What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds very frequently, so much so that the feedings are ‘clustered’ together. They seem to feed almost continuously over several hours, often in the evening or early hours of the morning but it can occur at any time during the day or night. They may be very fussy, and they often won’t settle to sleep easily.
Why do babies cluster feed?
- Establishing the milk supply
It’s quite simple really, the milk supply works on a supply and demand system which means the more your baby removes milk from the breasts, the more milk your body will produce. In the beginning, your baby and your body need to learn how much milk your baby needs and how often, so it’s important to feed frequently and allow your baby to cluster feed when they want to, this will signal your body to produce the exact amount of milk that your baby needs.
- Filling up
They may be filling up in the late evening for a longer stretch of sleep.
- Slower flow of milk
They may be a bit frustrated due to a possible slower milk flow during the evening than during the day. But don’t worry, there’s more than enough milk for them during this time.
- Overstimulated or overtired
After a long day of who knows what stimulation and sometimes not napping well, they may get very fussy in the afternoons.
- Pain or discomfort
Babies tend to cluster feed when they’re in pain or when they’re feeling discomfort. Whether it’s teething or something else. Sucking has an analgesic effect on children and it can be very soothing.
- Growth spurts
Growth spurts will cause babies to cluster feed very frequently. This is normal. It usually lasts up to 4 days but can last up to 2 weeks.
- Mental development and sleep regressions
It’s no secret that children go through a lot of mental development and sleep changes due to things like growth spurts, teething or mental development. They will often seek a lot of comfort from the breast during these times.
- Bonding and comfort
Children breastfeed for many reasons including hunger, thirst, for pain relief, bonding and comfort. Children will breastfeed just to be close to their mom and they will also want to breastfeed when they need comfort for any reason. Breastfeeding is very comforting and soothing for children.
How can you make it easier?
- Be educated on cluster feeding
A baby who is cluster feeding may want to feed almost continuously over a few hours at a time, they may also become very fussy at the breast and in general. Knowing that this is normal behavior and there’s nothing wrong with you, your milk, your milk supply or your baby will help you get through periods of cluster feeding easier.
- Sit back and relax
Knowing that this is normal behavior, and knowing when your baby’s usual cluster feeding window may occur, can help you feel prepared and be able to relax and feed your baby, knowing it won’t last too long. Sit back and enjoy those cuddles, a book or even a movie.
- Have snacks and fluids nearby
You will get hungry and thirsty, so having a snack station prepared at your favorite nursing spot will just make things so much easier and more convenient for you.
- Skin-to-skin care, babywearing, bathing and going outside are all great options to help soothe a fussy baby.
When to worry
- When cluster feeding is all day or all night long and never seems to end.
- When baby is never satisfied after breastfeeding.
- Not having enough wet and dirty diapers in a 24-hour period.
- When your baby isn’t gaining weight as expected.
- A very restless or extremely sleepy baby.
If your baby shows any signs of the above red flags, get into contact with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to assess you and your baby.
Cluster feeding is normal behavior in children of all ages. By accepting this and allowing your child unlimited access to the breast will make things easier for the both of you.