Cluster Feeding: Everything You Need To Know About It!

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Wondering what cluster feeding means? Cluster feeding is perhaps when your little one starts to suddenly eat or consume more food quite frequently, that literally means, in clusters. These cluster feeding sessions usually last for a couple of hours but could differ keeping in mind their normal eating behavior.

This is quite a normal behavior and is primarily seen in babies that are in the breastfeeding stage during their first few weeks. So, you need not worry about these new cluster feeding sessions of the baby and it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the little one or your milk supply. 

To know more read onto this site further and learn about managing cluster feeding. But, before that,

How do parents identify this cluster feeding and fussy nature of the baby?

These feeding and fussy evenings of cluster feeding could be quite a challenge to layout and identity in the newborns as they usually do not have a predictable sleeping or eating schedule. However, these are a few pointers of the baby cluster you may see in your baby. That is, if:

  • The baby is getting or is a few days or weeks old
  • They are showing signs of bunch feeding and the baby gets hungry every hour and won’t stop crying until fed
  • They feel like or want to eat constantly or very frequently
  • Their diapers are still wet regularly

Usually, it is noticed that these sessions generally turn out to be sessions of feeding and fussy evenings. However, with an older infant, it might last for several days in a row, where they would be eating throughout the day irrespective of the hunger cues due to their growth spurt or teething changes.

What Then Is A Normal Baby Feeding Schedule?

As for a normal session, it again depends on the baby’s eating habits or their feeding sessions that would perhaps range from 10 to 30 minutes unlike in the cluster feeding.  Whereas, according to an expert, it is advisable to feed the newborn on an average of at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours as it would help:

  • Prevent jaundice
  • Will promote a healthy weight gain in the little ones
  • The mothers will develop a milk flow or supply

Cluster feeding vs. Colic

If the baby is fussier or the baby(s) needs are much more than their usual, it might also indicate colic. It is quite similar to cluster feeding which also occurs suddenly, generally in the evenings with at least three hours of crying three days a week. 

However, a baby with colic can’t be soothed using a formula or nursing unlike when a baby in an evening cluster.

A baby with colic symptoms include:

  • A scream like crying
  • Their face or the body appears to be tense or contorted
  • They cry usually at a predictable time each day, generally in the late afternoon or evenings
  • A peaking cry at six weeks that passes when the baby is 3 months old

Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?

According to the researchers, the reason why the baby is cluster feeding is not quite fully understood.  But according to unproven theories, these cluster feeding sessions usually meet a combination of needs at the development stage of the baby. It is perhaps a way for babies that are going through a growth and maturing nervous system. Or, it could also be a way to store food for them to nurse for fussy evenings breastfeeding.

It is also important to understand that despite us all getting exhausted over how one must keep an eating schedule for a baby but perhaps these cluster feeding and fussy sessions are just as important as the development of the baby.

Is Cluster Feeding A Sign Of A Low Milk Supply?

Of course not! Frequent eating in the late afternoon mustn’t cause any worry about the milk supply. Also, a doctor or lactation consultant can easily observe that the baby is getting enough milk intake as needed by their weight gain. And by completing a pre-feed weight check and a post-feed weight check which will help to measure approximately how much milk the baby is taking in at the breast according to their individual nutritional needs. However, there are more signs to look at for these cluster feeding sessions:

  • The baby is overtired or overstimulated which will cause the baby to want to “comfort suck” at the breast and use the mother as a pacifier which is referred to as non-nutritive sucking.
  • Is missing parents who are at work or are away. This can cause the baby to want to have the closeness that they get at the breast and is not an indication of wanting to eat, but a need to be close to their mother. 
  • The baby requires burping after a cluster feed. It is important to always attempt to burp your baby after feedings to help expel any trapped air that may be accumulated in the baby’s stomach. This can also help with fussiness and colic. 
  • Has growth spurts. Baby’s have frequent growth spurts throughout their lives and as such, they require frequent feedings and more calories to maintain their energy levels.

What Are The Benefits and Risks Of a Baby Cluster Feeding?

The benefit of cluster feeding:

  • The baby would usually sleep longer but that isn’t always the case. A baby that is well fed generally sleeps an average of 4 hours uninterrupted per evening. 
  • Cluster feeding would help increase the milk supply. Breast milk is a supply and demand transaction. The more frequently the breasts are emptied, the more milk will be made for the baby. 
  • It would help the little one to regulate their emotional and neurological needs
  • Increase the skin-to-skin time benefiting both, the mother and the baby. This helps to release chemicals that increase the supply of milk as well as endorphins to create a sense of calm and euphoria in both mother and baby. 

