Cluster feeding is a rite of passage for many new parents. It can feel like your once calm and content baby has suddenly has turned into a fussy, milk-guzzling machine. It can be particularly challenging if you’re a breastfeeding mama too because as soon as baby comes off the boob, they are demanding to go straight back on.
Help is at hand though as we’ve rounded up everything you need to know to help navigate this tricky time and still keep your sanity…
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What is cluster feeding?
When cluster feeding first starts it can make you wonder if there is something wrong with your baby because as soon as they have finished feeding they want more. The timings are usually that baby will feed every 10-15 minutes in 2-3 hour windows. To make matters worse, cluster feeding usually happens in the evening or at night,
Why do babies cluster feed?
A newborn baby’s stomach is very small (think the size of a marble) and so they become full very quickly. During the first few days and weeks of their life they will only be able to drink small amounts of milk in frequent bursts.
Cluster feeding is a way for your baby to increase their milk intake to support growth and development. It also has the twin effect of helping to increase milk production if you’re a breastfeeding mama. By offering the breast frequently, your body is signalled to produce more milk to meet the baby’s increased demand.
When does cluster feeding usually start?
Cluster feeding usually starts during a baby’s first few days and weeks of life due to the tiny size of their stomach. You might find that it happens every few days or nights particularly in the first few months of your baby’s life.
It is also common for cluster feeding to happen when your baby is having a growth spurt or reaching a developmental milestone. These types of cluster feeds can occur at various time throughout the first year of life.
What are typical signs of cluster feeding?
These are some common cues to look out for when it’s cluster feeding season:
- Frequent feeding: Your baby may want to feed more often than usual, sometimes back-to-back or with shorter intervals between feedings. They may seem hungry even shortly after a feeding session.
- Shorter feeding sessions: During cluster feeding, your baby may have shorter, more frequent feeding sessions compared to their regular longer feedings. They may feed for a few minutes, take a break, and then resume feeding.
- Increased fussiness: Cluster feeding can often be accompanied by increased fussiness or signs of restlessness in your baby. They may become irritable or show signs of hunger cues more frequently.
- Difficulty settling down: Babies who are cluster feeding may have a harder time settling down and may appear to be unsettled even after a feeding session. They may continue to seek comfort at the breast or bottle.
- Sucking on hands or rooting: Babies may display increased hand-to-mouth movements, sucking on their hands, or rooting behaviour even when they have recently fed. These behaviours can signal baby wants a feed.
Cluster feeding signs can vary from baby to baby, and not all babies will exhibit all of these signs. If you are uncertain or have concerns about your baby’s feeding patterns, it is always recommended to consult with your midwife, health visitor or a lactation consultant for personalised guidance and support.
Can I cluster feed formula milk?
It’s totally OK to cluster feed formula milk, however it’s important not to overfeed your baby. To avoid overfeeding, consider adjusting your feeding schedule by offering smaller amounts of formula more frequently. For example, if your usual feeding schedule is every 3-4 hours, you can offer smaller amounts of formula every 1-2 hours during cluster feeding periods.
Be on the lookout for hunger cues from your baby, such as rooting, sucking on hands, or increased fussiness (and remember crying is the last sign of hunger!). When you notice these signs, offer a feed even if it hasn’t been long since the last one. You may also find it helpful to prepare formula in advance so that you can respond more quickly when baby shows signs of hunger without needing to prepare formula each time.
When cluster feeding with formula milk, you should continue to observe your baby closely to avoid over-feeding. Pay close attention to your baby’s signals as to when they might need a break. Some common signs include splaying their fingers and toes, spilling milk out of their mouth, stopping sucking, turning their head away, or pushing the bottle away.
How do I survive cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding can be super challenging for new parents, but here are some strategies to help you survive this phase:
- Accept and adjust your expectations: Recognise that cluster feeding is a normal part of infant development and can be demanding. Adjust your expectations accordingly and understand that it’s a temporary phase that will eventually pass.
- Create a comfortable feeding environment: Make sure your feeding environment is comfortable and supportive. Set up a cozy nursing area or have bottles, formula, and burp cloths ready if you’re bottle-feeding. Have a water bottle and some healthy snacks within reach to keep yourself nourished and hydrated during feeding sessions.
- Use feeding aids if necessary: If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, consider using breastfeeding aids like nipple shields or breast pumps to help with latch or relieve soreness. If you’re bottle-feeding, having extra bottles and formula prepped in advance can save time and energy during frequent feedings.
- Practice baby-wearing: Using a baby carrier or sling can be helpful during cluster feeding as it allows you to keep your baby close while having your hands free. This way, you can move around or attend to other tasks while still meeting your baby’s feeding needs.
Remember, cluster feeding is a normal phase that allows your baby to get the nutrition they need while also stimulating milk production. With time, babies generally settle into more predictable feeding patterns.
During those long days and hours, keep in mind that this stage won’t last forever and to try to rest when possible. Hang in there because things will get better – we promise!
Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.