Cluster feeding: What, why & coping

Cluster feeding is typically used to describe a change in feeding habits by a newborn or small baby when they move from feeding every two to three hours, to feeding every hour or feeding in spurts for a day or so or even longer.

Most Mums notice that cluster feeding happens more often at night, a time when little one’s are sleepy and unsettled, or it may happen over the course of an entire day.

Cluster feeding can pop up at various times in a baby’s first six months, but often the first time occurs shortly after birth. These feeds stimulate your boobs to make more milk, and they can be an important part of ensuring good milk production.

Causes of Cluster Feeding

Cluster feeding can be initiated by baby or Mum. Here are some of the most common causes — and reasons for — cluster feeding.

Baby-Initiated

  1. Growth spurt
    Growing takes more energy and babies get their energy from milk, so they’ll drink more often.

  2. Developmental leap
    Your baby goes through a lot of developmental changes during the first six months. In the middle of all this change, feeding can feel comfortable and familiar, so they want to do it more often.

Mum-Initiated

  1. Build-up milk supply
    Breast milk supply is based on the demand from your baby or from pumping with a breast pump, so the more baby feeds (or the more you pump), the more milk you produce.

  2. Help baby sleep longer at night
    There’s a small chance that cluster feeding may help babies feel fuller longer and therefore sleep for longer stretches of time.

Coping with Cluster Feeding

Whether cluster feeding is initiated by you or your little one, your body will be working overtime and it can be very tiring. It’s important to remember that it will end, but in the meantime, you have to look after yourself.

Stay hydrated and well fed

If you are breastfeeding your body needs energy to produce milk, so if your baby is feeding overtime be sure that you are drinking water all day and eating small meals and nutritious snacks every few hours; great options include an apple with peanut butter, hummus and whole-wheat crackers, and handful of almonds.

Sleep is a priority

If your little one switches from sleeping four-hour stretches at night to waking up every hour, you’re going to get exhausted very quickly. So even though it’s difficult, make sleep your top priority. Skip the cleaning and Facebook check-ins and sleep when your baby does.

Get support & don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Cluster feeding can either be lovely for bonding or entirely exhausting and frustrating for you. Talking through techniques and tips, as well as your feelings and frustrations, can help you. The mums on our Careline are experienced and would only be happy to help!

Don’t fight it

You could try settling your baby in other ways, but if the feeding change has come on suddenly, it’s probably a cluster feeding episode and it’s best to feed them as that’s what they need right now. Babies follow instinctive cues and are smart enough to ask for what they need when they feel it.

Although cluster feeding can be worrying and inconvenient, it is normal for babies to do, and it won’t last forever.