Cluster Feeding Tips
This article full of cluster feeding tips has been written to help new mothers cope with the exhausting days when baby wants to cluster feed.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
What does it mean when a baby cluster feeds? Cluster feeding (also known as bunch feeding) is when babies bunch feeds close together at certain times of the day.
Although they 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 is most common in the late afternoon and in the evening, although may differ between babies (1,2). Why do babies cluster feed at night? Your baby is filling up or stocking up on calories before sleeping for longer periods at night.
This can be challenging for mothers, so hopefully, these cluster feeding tips will help make these feeding times a little less stressful.
When To Expect Cluster Feeding (Ages)?
When should you expect cluster feeding to happen? Cluster feeding is very common in young babies under 9 months. It is likely to start sooner than you think. Even during the first days after getting home from the hospital.
However, some mothers notice cluster feeding returns with older babies who are approaching a growth spurt or developmental leap (Wonder Week).
Cluster Feeding At Night In Newborns Is Normal And Natural
It can be frustrating with a cluster feeding newborn.
Your newborn can be fussy at night because of hunger, but it can also have no particular reason…
Yours and your baby’s sleep can be interrupted from that reason.
You are undoubtedly exhausted, and probably emotional from all the postnatal hormones whirring around in your body.
On top of that, cluster feeding can feel never-ending, and babies are often fussy during periods of cluster feeding.
Pulling off the breast, crying and general fussiness can all add to your frustration.
It can also make you feel like a failure.
You may worry you’re not producing enough milk to satisfy your baby, or you’re unable to soothe your fussy baby.
But don’t worry, cluster feeding is completely normal. Over time it will get easier. Baby will start sleeping better.
Most babies will cluster feed during the early months. It’s not a reflection of low milk supply.
Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?
The exact reasons why cluster feeding happens are unknown. However, experts assume cluster feeding is a way babies boost breastmilk production 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.
Every person is different, that’s why it is hard to specify how long cluster feeding will last for you.
Cluster feeding may be natures way of kick-starting this process.
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 many days does clustering feeding last? Typically a growth spurt lasts between 2-3 days, so you can be reassured you won’t be stuck on the couch cluster feeding forever.
Concerns About Low Milk Supply
Cluster feeding is not a reflection of low milk supply. Cluster feeding is not a reflection of low milk supply. I said it twice in case you didn’t believe me the first time.
Got a mother-in-law pressuring you to give the 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, cluster feeding is nature’s way of increasing milk supply.
What About Supplementing With Formula?
If you supplement with a cluster feeding formula, your body won’t receive the cluster 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.
The prophecy comes true, and you continue supplementing.
Perhaps you might end up feeling bad about ‘failing at breastfeeding’ when you haven’t.
If your infant 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.
Tips: How To Cope with Cluster Feeding (Don’t Try To Top It)
Here are our 7 cluster feeding tips to help make feeding times a little more relaxing.
Tip #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.
Tips #2 – Stay Hydrated
Producing breast milk is a thirsty business.
You may find yourself particularly parched during periods of cluster feeding, when all of a sudden breastfeeding becomes an unpleasant duty.
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.
There are teas you can buy especially for breastfeeding, to help support milk supply. Herbal teas also help to keep you hydrated.
Another great option is electrolytes. Not those sugar-loaded sports drinks, but a quality electrolyte from a health food store.
Tip #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.
Tip #4 – Eat First
If you know your baby is going to 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!
Tip #5 – Get A Breastfeeding Partner!
Can you just get me a…? 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.
Tip #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.
Tip #7 – Take Out!
By using a sling or wrap, you can feed your baby on the go.
While feeding your baby in a sling, you keep 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.
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 with cluster feeding 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