. We’d go through several cucumbers in a day, but it made a HUGE difference. I hope these tips can help! And, of course, all of what Amy said – don’t feel guilty about needing a break!!

  • Ali

    My now 2 1/2 year old was like this from birth until I weaned him at almost 2. While you can certainly let him nurse as much as he wants (per some of the above commenters), I wasn’t really a fan of that and it sounds like you aren’t either. For us, I was able to get some peace by only nursing him at set times (from age 1 until approx 15 months, I only nursed when he woke up, before nap, and at bedtime, then cut out one feeding at a time until he was totally weaned at 2). To try to avoid tantrums as I was cutting feedings, we would try to disrupt his routine…for example, having only daddy put him to bed to cut out the bedtime feeding. At his age, he shouldn’t “need” to nurse so much–it’s more for comfort and security than food, so I say cut out whatever you don’t want to do and try to replace those missed cuddle sessions with something else instead.

    • Kate

      “At his age, he shouldn’t “need” to nurse so much–it’s more for comfort and security than food”

      This is actually completely wrong.

      “Food before one is just for fun” —  the AAP says that “though your baby will no doubt greatly enjoy the introduction of new tastes and textures in her life, her experiences with solid food are still just practice sessions for the future. It’s important to make sure she continues getting enough breast milk to meet her nutritional needs.” 

      • MYriam

        Yes, but an 11 month-old can get all the milk he needs with 4 feedings a day, if they are full and effective feeding, rather than “sucking” and “grazing” feedings. I think that limits need to be inforced. Don’t think of it as limiting food intake, but as redirecting a need for attention. There is no need to redirect if both are happy with the situation, but if mom is not confortable with nursing non-stop, she can limit the boob time…

  • Anne

    Baby wearing and solids. My barracuda baby was like that and my Moby was the only thing that let me live until she started solids. But it took a real toll on my mental state. I worked full time and as soon as I was home she’d be on the Bob. So, into the Moby and at least I could go to the store or whatever, but I started going crazy being a food source and nothing else, so I was relieved to start solids a bit before 1. Avocado, oatmeal and sometimes prunes. Then I’d get hours without having to be milk and could be mom, wife, other things.
    She was still nominally breastfeed until 2, but she took fewer bottles and more table food. Then, one day I came home from work, offered her the best. She took a few ducks, said thank you and never asked for it again. 
    So my advice is get a comfy carrier you can feed in. Then to talk to your doctor about solid food and figure out when and where you want to start.

    • Ali

      Thanks Myriam, that is more effectively saying what I was trying to say initially.  There is a lot of middle ground between 24/7 boob access and total weaning, and I think you can find it if you put some limits in place.   I love nursing and am glad my kiddos have loved it too, but (at least for this mama) enforcing some limits made me a little more sane.  (And just to clarify again… This wouldn’t apply to really little babies who truly need to nurse on demand, but just to older infants)

  • S

    Buy regular bras! I did this at 13 months. With less access, there will just naturally be some “hold on, not just now, baby…” And it’s slightly less accessible for you all. I did this, but kept up some more regular nursing times, and stopped at age two.

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  • Kim

    Hands down the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard was to always use these two words when talking/thinking/worrying about your kids: right now. Right now, your baby- and he is still a baby, although big- is nursing nonstop. But that is subject to change at any moment.
    It’s also quite true that nursing is a two-way street, and both parties need to be ok with it. Me, I’d lean towards limiting duration rather than access during the day, but I would actively work on night weaning if you haven’t already. Having my body to myself during sleep was key to my sanity. He can still co sleep, but maybe next to your husband.