Edie and Amy

All You Need To Know About Cluster Feeding

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your baby simply refuses to stop eating? Well, it happens. Thankfully, this article contains all you need to know about this situation, which is known as cluster feeding, and how to manage it effectively.

Sometimes, babies just want more. For most new moms, this may be surprising or even stressful. However, it is a normal phenomenon that primarily represents a developmental milestone.

The great news is: Cluster feeding passes quickly.

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is simply your baby’s way of improving your breast milk supply as he or she grows. It occurs when a baby suddenly begins to eat much more frequently, or in clusters, for a period. This normal behavior is characterized by a rapid increase in appetite demonstrated by an obvious desire for more food.

It is a simple law, really.

With breastfeeding, the more the demand, the more the supply. 

Whenever your baby seems to ‘request’ for more milk by fussing, crying or turning his/her head from side to side, and reaching out to your breasts, he/she is only trying to get your body to produce more milk to suit the rising demand.

baby sucking her mum's breast

It is also important to note that cluster feeding doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with your breast milk or supply. Your baby is only increasing the demand to help you increase the supply.

How Can I Identify Cluster Feeding?

For most new moms, it may be quite tasking to identify the period of cluster feeding. To help you, we’ve compiled a few common road signs to make the process easier.

Your child is likely to be cluster feeding if:

  • Baby is three to six weeks old
  • He/she shows the usual signs of hunger at a more frequent rate
  • Baby does not stop crying until nursing occurs
  • He or she wants to eat constantly or frequently, but only for a short period.
  • Baby seems perfectly sated and happy (almost like nothing else is wrong) while eating
  • He/she still has regular wet or dirty diapers.
  • Baby becomes very fussy and does not stop crying until breast milk is offered.

In addition to this, cluster feeding is more common in the evenings. Therefore, if you observe any or all of these signs in your baby in the evening, there is a high chance that your little one is cluster feeding.

Also, older infants may show these signs for multiple evenings in a row or even eat more frequently throughout the day. In most cases, older children cluster feed as they experience teething or growth bursts.

What Causes Cluster Feeding

By now, you’ve probably realized that cluster feeding is a normal process for most children.

Studies have shown that most newborn feed in a fairly predictable pattern, following this routine:

  • 1 meal every 2-3 hours, leading to a total of 8-12 meals in a 24 hour window

As it occurs, your baby will exceed this count. In fact, he or she may feed every hour or even multiple times in the same hour.

To help you understand the process of cluster feeding better, here are the following factors that may lead to your baby increasing his/her demand for breast milk:

1. An Incoming Developmental Milestone

Healthy babies are expected to grow. This growth process is monitored by certain developmental milestones which indicate how healthy your child is. As your baby prepares to cross a new milestone, there are chances that his or her appetite would also increase to match the body’s demands.

2. Your Baby Is Teething

For adults, it is easy to communicate needs or discomfort. However, babies don’t share this luxury. Whenever your baby is uncomfortable, unhappy or thirsty, he or she may turn to you for breast milk.

This works well because breast milk contains powerful antibodies which fight illnesses, reduce pain, and soothes your baby from any discomfort he/she may be feeling. Although cluster feeding may occur at any period when your child is teething, it is most common in the first three months of life.

3. Breastfeeding Soothes Your Baby

In addition to the perfect nutrient package that comes with breast milk, it contains certain hormones which develop your baby’s response to day and night changes. At night, babies cluster feed to spur the sleep process, making it easier and more comfortable for them.

baby suckling her breast

4. Milk Flows Slower At Night

Like many other body processes, milk flow tapers at night. As a result, your baby may need to nurse longer to get satisfied. Furthermore, babies feed more at night as they prepare for long hours of sleep at night-time.

When Does Cluster Feeding Start?

For most babies, cluster feeding occurs in the third and sixth weeks of life. In this period, babies experience the first of the numerous growth spurts that characterize childhood. As a result, there is a need to increase breast milk supply in order to fill the ever hungry (and growing) bellies.

To know when a cluster feeding session is imminent, you can watch out for the road signs we mentioned earlier. Furthermore, if your child begins to smack their lips, reach for your breasts or positions him/herself to nurse, you may be in for a cluster session.

What’s The Duration of Cluster Feeding?

We understand the physical and emotional strain most moms go through during cluster feeding. However, the marathon feeding sessions may be really important as your little one develops. Stay strong, Mama!

The good news is: Cluster feeding rarely extends beyond two days.

In fact, if you continue to observe the signs of cluster feeding for more than seven days, please consult your pediatrician. This may mean that your child is not getting enough calories.

Effects of Cluster Feeding

Although scientists are yet to understand why babies cluster feed, many studies have pointed out the effects of cluster feeding for both the mother and the child.

Some of the positive effects of cluster feeding include:

  • Improves sleep quality, especially after a cluster feeding session
  • Promote emotional and hormonal regulation
  • Increase skin-to-skin time between mother and child
  • Improve breast milk, and nutrient, supply

On the other hand, the negative effects of cluster feeding include:

  • Increased risk of nipple soreness
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Time constraints
  • May lead to breast engorgement ‘after’ cluster feeding ends.

