Cluster feeding is a common behavior in newborns where they suddenly start eating much more frequently. Read on to learn more and how to manage it.
Congrats! You just gave birth to a sweet little human. But in the last few days, your sweet little human has suddenly begun treating your breasts like an all-you-can-eat buffet. He would breastfeed for some time, take a break, and come back for more, again and again.
This is called cluster feeding.
And it can be exhausting.
It may even freak you out.
But I’m here to tell you that cluster feeding is a normal part of many babies’ development. Although it can feel uncomfortable and limiting for you, it will pass in no time.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby starts eating more frequently for a period of time. In other words, the intervals between your baby’s feedings are very short or compressed. Your baby wants to nurse constantly, and this usually happens in the afternoon or at night, lasting for a couple of hours at a time.
What many moms do when this happens is they rush to the conclusion that they’re not producing enough milk or something’s wrong with their milk supply.
That’s usually not the case.
Cluster feeding is a normal baby behavior typical in breastfeeding newborns when they’re only a few weeks old.
Why do babies cluster feed?
Babies cluster feed when they’re going through a growth spurt. Newborns, especially in the first six weeks, are growing at high speed.
Your baby’s instincts are telling him that the best way to trigger your body to make more milk is by feeding every 20 minutes or so. He’s doing this for his own survival and growth.
Growth spurts aren’t only related to your baby increasing in size and weight. It may be that your little one is working on developing new mental or motor skills, as well.
When do babies cluster feed?
Cluster feeding commonly appears when your newborn is around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks old, but every baby is different.
It’s impossible to predict when exactly your baby may start cluster feeding, or for how long it will last. Generally, cluster feeding appears during the first few weeks and months.
What are the benefits of cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding, as stressful or exhausting it may feel, it comes with a number of benefits for the child and the parent, including:
- Your baby will get the nutrients he needs in order to grow and develop.
- It can lead to sleeping longer stretches.
- Now that the baby is sleeping for longer stretches, the mom can also get the sleep she needs.
- It may increase your milk supply.
- It can increase your skin-to-skin time with your baby.
How do you manage cluster feeding?
Although you may feel tempted to stop breastfeeding altogether, experts strongly advise against it. Their recommendation is to go with the flow, keeping in mind that your baby’s growth spurt won’t last forever.
In the meantime, here are a few tips for how you can make the cluster feedings more bearable:
- Switch often between different breastfeeding positions to avoid getting sore.
- Consider investing in a good nursing chair.
- Make sure you stay hydrated by keeping a bottle of water next to you. Also, make an effort to eat a well-balanced diet.
- Find something to do while your baby is cluster feeding. One idea is to set up your nursing area in front of the TV so that you can watch something. Another idea is to listen to podcasts or audiobooks.
- If you have more than one child, sit on the floor or on the couch while you breastfeed your newborn and play with your older kid.
- Try nursing your baby while he’s in a baby carrier so that you breastfeed and walk around at the same time.
- Plan your day around the time when your baby is cluster feeding. If, for example, he starts cluster feeding at 6 p.m., eat, use the restroom, and get in a comfortable position ahead of time.
- Accept help. Let your family or friends help you with housework or cook for you. Or, consider hiring a housekeeper.
- Have your partner help you when you need to take a short break.
When to worry
There are some ways of checking whether you need to worry about your baby cluster feeding. One way is to track the number of wet diapers your little one has in a 24-hour period. If you notice a drop in wet diapers, it may be that your infant is not eating often enough, has metabolic issues, or you have a low milk supply. Contact your pediatrician and get professional help.
It’s also possible that even though your baby is gaining weight, he continues to cluster feed. If this is the case with you, it might be a good idea to check whether your baby’s fussiness is caused by something else, such as colic.
Colic, just like cluster feeding, can appear suddenly and often happens in the evening. It affects 10 to 40% of children. You’ll know that your child may be suffering from colic if he has been crying for at least three hours for at least three days a week, for three weeks in a row.
Cluster feeding is common in newborns when they’re only a few weeks old. Growth spurts usually cause it, and it’s not a sign there’s anything wrong with you or your milk supply.
Although it may feel exhausting and stressful, it’s actually helping your child grow and develop.
Experts recommend that you go with the flow and survive these periods of more intensive feeding. Remember, it’s going to pass eventually.
As long as your newborn is gaining weight and his nappies tell you that he’s getting enough milk, there’s no reason to worry. However, if you notice that your baby seems sick or lethargic, and is not gaining weight, always call your pediatrician.