Your baby has a pretty established routine. She feeds every three hours like clockwork. Then suddenly out of the blue, she starts wanting to be fed every hour on the hour. What’s going on?
If you’ve suddenly turned into a 24-hour all-you-can-eat milk buffet, you’re probably in the midst of a cluster feeding.
What exactly is cluster feeding? What causes it, and how do you cope?
Table of Contents
- What is Cluster Feeding?
- Cluster Feeding and Fussy Time – What to Expect
- When Does Cluster Feeding Occur?
- How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
- Don’t Panic – Bunch Feeding is Normal
- What Causes Cluster Feeding?
- 7 Ways to Cope with Cluster Feeds
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is a term used to describe a period in a baby’s life when feeds are bunched closely together during certain times of the day. There may be a few hours in between feeds for most of the day, and suddenly, there will be hours of constant feeding or feeds that are close together.
Evening hours are the most common for cluster feeding, but this can vary from one baby to the next.
These close bunching of feeds tend to be most common with younger babies, but some older babies will go through this phase just before hitting a growth spurt.
Cluster Feeding and Fussy Time – What to Expect
A cluster feeding newborn is a cranky newborn. When a baby is bunch feeding, she may nurse for a few minutes, pull off and cry, and then go right back to nursing. This same vicious cycle can carry on for what feels like forever.
And as a mom, you start to worry that maybe your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
When Does Cluster Feeding Occur?
While cluster feeding can happen at any time in an infant’s life, the first one typically occurs shortly after birth. These closely bunched feeds stimulate the breasts to produce more milk for your baby’s growing appetite. As your baby develops, she’ll go through more spurts of cluster feeds – usually around 10-12 days and then again at three months.
The good news is that this type of feeding doesn’t last forever. By the time your baby reaches 6 months, cluster feeds are typically over.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
“When will this be over?” That’s the first question moms ask during a bunch feeding. Having to feed every hour for hours on end can be exhausting, overwhelming and worrisome for mom. Naturally, you want the whole thing to be over as quickly as possible, so you can return to life as normal.
The good news is that cluster feeding typically only lasts 48 hours – sometimes less.
Don’t Panic – Bunch Feeding is Normal
When cluster feeding starts, many moms worry that they’re not making enough milk for their babies. But bunch feeding is perfectly normal and natural.
It’s easy to fall into a state of worry or anxiety during this time. You’re tired, and your mood is anybody’s guess because your hormones are still trying to rebalance. On top of all this, your baby seems fussier than ever.
Some moms feel like failures, but the truth is that cluster feeding is just a part of the process. It stimulates the breast to produce more milk, so you’ll have ample supply as your baby continues to grow.
What Causes Cluster Feeding?
No one knows for sure why babies go through bunch feeding phases, but many health professionals speculate that the purpose of these back-to-back feedings is to ramp up mom’s milk supply.
Speculated causes for cluster feeding include:
Many babies cluster feed when they’re going through a growth spurt. And this makes perfect sense because your baby’s body is hard at work growing – literally. She’s going to need all the fuel she can get, and milk is the fuel she needs.
Some babies will also bunch feed during an important milestone. Your baby will go through a number of significant development milestones in her first six months of life. In the middle of all these changes, feeding may serve as a way to self-soothe. It’s comforting and familiar to your baby, so she may be seeking out that comfort during these challenging times.
To Boost Milk Supply
Some moms actually initiate cluster feeds as a way to boost milk production. Doctors say that within 24 hours, the breasts will respond by producing more milk.
Simply put, the more your baby eats, the more milk you’ll produce to keep up with her demands.
Some moms also initiate a cluster feed as a way to improve their baby’s sleep at night. However, there is little evidence to suggest that bunch feedings will improve sleep.
While this trick may work for some moms, most doctors recommend instilling good sleeping habits and allowing your baby to soothe herself to sleep.
7 Ways to Cope with Cluster Feeds
Bunch feedings can be frustrating for moms – and exhausting. Use these tips to get through these feeds with ease.
1. Don’t Forget to Sleep
Having to feed every hour for hours on end (oftentimes at night) can be exhausting. But sleep needs to be a priority. While it may be tempting to enjoy a few minutes to yourself when your baby is sleeping, it’s better to take that opportunity to get some shut-eye yourself. Those dirty dishes aren’t going anywhere. Get some sleep and worry about it when you wake up.
2. Eat and Hydrate
In order to produce milk, your body needs fuel. If your baby is drinking milk like it’s going out of style, your body needs to be able to keep up with her demands. This means making regular meals a priority and ensuring that you stay hydrated.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Cluster feeds can be incredibly tiring and overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with housework and errands. Family members and friends will be more than willing to lend a hand – especially other moms in your family who know what you’re going through.
4. Accept the Situation
Don’t fight the feedings – accept them and know that this is perfectly normal and natural. Yes, you can try other soothing methods, but if your baby is going through an episode of cluster feeding, it’s best to give her what she needs.
5. Settle In
If you’re in the midst of a bunch feeding, settle in and make yourself comfortable. Wear comfortable clothing, and prop yourself up on the bed or sofa. Have a magazine, books and DVDs on hand to keep yourself entertained while your baby feeds.
6. Don’t Take It Too Personally
Moms often assume that they’re doing something wrong when their baby starts fussing all the time and wanting to nurse more often. But again, cluster feeds are perfectly normal and there’s nothing to worry about.
In the vast majority of cases, these bunch feedings are not a sign that your baby isn’t eating enough. As long as she has five wet diapers per day, everything is okay.
7. Know When It’s Time to See Your Doctor
While cluster feeds are normal, there are some circumstances when you may want to see your doctor.
If your baby is feeding for more than hour at a time, or if the bunch feeding episode lasts more than two days, see your doctor. This may be a sign that your milk production isn’t keeping up with your baby’s demands.
Although it can be tiring and overwhelming, cluster feeds are normal. Do your best to settle in, get comfortable and give your baby what she needs during this time. Don’t worry – it will be over before you know it, and she’ll be back to her normal routine.