I've recently had my second baby after a 12 year gap. On the whole, I've just slipped back into the swing of things without many issues. I remember everything from the first time around except for one thing: evening cluster feeds. I swear my first son didn't go through this as I'd never heard of it before at all.
I've always known that babies are at their fussiest in the evenings starting around 6pm. I remember my grandmother -- mother to seven -- saying something about it when talking about one of my younger cousins. When I've looked after little babies before they often started acting up in the early evening. I remember my first son being fussier in the evenings, too... but I never realised that along with the fussiness they can feed for around 6 hours straight. Every evening.
My new little one started getting fussy in the evenings about a week ago. I'd hold him, talk to him, sing to him, walk him, bounce him, run up and down the stairs holding him, but the only thing that would calm him down was to "feed". I used quotes around the word because I was sure that he was only really comfort sucking. Surely, surely there wasn't any milk left as my breasts felt completely empty, but he didn't seem to care.I started to think that perhaps I should get a dummy. I'm not a fan of dummies at all (unlike Joanne), but this kid really seemed like he wanted to suck. I relented and bought one. It didn't help. He sucked it for a bit, then seemed to realise he wasn't getting anything from it, so spat it out and started shouting all over again.
Then I wondered if I wasn't producing enough milk or maybe I just wasn't feeding him 'correctly'. He'd gained one and a half pounds in his first two and a half weeks, so I figured that side of things was all fine and that it wouldn't help the situation for me to start worrying about it.
Then I wondered if maybe I wasn't changing him often enough. Maybe this little one just didn't like any bit of wetness in his nappy. So I started changing him the moment after he'd do a wee. Didn't make a difference.
Then I wondered if he had trapped wind that was hurting him. I religiously burp him after his feeds and, well, he didn't seem to be in pain, he was just... fussy. He really just seemed like he wanted my nipple in his mouth. So that's what I've been giving him.... for six hours every night.
Then I read about evening cluster feeds and realised that this is completely normal. Cluster feeds are when your little one seems to want to feed constantly. They may feed for a short time, fall asleep, wake up in a few minutes, get fussy again, feed for a few minutes, fall asleep, wake up, fuss, feed, sleep, wake, fuss. For. Hours. On. End.
It's not fun nor is it easy to deal with, but it is normal. It's important to remind yourself of that because it's pretty easy to feel that you are doing something wrong or that you are useless at this whole mothering thing -- even if you've done it before. Little ones sometimes just need extra nursing and nurturing. Give it to them. It is normal.
So far, I've found the best way to handle cluster feeds is to assume it's going to happen and make sure that from about 5pm you're ready to hunker down and feed. And feed. And feed. And feed.
This means that you will need help. You can't be the only one in the house who prepares dinner or deals with your other children. You may get around a half an hour respite from the feeding when your little one falls asleep, so anything you need to do can't take much longer than that. Ideally, you should just be able to sit -- on the sofa or in your bed -- and have someone else to bring you food and drinks. For six hours.
If your partner isn't around in the evenings, then ask friends or family if they will help you. If you can't get help from friends or family, then think about hiring a mother's help in the evenings if you can afford it.
If you can't get help then perhaps preparing things earlier in the day may help. Either make a dinner earlier in the day which can be easily heated up or plan really simple dinners that need very little preparation. If you've got other kids to look after, then perhaps trying to move their evening routine to an earlier time slot will help. (I'm lucky, my older son is 12, so he's practically self-sufficient now.)
Basically, you need to do whatever you can to give your little one exactly what they want in the evenings. And what they want is you.