Is your newborn cluster feeding? The following cluster feeding tips have been written to help new mothers cope with the exhausting days when their baby wants to cluster feed.
Newborn cluster feeding
To help you quickly access what you want to read the most, here’s a list of what you need to know about cluster feeding:
- What is cluster feeding?
- Why do babies cluster feed?
- Why do babies cluster feeds at night?
- How long does cluster feeding last?
- Cluster feeding ages
- Cluster feeding and low milk supply
- What about supplementing with formula?
- 7 tips to cope with cluster feeding
What is cluster feeding?
So, what is cluster feeding exactly? Cluster feeding (also known as bunch feeding) is when babies cluster feeds close together at certain times of the day. Usually this means your baby may have some really fussy evenings… and you might end up confused and wondering if your baby is getting enough milk.
Rest assured, many babies will cluster feed during the early months. It’s not a reflection of low milk supply.
Why do babies cluster feed?
It’s normal for newborn babies to feed around 8-12 times per day, so your baby may feed quite frequently already. However, nights can feel like one big feeding session when you have a cluster feeding newborn!
The exact reasons why babies cluster feed is unknown. However, experts assume cluster feeding is a way for babies to boost milk supply during growth spurts.
Your baby’s stomach grows rapidly during the first few months of life, and your body must produce more milk to meet the increased demand.
Babies also need more nutrition to support developmental changes such as rolling, crawling or talking.
Cluster feeding may be natures way of kick-starting this process.
Also, see our article, 3 reasons why your baby needs to feed so often.
Why do babies cluster feed at night?
Evenings and nighttimes with an unsettled newborn can be trying. Newborns can be fussy at night due to hunger, but they can also be fussy for a range of other reasons. For example, your milk flow might be too fast or too slow.
Here are 7 reasons why babies fuss at the breast.
However, some experts believe babies cluster feed at night because they’re filling up on milk before a big sleep.
Although it’s unlikely your baby will sleep through the night during these first few months, you may notice a long stretch of sleep following an evening of cluster feeds.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Although babies may leave a couple of hours between feeds most of the day, there will usually be a few hours of constant or close together feeds (often from 6 to 10 PM).
Cluster feeding ages
Cluster feeding is very common in young babies under 9 months of age. Many babies will start cluster feeding as soon as the first few days after getting home from the hospital, and can last for most of their first year.
However, some mothers notice cluster feeding returns with older babies who are approaching a growth spurt or developmental leap (Wonder Week).
Cluster feeding and low milk supply
Cluster feedings are not a reflection of low milk supply. Cluster feedings are not a reflection of low milk supply.
I said it twice in case you didn’t believe me the first time! It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking your baby isn’t getting enough milk. Especially if you have a well meaning mother-in-law pressuring you to give your baby a bottle and a partner wondering why the baby is always hungry.
It’s natural to start doubting yourself. Breastfeeding every hour can be frustrating. However, this is simply nature’s way of increasing milk supply. Unless you or your health care provider is worried about your baby’s weight gain, and if you notice fewer wet and dirty nappies, your baby is likely getting enough milk.
What about supplementing with formula?
Some mothers who worry about cluster feeding being due to low milk supply naturally turn their thoughts to formula.
However, if you supplement with formula during cluster feeding periods, your body won’t receive the feeding cues that your baby needs more milk (3). As a result, your body will make less milk, due to the reduced demand. Soon enough, you’ll find you’re not producing enough milk to feed your growing baby.
Therefore the prophecy comes true, and you continue supplementing. Perhaps you might end up feeling bad about ‘failing at breastfeeding’ when you haven’t.
Before supplementing with formula…
If your baby is producing a good amount of wet and dirty nappies, it’s unlikely you have a breast milk supply problem. It’s a good idea to make yourself familiar with the reliable signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
If you’re concerned about cluster feeding or milk supply, please be sure to speak to a lactation consultant, or call a breastfeeding helpline before deciding to race out and buy formula.
7 Tips – How To Cope with Cluster Feeding
Here are our 7 cluster feeding tips to help make cluster feeding times a little more relaxing.
#1 – Acceptance
Babies usually develop a cluster feeding routine.
You may find that between 6 and 10 PM every evening, you’re feeding the baby.
Once you know this, you can accept it and plan your evening around it.
That way you won’t feel frustrated that your plans have gone awry and baby doesn’t want to sleep.
#2 – Stay Hydrated
Producing breast milk is a thirsty business. You may find yourself particularly parched during periods of cluster feeding.
Make sure you have a big glass of water (even better with a slice of lemon!) next to you when you sit down to start breastfeeding.
Or perhaps you might like a nice warm cup of lactation tea.
You can buy teas especially for breastfeeding mothers, to help support milk supply. Herbal teas also help to keep you hydrated.
Another great option is electrolytes. Not those sugar-loaded sports lolly water drinks, but a quality electrolyte from a health food store.
#3 – Get Comfy
If you know you’re going to be stuck somewhere for four hours, make sure you’re comfortable.
Whether you’re snuggled up in bed or propped up on the sofa, make sure you have your books, magazines, smartphone, TV remotes and DVD box sets nearby to keep you entertained. You might even like to try having some white noise or soft music on in the background, to help soothe your baby. Learn some nursing positions so you don’t get tired or achy from being in the same position for a long period of time.
#4 – Eat First
If you know your baby may start cluster feeding at 6 PM, make sure you’ve eaten before then.
There’s nothing worse than sitting hungrily while your baby slowly enjoys their three-course meal.
Hopefully, you have a stash of BellyBelly’s delicious lactation cookies within your reach, at least!
#5 – Get A Breastfeeding Partner!
You’ve heard of a birth partner, now you need a breastfeeding partner too (4).
A willing volunteer to get you snacks, drinks and provide entertaining conversations to keep you amused during cluster feeds.
#6 – Look For Hunger Cues
If you tend to have a fussy, hungry and irritable baby in the evenings, act accordingly.
Instead of waiting for the crying to start (which is a late hunger signal), look out for hunger cues and offer the breast immediately.
#7 – Take Out In A Baby Carrier
By using a baby carrier, sling or wrap, your baby can enjoy nursing sessions on the go.
While feeding your baby in a sling, you’ll have your hands free to get on with other things.
Slings also help to keep fussy babies content, because they feel safe and happy being close to you. The skin to skin contact can help soothe their nervous system which is still developing.
This KeaBabies Wrap Carrier (pictured) is a best seller on Amazon.
The wrap is made from a premium quality breathable cotton spandex blend, to keep you and your baby safe and comfortable.
Hopefully, you found our cluster feeding tips really helpful! If you’re struggling or are worried about your baby, speak to an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (La Leche League in the US).
- 3 Reasons Why Your Baby Needs To Feed So Often
- Low Milk Supply? Increase Breastmilk Supply With These Great Tips
- Is My Baby Hungry? Do I Have Enough Milk?
- Not Enough Milk? Concerned About Your Milk Supply?
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- Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Journal of Human Lactation