Tips on Managing Cluster Feeding

Breastfeeding is designed to be a beautiful period of bonding for you and your little one. In addition, breastfeeding lays the foundation of a strong and healthy life for your little one. However, it is not always an easy ride, especially in the periods of cluster feeding.

Although cluster feeding is normal and brief, it may be a stressful period for the entire family. To make the process easier for you, here are some tips on how to effectively manage cluster feeding:

1.    Understand & Accept the Process

While cluster feeding, your baby would nurse a lot. In fact, it may even be more than you ever imagined. The first step to managing this new reality is to accept it.

Accept that cluster feeding is normal and your baby is very healthy. Although, some friends or family members may ask why your little one seems to be eating so much, you can reassure them by explaining any of the possible causes mentioned earlier in this article.

Furthermore, we recommend that you accept the demands of this period and try to make the best use of your time while at it.

While nursing during a cluster feeding session, you can:

  • Spend this time talking with your partner or friends
  • Read a book
  • Enjoy the one-on-one bonding time with your baby
  • Binge-watch your favorite TV series
  • Listen to a podcast about breastfeeding
  • Learn more about breastfeeding and motherhood at www.edieandamy.com

2. Stay Hydrated

Water is really important for breastfeeding moms. As you cluster feed, keep a large bottle of water close and remember to take regular drinks from it.

water ina glass cup

In addition to easing your stress, water would boost your breast milk supply and help your baby get the best out of every gulp.

3.    Get Help

As you cluster feed your baby, it may be really difficult to accomplish many other tasks. Therefore, it is advisable to let others help out with these assignments. For example, your partner can help out with cooking or making dinner while you supply your baby with all he/she needs for a healthy life.

In addition, please do not hesitate to request for help. This does not make you weak or incapable as a mother. Your family and friends are here to support you and help you through the process.

4.    Set Up A Nursing Area

Since you’d spend a lot of time nursing, make sure you set up a really comfortable nursing area. You can achieve this by placing pillows to support your baby and your back. For some additional comfort, wear a pair of cozy pajamas and a suitable nursing bra that would not irritate your nipples.

mum breast feeding child on a couch

Click here to find out more about the perfect nursing bra for you.

5. Switch Positions Often

The nursing position you select while cluster feeding is really important. For most moms, sitting on a couch with the baby in their arms may be really uncomfortable.

If you’re in this group, no worries!

You can attempt to nurse in the side-lying or laid-back position. Placing pillows in the right position may also allow some arm movement while nursing.

mom laying down and breastfeeding

6. Treat Nipple Problems

A common drawback of cluster feeding for most moms is the resulting nipple soreness or irritation. Thankfully, you don’t have to endure the pain.

As you breastfeed, apply a nipple cream, or even a few drops of breast milk on your nipples before and after nursing for extra moisture and protection.

ice cream like nipple

Furthermore, if you consider the entire process of breastfeeding to be too painful, check your latch position or consult your lactation consultant.

7. Treat Yourself Too

We understand the natural instinct to focus on your baby’s needs. However, breastfeeding is a two-way street.

Do not forget about you!

The fact is: It is difficult to match the increased demands on your body if you’re tired, hungry, or frustrated. As you cluster feed, remember to eat well, take healthy snacks, lots of water and sleep whenever your baby sleeps.

Also, whenever you can, do something for you. You can take naps, short walks or perform some quick exercise routines between nursing sessions.

8. Strap Your Baby

Babies love contact. In fact, it soothes them.

As you cluster feed, it may be helpful to keep your child close. To achieve this, you can use a sling or baby carrier which is designed to help you nurse on the go.

Another advantage of keeping your baby close during this period is that you’re present whenever he or she gets hungry again.

child on mum chest

That way, everyone stays happy always.

9. Be Patient

All babies have ‘fussy moments’ where it seems like nothing (except food) would soothe them. This is particularly heightened during cluster feeding. Although it may seem like an endless period of multiple nursing sessions, it would be over in a little while.

For now, just take it easy on yourself. Soft pedal a little. Receive help. In fact, ask for it. Furthermore, remember to be patient with your baby if he/she gets really fussy, cluster feeding is simply a response to growth and development.

10. Speak With a Professional

Consult a lactation consultant or pediatrician if you’re really struggling with breastfeeding or cluster feeding. Remember that these professionals are here to hold your hand and make this journey easier for everyone involved.

You can also click here to find out more about how to make breastfeeding easy for you and your little one.

A Final Note from Edie & Amy

Although it can be quite exhausting, cluster feeding is normal, temporary, and important. In a little while, your child would be moving on to other important phases like crawling and teething.

Remember, if your baby remains really fussy even after nursing, consult your pediatrician. Also, if you find breastfeeding to be really difficult, speak with your lactation consultant.

With the explanations and management tips above, we’re sure that everything is going to work out fine for you and your baby.

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