Cluster Feeding: All you need to know

Cluster feeding

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If your baby is suddenly latched (literally) to your breast constantly, your baby is probably cluster feeding. Cluster feeding can seem exhausting and confusing for some mothers but don’t worry it doesn’t last forever.

You may feel like your baby is constantly at the breast and you have become a self-serve tap for them.

This can be both exhausting and frustrating, especially when your baby may still act fussy and not seem content during those hours of cluster feeding.

Breastfeeding isn’t easy, and then when you add in a little human who all of a sudden wants to CONSTANTLY be sucking on your nipples (which can’t seem to catch a break), things can get a little overwhelming to say the least.

It’s not all bad, I promise.

Hang in there, cluster feeding isn’t a forever thing and it is actually your baby’s natural instinct to help them grow and get all of the nourishment they need.

What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is a very typical and completely normal behavior for babies. It is basically when a baby wants to nurse at closer intervals than they usually would. You may find your baby nursing for a shorter period of time but more frequently.

Cluster feeding is also known as bunch feeding and is most common in newborn babies between the ages of 2-8 weeks.

Maybe your baby is used to eating every hour and a half to two hours and then all of a sudden, they are demanding food every 15-20 minutes.

If that is the case, your baby is probably cluster feeding.

This normal behavior can occur at any time of the day or night, but often happens in the evening time and can be accompanied by restless and fussy behavior.

Reasons why your baby might cluster feed

There is actually a good method to your baby’s madness of cluster feeding.

I know trying to get your baby on some sort of a schedule can be beneficial to both you and your baby, but in all reality, your baby’s schedule is going to differ somewhat.

Try to be flexible, especially when it comes to cluster feeding and meet your baby’s needs as best as you can.

cluster feeding mom breastfeeding

Usually, you will find your baby cluster feeding when they are going through a growth spurt and trying to satisfy their high nutritional demand and rapid growth and development.

There are a few other reasons why your baby may want to cluster feed as well, so we will cover all the possible reasons why your baby maybe insisting on that constant feeding schedule.

There are about 4 main reasons your baby is cluster feeding which are they are going through a growth spurt, seeking comfort, overtired or experiencing anatomical issues.

I will explain each reason below.

1. Growth spurt

The biggest and most common reason your baby is cluster feeding is because they are going through a growth spurt.

Babies grow incredibly fast during that first year and especially during those first 8 weeks.

They undergo so much rapid development that they need more food to sustain their growth.

When your baby cluster feeds it is their natural instinct to be able to survive and thrive.

Not only that but constant suckling at the breast actually helps YOU produce more milk.

It is that whole supply and demand thing and feeding very frequently will signal to your body that it needs to keep replenishing the milk supply to be adequate for your growing baby.

2. Comfort

Tiny babies don’t know how to do too much at that newborn stage, but they do have a pretty strong drive to suck!

Babies have a very innate sucking reflex and often find lots of comfort and relief in sucking.

If your baby keeps pulling on and off of the breast and seems to want to suck but is not actually hungry this could be because they are sucking for comfort rather than for food.

You could try using a pacifier if your baby is really fussy and seems to have the urge to suck.

Another trick is to nurse laying down with your baby on top of you. This way you have gravity working against you and your baby can be soothed from sucking but probably won’t get too much milk.

3. Overtiredness

Newborn babies can be so easily overstimulated and or get overtired. When your baby is overtired, sometimes they don’t even know what they want and become easily frustrated and fussy.

Sucking at the breast may seem to offer the comfort they need or might leave them still fussy and upset.

Sometimes they just don’t know what else to do instead of just try to nurse, but maybe they really are exhausted and just need to be swaddled and rocked a little.

You can try setting them down for a nap to see if that helps.

4. Anatomical issues

Whether you or your baby have some sort of anatomical issue that is causing your baby not to be getting the adequate amount of milk, you need to find the problem and act quickly.

Maybe your baby has a tongue or lip tie, or you are experiencing latching difficulties die to flat/inverted nipples, or you have low milk supply.

Whatever the issue might be, it is important to figure it out and try to solve it.

Your baby needs enough food to thrive, so scheduling a time to meet with a lactation specialist can really help you pinpoint the problem.

With anatomical issues, your baby is going to be “cluster feeding” because every time they nurse they aren’t getting what they need.

They are still hungry and then want to nurse just 15-20 minutes later.

Make sure to rule out any external issues that could be causing the constant need to feed.  

How do I deal with cluster feeding?

The never-ending baby at the breast may begin to quickly take its toll on you.

Here are some simple ways to try to deal with cluster feeding the best that you can.

  • Remember it is not a “forever” thing
  • Stay well hydrated
  • When your baby settles after each feed, make sure to rest yourself
  • Ask for help and support from your spouse or other family members
  • Make sure you are comfortable while feeding (a good nursing pillow, water, snacks, etc)
  • Babywear, yes, some moms successfully cluster feed while babywearing
  • Don’t make plans around the time your baby wants to cluster feed, this will avoid disappointment and stress.
  • Remind yourself why your baby wants to constantly feed and remember they will be well-nourished

Try to hang in there and handle this whole new experience the best that you can. Take these extra feedings as the perfect time to get extra snuggles and love with your new little one.

Before you know it they will be running around and not be so little anymore.

How long will cluster feeding last?

It is hard to say how long cluster feeding will actually last because this could vary from baby to baby.

Having said that, cluster feeding most commonly happens during a growth spurt, developmental leap, or milestone.

In those first few weeks, your newborn baby is undergoing some serious growth and development, so cluster feeding within that age range is pretty typical.

Cluster feeding isn’t a forever thing, you will get passed it but you can expect to experience your baby wanting to nurse more frequently during those certain stages of infancy.

Does cluster feeding mean I have low milk supply?

Many mothers are led to think that if their baby is cluster feeding they must be struggling with a low milk supply and can’t produce enough milk for their baby.

Thankfully, that is usually not the case.

Just because your baby is wanting to nurse more frequently, does not mean you aren’t producing enough milk.

It simply means your baby need extra nutrients and energy to keep up with all of the growing they are experiencing.

Cluster feeding is actually pretty cool when you think about it.

Your tiny newborn is basically priming the pump (your boob) to get ready to up its supply and produce more milk.

That extra bit of milk production is going to give your baby all of the essential nutrients and fuel they need to grow healthy and strong.

After all that is what supply and demand is all about, right?

The good and the bad when it comes to cluster feeding

Cluster feeding has both good and not so good things about it. Here are a list of benefits and disadvantages when it comes to cluster feeding.

BenefitsDisadvantages
Baby may be fuller after multiple feedings and sleep longerCan be exhausting and tiring
Extra one and one time with your babyIs unpredictable
Will help you produce more milkCould create sore nipples
The release of oxytocin can help contract and shrink your uterusCan be time-consuming
Boost endorphins

See, it is not all bad. There are some great benefits when it comes to cluster feeding. Plus, it is not a forever thing, and will be over before you know it.

FAQ

Are you currently dealing with a baby who is cluster feeding? What are some ways that help you deal with cluster feeding and meeting your baby’s needs?

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