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cluster feeding

Cluster feeding – Meaning, Signs, and Helpful Tips

Cluster feeding is one of the exhausting phases of motherhood. 

It is a period when your baby wants many short feeds in a short period. This is expected behavior for babies in the early days of breastfeeding.

It may happen in the afternoon or early evening, but you should also know that it can happen on any day. Don’t worry, Mom, this phase will pass too. We will be discussing all you need to know about this phase. 

What is Cluster Feeding?

This is when your baby unexpectedly starts eating more frequently in batches (clusters).  Usually, it lasts a couple of hours at a particular time. This feeding behavior differs from your baby’s normal eating behavior.

Signs of Cluster Feeding 

How do I know my baby is cluster feeding? 

Knowing the cause can be challenging because newborns mostly do not have a predictable eating or sleeping pattern.  Look out for hunger symptoms like: 

  •  mouthing
  • nuzzling against your breasts
  •  increased alertness
  • Lips smacking 
  •  opening of mouth 
  • turning their head to whatever touches their cheek (rooting). 

Other signs are: 

  • The baby wants to feed constantly 
  • The baby is eating very frequently for short periods
  • They want to be soothed by eating.
  • Short naps between feeds
  • Cries frequently
  • Provides for a while and stops 

When Do Babies Start Cluster feeding?

According to National Health Service (NHS), Cluster feeding usually occurs during the first 3 to 4 months.  It may happen during the day or night (or a bit of both). During this period, baby growth spurts start, and your baby may require more milk than usual.  It is essential to provide enough milk to keep your baby full. If you feel concerned that your milk supply is inadequate for your baby’s needs, you should speak to your pediatrician.

Why do Babies Cluster Feed?

While we have babies that cluster feed, we have some babies that do not cluster feed. According to Heather Turgeon, MFT who is a psychotherapist, and author of The Happy Sleeper, cluster feeding is a way for babies with maturing nervous systems, to regulate and store food for the night.

Here are reasons why your baby could be cluster feeding:

Growth Spurt

If your baby is undergoing a baby growth spurt, they will naturally need more nutrients. Your baby may want to feed every 30 minutes to an hour during these times. Growth spurts may occur every few days or even weekly in the first month.  Growth spurts commonly occur during ages two to three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months old. However, babies are different, and baby growth spurts may not happen at these exact times.

Developmental milestone.

This development typically occurs during the first six months. It is a period when your child experiences physical and psychological changes.  Your baby may need nourishment at this stage, and it may cause your baby to cluster feed.

Ten ways to Manage Cluster Feeding 

Though cluster feeding is essential for your baby’s development and is an entirely normal phenomenon that babies experience, it can also be exhausting for moms. It can cause you to be emotionally and physically drained. Research shows that many parents suffer frustration or exhaustion from cluster feeding times. Some of the challenges include worrying that you aren’t producing enough milk, nipple soreness, sleep, and time deprivation.

Here are ten helpful tips that can help you to deal with and manage cluster feeding better: 

  1.  Ensure you are well-nourished.
  2. Stay hydrated – A water bottle should be handy. Completely avoid dehydration.
  3. Rest well – Sleep may be a bit far-fetched if your baby cluster feeds at night, but you should rest whenever you can as it will help with tiredness.
  4.   Keep healthy snacks 
  5. With the baby in a sling or carrier, you can cluster feed on the go.
  6. Try watching a movie or reading a book during these periods. 
  7. You can try soothing techniques to calm your baby down during fussy times like wearing your baby in a carrier, reducing simulation around them, making relaxing noises like shushing, trying different positions, giving a baby massage, or other techniques.
  8. To avoid sores, change breastfeeding positions often.
  9. Handoff the baby to your partner or a close friend to get a short nap. 
  10. Get help with chores.

How To Stop Cluster Feeding

Yes, we know that this phase can be inconvenient and exhausting. It has its benefits, so you should not stop cluster feeding.

Benefits

Cluster feeding helps to: 

  • Provide your baby the nutrition needed to grow 
  •  Soothe and comfort your baby 
  • Ensure your baby gets enough sleep after a satisfying nursing session 
  • Sustain Your baby’s emotional needs. 
  • Boost your milk supply to suit your baby’s needs.  

If cluster feeding feels too burdensome and you worry if the baby is getting enough milk, you should consult a lactation consultant. The consultant can offer tips on caring for your baby. 

When Should I be Worried About Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is a normal phase but there are periods when your baby may frequently breastfeed to the level that you need to involve your pediatrician.  These times include : 

  • Non-stop breastfeeding
  • Frequent crying 
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whitening of the eyes. 
  • The baby looks tired and dull or has tremors after long periods of non-stop breastfeeding.
  • Weight loss despite nursing. 
  • Diapers are not wet or dirty. 

Conclusion

Cluster feeding is completely normal and it is not something you should worry about. You should try out the tips on managing this phase to make it less exhausting while keeping in mind that it will eventually pass.

Frequently Asked questions

Is Cluster feeding regular?

Yes, it is a completely normal baby behavior that may be a result of baby growth spurts. 

Is Cluster feeding a sign of low milk supply?

No, it is not. However, you should consult your pediatrician or lactation consultant if your baby struggles with weight gain or seems frustrated while eating.

Can you overfeed with Cluster feeding?

No, you can not overfeed your baby with breast milk. Breast milk is produced for the baby’s needs. However, if you use formula milk, you should watch for cues when they need a break. 

How long does Cluster feeding last?

The cluster feeding ages vary for different babies, but it usually happens around the first 3-4 months. It usually lasts for a few days at a time. If you feel it is becoming too long, you should discuss this with your pediatrician. 

How often do newborns cluster feed? 

Newborns may cluster feed between 10-15 times daily. Some may press feed every 20-30 minutes. 

When does cluster feeding start? 

It may start between the first three to six weeks after the birth of your baby.

 When does cluster feeding end? 

It typically ends when your baby is around six months old.

What to do with a newborn cluster feeding all night?

This is going to be pretty tiring as it will deprive you of sleep, you can manage this by ensuring you sleep well in the daytime.

Can bottle-fed babies cluster feed?

Yes they can, especially during growth spurts but you should watch out for cues when they need to take a break.

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