cluster fed.

Before the baby was born, we received a free sample of baby formula in the mail. I put them in the pantry in case we ended up needing them. I intended to breastfeed, but you never know. I knew that some women struggled with breastfeeding and that most women had trouble, particularly at the start. I knew there would be sore breasts and chapped nipples.

I did not know there would be cluster feeding.

Cluster feeding is when the baby wants to nurse pretty much constantly. Breast milk works on supply and demand. If the baby drinks all your milk, your body produces more next time. When the baby cluster feeds, she is driving up your supply by repeatedly emptying you out.

However, if you don't know this, you will think your baby is starving to death. Babies cannot talk, but they have signals they give. The newborn hungry sign is called rooting, where the baby wiggles and bounces her head around with an open mouth, looking for a nipple. So the baby would root, I would put her on the breast, where she would eat and then sorta pass out. I would pick her up oh-so-gently and tip-toe over to the bouncer to set her down. Sometimes she would awaken during the transfer. Other times she would wake up within the hour. Whenever she woke up, she would cry. I'd pick her up and hold her to my chest, only for her to stop crying and root furiously. This went on every evening from about 6 to 10. And it was all on me. Josh might pick her up when she started crying, but soon he'd come tell me, "She's rooting." Ain't nothin' sadder than a baby looking for a nipple on her father's chest.

Milk production is highest in the morning, so by the time you get to the end of the day, things are getting kinda dry. I sat there with a crying baby rubbing her mouth all over my shoulder, and one time on my chin, knowing that she had already emptied me out half an hour ago. I thought about the cans of formula in the pantry. I thought that my baby was starving, because my body had failed to provide with her.

I'm not sure I can explain the emotional entanglement that comes with breastfeeding. Any kind of failure or difficulty feels like a failure at womanhood itself. It makes you wonder what you would have done in the days before Similac sent samples to your door. Would you have to find another woman to take your baby to her breast? Would your baby just have died? Why did my body go through the trouble of making a baby that it couldn't even keep alive?

New parenthood is never feeling quite on solid footing. Add to that this nightly routine of nursing a tiny, screaming, insatiable mouth, demanding that you do what you swore you just did. Give, give, give, root, root, root, over and over. Also, there are hormones involved. What I'm saying is, I went a little crazy. I could feel my sanity leaking out until that well had also run dry. Oh look, the baby is rooting.

Those hours on the couch with the baby on my lap meant I had a lot of time to google all kinds of ridiculous new parenting queries, such as "baby nurses constantly" or "baby always hungry" or "why did I have a baby." In my googling, I read about cluster feeding. The internet reassured me that as long as the baby was filling diapers, then she was getting enough to eat, which made sense in an input/output kind of way. I could confirm diaper fillage, and so the ever-shrinking remnant of my logical brain was able to hold on. Barely.

I did not break out the formula. A lot of women will reach for the can, and it will be the beginning of the end of breastfeeding. The cluster feeding is necessary to get supply up. The baby is actually hungry, though not in danger. If you give her formula, she will fall asleep, happy and satisfied, and your breasts will not know to make more milk. However, you will avoid this nightly horror show and might therefore fall asleep happy and satisfied yourself. Whichever you choose, I won't judge.

They say breastfeeding creates bonding with your baby, and it's true, but I don't picture soft-lit moments looking at her lovingly while she peacefully sucks. I think that happened once, and then she threw up on me. It's more like the bond you have after a battle. We got through this, it sure was tough, but we did it together.

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