The risks of cluster feeding:

  • It increases the soreness in the nipples. If a baby is improperly latched at the breast or is stimulating the breasts nonstop, there is an increased risk of the mother developing sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples. 
  • It is unpredictable. It is difficult to tell when a baby wants to cluster feed. 
  • Could be exhausting physically and emotionally. Sometimes cluster feeding can take an emotional and physical toll on the mother due to lack of sleep, and not being able to be away from the baby to do other household tasks. 
  • Takes time away from another family, especially in the evenings.

Then, How Does One Manage This Cluster Feeding session?

Cluster feeding or being cluster fed is normal behavior that could end up taking the whole family. To help understand better, here are a few brownie points/health information to help take care of yourself, the family, as well as the baby while breastfeeding:

  • Always make sure to keep a large bottle of water with snacks near the nursing area as you might need to eat. This would help you stay hydrated and stay nourished during the cluster feeds.
  • Set a TV in the feeding area to watch your favorite program or listen to soothing music to help keep yourself entertained and relaxed while cluster feedings. You may even choose to play some audiobooks or podcasts, so make sure to keep your phone or iPad charged or have a charging cable nearby. 
  • Change the position of your feedings often to avoid soreness. Cross cradle, football hold, cradle hold, side laying positions are all great options.
  • You could let the other members of the family or even close friends have the baby. This will help you take a break and also for them to spend some time with the little one.
  • When the baby is cluster feeding, it is beneficial and important to have open communication with your partner about the management of the evening chores and household duties. 
  • You may even want to hire someone to help with household tasks or with other children. If not, let friends or relatives help you cook or do the housework in the first few weeks postpartum.

Is a formula a good supplement for milk?

There is no need to change into or for a supplement as cluster feeding isn’t a sign indicating it. However, if you need a break, you may opt to use a milk bottle and fill it with the breast milk for the baby. All you need is a breast pump to keep the milk supply at pace as otherwise feeding may cause a problem.

How Can Parents Soothe A Fussy Feeding Baby?

There is no health information or any tips given by baby nurses to help the many babies who are fussy and need to be nursed to sleep at night. However, the good news and the best way to maintain these stretches is to only feed the fussy baby to soothe them. For many babies, this same method works each time. 

However, unlike them, other babies would need another way to help them. These are a few pointers that provide good content for moms via an informative website:

  • Wrap the baby in a swaddle or even a baby carrier to help the newborn resemble the experiences from the womb. Hold the baby skin to skin to help soothe them.
  • Mom would also offer a pacifier if the baby starts to fuss. But it is not recommended to introduce a pacifier until after at least the first month of life or until breastfeeding is well established to help reduce nipple confusion. 
  • Hold the baby close and rock them while walking slowly.
  • You may opt to dim the lights to help reduce other stimuli like loud noises.
  • Use white noise machines or cell phone apps while holding the baby upright on the chest while humming in low tones. This will also help reduce the evening fussiness.

Note – It is always a good option to seek help from the baby’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant for recommendations to track their weight gain. As most commonly, these frequent feedings, fussiness, or breasts fail to get the baby enough milk. Also, visit the doctor immediately if the baby seems to be very sick, lethargic, or has trouble breathing.

That’s all folks! This was everything you needed to know about cluster feeding in newborns. Are you also looking for the best nursing pillows for breastfeeding? Parenthood bliss has accumulated the top 10 pillows for your cluster feeding sessions.

To Conclude

Cluster feeding is nothing to be worked up about as it is quite a normal baby behavior that mostly occurs in the late afternoon or evening. While researchers do not understand the nitty-gritty of it, cluster feeding is not a sign of anything wrong with the baby. However, try to soothe the baby by using the methods mentioned in the content above, and even if it doesn’t help or the situation gets worse, contact the doctor for medical advice.

Cluster Feeding FAQs

1) When should I expect cluster feeding?

Cluster feedings in babies are usually sessions for around 3 weeks to 6 weeks. These little ones grow spurts and will need enough milk to keep their hungry bellies well fed.

2) Does the cluster feeding last all night long?

A baby will need a cluster feed for a couple of days, which could also last for a few weeks. These sessions will last long or as per the baby's need for milk.

3) How long does a mother breastfeed a baby?

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), recommends a mother to breastfeed the baby for at least until they are six months old. And, when solid food is included, up to 2 years of age. Post that, it only depends on there, that is, the mother and the baby's desire.

Reviewed By-

Brandi Nicole, Lactation Consultant

Brandi Nicole, Lactation Consultant

Brandi Nicole is a pediatric nurse, a postpartum doula, and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She is a proud member of the International Lactation Consultant Association, the United States Lactation Consultant Association, and the Bay Area Lactation Associates.

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