Cluster feeding occurs most often in newborns, although older babies may exhibit cluster feeding behaviors during growth spurts and teething. It usually tapers off around the 3-4 month mark for most babies. It is a time in which your new baby will exhibit differently than normal feeding patterns.
Newborns eat a lot, so don’t be alarmed if your baby is eating around the clock in 24 hours. On average, your baby should breastfeed 10-12 times in that period. This is normal and healthy. You can work with a lactation specialist and your pediatrician to ensure an adequate milk transfer, plenty of soiled diapers, and healthy weight measurements. If you’re concerned, please reach out to me here, and I can help you through an online breastfeeding support session!
Babies tend to cluster feed in an increment of 3-4 hours in one 24 hour period. Your baby may nurse for 20 minutes, take a brief break, and then want to nurse again sooner than their usual pattern of eating.
Reasons Why Your Baby is Cluster Feeding
There may be many reasons why your baby is cluster feeding. Your baby may not actually be hungry and looking for milk during this time, although it is helping you to build your supply. Some of these reasons may include:
- Growth spurts
- Familiarity with you
I’ve read various studies indicating the reasons why cluster feeding tends to occur at night. Although cluster feeding can occur at any time of the day. Your baby may show signs of cluster feeding more so at night if they are trying to build up a supply for the night. Sometimes, when a baby cluster feeds, they sleep for a longer duration following those feeding sessions.
Sometimes it occurs when your baby is most fussy, which tends to be in the late afternoon or evening. This may be because your baby is used to activity at that time from being in the womb, depending on your schedule, and wants to be swayed or rocked like they were for 9+ months.
Another theory indicates they may not want to nurse, but rather, be soothed in other ways. Here is an interesting read on baby’s cues, not all seem to be related to hunger, but more about their new digestive system and trying to handle air in their systems- A baby’s six wind cues.
How to Deal With It- Tips for Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding can be a blessing if your baby is helping you build up your milk supply for a growth spurt, for example. You will want to keep up with your baby, so the demand is necessary to ensure an adequate supply. The more your baby removes milk from your breasts, the more milk your body will make.
It can be very tiring and overwhelming, though, I get it. So here are some tips to help you when your baby is going through periods of cluster feeding.
- Embrace it and remember, they are only little once. Your mindset can have a lot to do with your frustrations if you’re tired and overworked (in the breastfeeding sense). Try to maintain a positive attitude because they do grow up so fast, and cluster feeding won’t last forever, I promise.
- Keep your body fueled and hydrated. You want to be eating healthy foods and drinking a lot of water, so your body can feel energized (as much as possible, given the sleep deprivation in the early days). Key nutrients are essential for milk production and your health in general. Aim for whole foods and healthy fats, and at least half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
- Solicit help from your support system. Utilize your partner, mothers, siblings to help you with all the little things. You may need them to fetch your favorite book, charge your phone, make your meals, whatever it may be. Ask for help!
- Use your partner to help with the baby. Your partner’s voice is likely familiar to your baby. Ask him to rock, sway, and sing to your baby. You can also have him bathe your baby and change diapers. All of these little things will allow you to get a little breather before your baby is signaling for you.
- Utilize a baby carrier. Strap your baby to you and get stuff done while they’re in the baby carrier. They will likely be more satisfied in a carrier as they can feel you, hear your heartbeat, and smell you.
- Be patient with your baby and yourself. You are all your baby knows. Breastfeeding takes practice and patience. Be easy on yourself and your baby during this time.
- Find a favorite podcast or book to read during these times to occupy your mind and provide some entertainment.
- Try the side-lying position to get some safe sleep. Always practice safe bed-sharing practices.
- Try infant massage. This is a complementary therapy that soothes and relaxes your baby, and aids in digestion. You can try it after a diaper change or before bed 5 to 10 minutes is all your baby needs. Try not to do it right after breastfeeding as it may cause spitting up. You can use coconut oil to massage, but avoid any other lotions or oils that may hurt your baby’s delicate skin. Here is a helpful article from Mama Natural. My son still loves this, and he’s a toddler now!
- Try reducing the stimulation in your home. If you have an active house, your baby may be overstimulated. Try reducing the noise level, turning on a white noise machine, or going outside for some quiet time.
Have any of these tips helped you and your baby during times of cluster feeding? Let me know in the comments below!