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What Is Cluster Feeding? 6 Tips for Cluster-Feeding Newborns

Cluster feeding is something that happens to breastfed babies. It is when a newborn baby wants lots of short feedings over a period of a few hours. It can happen at any time of day or night. Read on to learn how long cluster feeding lasts, cluster-feeding ages, and tips to stay happy with a cluster-feeding baby.

What is cluster feeding? 

Cluster feeding is a developmental phase when babies’ feedings are spaced closely together. A cluster-feeding newborn may want lots of shorter feedings over a few hours at certain times during the day and may go for longer periods between feedings at other times. Cluster feeding is completely normal, and it often occurs during the initial days and months of breastfeeding.

Cluster feeding more commonly occurs in the later part of the afternoon or during the early evening hours. But it can happen at any time during the day. Babies may sleep longer after a session of cluster feeding.

Common causes of cluster feeding 

Some of the possible causes of cluster feeding are:

  • A growth spurt. When going through a growth spurt, babies’ bodies need more nourishment. Because they need more nutrients and calories than normal, they need to eat more frequently.
  • A developmental milestone. Babies move through many developmental milestones during the first six months after they’re born. When these physical and psychological changes are taking place, babies may need more nutrition. This may entice them to cluster feed, which may also soothe and calm them.

How long does cluster feeding last? 

Cluster feeding can occur at any time during the life of a newborn. The first episode may occur shortly after birth. Newborn cluster feeding helps stimulate mothers’ breasts to secrete more milk. As babies develop, growth spurts may cause them to cluster feed to consume more nutrients. Cluster feeding generally ends when babies are around six months old.

Cluster feeding usually happens in phases. Babies may feed more frequently than usual for a few hours during the day, usually during the evening.

Cluster-feeding benefits and challenges

Here are some benefits and issues associated with cluster feeding.

Benefits of cluster feeding 

Cluster feeding helps provide the nourishment that babies need during a growth spurt. It also helps soothe and calm a fussy baby. When cluster feeding, the baby is cozy in the arms of their parent. This provides security and comfort and satisfies their emotional requirements.

Cluster feeding also promotes better sleep, and babies may sleep longer after filling up their stomachs with milk.

Cluster feeding may also boost milk supply. When babies eat more frequently, the breasts may produce more milk in response. In fact, some people encourage cluster feeding to increase their milk production.

Cluster-feeding challenges

Cluster feeding may be draining emotionally and physically. Many parents who cluster feed their babies feel frustrated and exhausted. Some people may think they’ve failed if they aren’t able to breastfeed. Others may be concerned about not having enough milk if their baby takes a long time to settle down. It may also feel like the breasts are empty. There’s always milk in the breasts, though, and they don’t become completely empty.

During newborn cluster-feeding sessions:

  • Babies may have shorter periods of sleep or rest between feedings.
  • Babies may eat for a couple of minutes and then pull on and off the breast.
  • Babies may cry and become fussy.

6 tips for healthy cluster feeding

Here are some tips for healthy cluster feeding:

1. Find a breastfeeding partner

A breastfeeding partner is someone who can bring drinks and snacks and provide entertainment during the cluster-feeding episodes.

2. Drink enough

Breastfeeding is a thirsty job. Feeling parched and thirsty is normal, especially during episodes of newborn cluster feeding. With a newborn constantly nursing, it’s important to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. It’s helpful to have a glass of water nearby when starting to feed the baby. Make sure to drink water every couple of hours throughout the day.

3. Be prepared

Babies generally develop a routine around cluster feeding. Babies may eat every evening between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. When the baby’s typical schedule becomes clearer, it can be easier to make plans for the day accordingly. However, some babies start cluster feeding abruptly. Try to be flexible, and listen to the baby’s demands. 

4. Eat well

To produce enough milk to fulfill the baby’s needs, the body requires lots of fuel. Eating small meals throughout the day can help. Some examples of nutritional snacks are whole-wheat crackers and hummus, peanut butter and apple slices, and almonds. These can help keep the body’s energy up during newborn cluster-feeding episodes. Don’t skip meals!

5. Get comfortable

When babies are going through a cluster-feeding episode, it’s easy to get stuck in one place. If possible, planning ahead of time can help make the cluster-feeding times more comfortable. Keep some magazines, books, smartphone, tablet, or TV remote nearby for entertainment during this time. 

6. Know when the baby’s hungry

Pay attention to the baby’s hunger cues and offer them the chance to eat immediately. Crying is a late signal of hunger, so try to look for earlier hunger cues in a cluster-feeding newborn.

Cluster feeding is when a baby wants lots of shorter feedings over a few hours. It is more common when babies start breastfeeding and usually occurs during the early hours of the evening. It commonly happens when babies are going through a growth spurt or developmental milestone. It usually ends when a child turns six months old.

To cluster feed healthily, eat well and stay hydrated, make breastfeeding comfortable, and learn the baby’s hunger cues.

“Cluster Feeding and Fussing Babies.” Australian Breastfeeding Association, 1 Dec. 2019, www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93baby/fussy.

“Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts.” Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts | WIC Breastfeeding, wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/cluster-feeding-and-growth-spurts.

“Cluster Feeding.” Pregnancy Birth and Baby, www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/cluster-feeding.

“Signs of Effective Feeding in the Early Days.” La Leche League GB, 4 June 2019, www.laleche.org.uk/signs-effective-feeding-early-days-2/.

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