Everything You Need to Know About Cluster Feeding (A Mom's Guide)

Everything You Need to Know About Cluster Feeding (A Mom’s Guide)

I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I got my son on a solid breastfeeding schedule.

He was gaining weight, he was latching on, and I was even super comfortable during the process.

Until one day, the dreaded cluster feeding began.

I remember it vividly.

I was just getting ready to put my son in his crib because he ate himself into a peaceful slumber.

It was now my time to indulge in a little reality TV!

Just 20 minutes into my show, I heard my little guy shuffling around in his crib.

Next, the cries began.

There was no way he could be hungry again, right?

Wrong.

Ahh, welcome to cluster feeding.

The good news is that this phenomenon doesn’t last forever.

If constant feedings have taken over your life, read on to learn why and what you can (or can’t) do about it!

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is a term used when a baby eats closely together to other feedings. 

Moms feel like all they’re doing is nursing their baby because the feeds are so continuous and constant.

At times, a few hours may pass between nursing sessions throughout the day, but often occurs in clusters, hence the name!

What Causes Cluster Feeding?

The main things that cause cluster feeding are exhaustion, dehydration (caused by frequenting hot environments), sickness, or a growth spurt. 

Certain developmental milestones also trigger your baby to want to nurse more frequently.

Their brain and body is moving at such a fast pace, the cuddling and drinking bring them comfort.

When Does Cluster Feeding Usually Start?

Cluster feedings happen mainly when your baby is young and first born, and this can turn you into one emotional train wreck.

After all, you’re exhausted and overwhelmed to begin with. Throw a fussy infant into the mix who needs to feed off you constantly, and you have the recipe for a perfect disaster.

Babies in the first few months of their life cluster feed because they are growing so quickly— especially their tummy. So, your body kicks into gear and starts producing mass amounts of milk to keep up with the increased demand.

Is It Normal For A Newborn To Cluster Feed All Night?

Don’t be surprised if your newborn wants to eat all night.

As long as your baby is gaining an ample amount of weight and is producing wet and soiled diapers (but also sleeping at some point during the day), it’s not a cause for concern.

The amount they eat will decrease over time and feedings will be more spread out.

Is Clustering A Sign Of Low Milk Supply?

Many new moms panic when they start to cluster feed because they think that this type of feeding is a result of a low milk supply. However, it’s not.

Your body naturally increases your supply when this occurs, not the opposite.

Most new moms decide to supplement formula to ensure their baby is eating enough.

But, I learned that this isn’t what your body needs and this choice could have adverse effects, making you not produce enough milk for your growing little one.

5 Tips For Dealing With Cluster Feeding

When you cluster feed, your mind and body go through a lot! It can be hard to find ways to cope, but it is possible. Here are five suggestions!

  • 1
    Stay hydrated. You have to stay supremely hydrated so you can make it through this period of cluster feeding. Always consume a glass of water before you start, and after you finish (and of course, at least 8 glasses regularly throughout your day).
  • 2
    Snuggle up. If you’re going to be stationary, why not be comfortable? Choose to nurse in a plush chair with your favorite soft blankets and pillows. You could use this time to tune into your favorite show or catch up on your social media feeds. I always found a cozy pair of socks and sweatpants made the constant sitting and feeding more comfortable.
  • 3
    Eat. When you’re not feeding someone else, be sure to feed yourself. There is nothing worse than being hungry when you’re in the middle of a nursing session.
  • 4
    Incorporate it into your lifestyle. If you let cluster feeding consume you, then it certainly will. Some moms will only remain positioned in their home, but others want to stay active and on the go. If this is the case, be prepared to nurse in public. You can tie a scarf around your neck to wear as an accessory and double it as a nursing cover!
  • 5
    Anticipate feedings. If you’re in the midst of cluster feeding and you know your baby really goes wild in the evening hours, stop the cries before they start. Anticipate your feedings so you can stay on top of your baby’s demands, and you can keep your wits about you. 

4 Tips For Weaning Baby Off Of Cluster Feeding

Had about enough of cluster feeding? I don’t blame you. There are some things you can do to stop the cluster feedings. Weaning is key. Read on to learn how.

  • 1
    Replace breast with a binky. After your second or third feeding in a row, try replacing your breast with a binky. This will still satisfy your baby’s urge to suck, will bring them comfort, and will suffice until the next round of feedings. Repeat this process over time, offering the binky more frequently until they are back to nursing once every few hours (and not every hour, or back to back).
  • 2
    Offer other soothing solutions. Most moms notice cluster feeding happens at night, not always because their baby is hungry, but because they need to be consoled. Consider playing a mobile for them, running a white noise machine, or swaddling them so they feel nice and tight (like you’re giving them a big hug all night).
  • 3
    Provide oral relief. Some babies start to cluster feed because they are in pain. And, needless to say, teething is painful. Check to see if their gums are puffy or if a tooth is slowly cutting through. You can provide them with a gel teether to gnaw on, or even apply a thin coat of an oral numbing agent, which could take any pain away and cut down on feedings.
  • 4
    Introduce solids. Some babies cluster feed when they are about to approach a huge milestone, like sleep through the night, or cut a tooth. Your baby might be ready to start solids if they are eating uncontrollably. If your baby is around the four month mark and cluster feeding, ask your doctor if solids are a possibility! 

When To Get Help

As a first time mom, you’ll need a lot of help!

Don’t be afraid to employ friends and family around your home while you’re nursing your baby. They can help out with cooking, cleaning, and taking care of pets while you’re out of commission.

You may also want to place a call into your doctor if you’re starting to feel overly sad and overwhelmed during the process. They can assist you or send out a lactation consultant to your home to weight in on the situation and help out.

You should be concerned if your baby is not having periods of awake time or sleep time.

If your child is up all day and night, something else may be going on and they should be checked out.

They should also not take more than an hour to feed: this could mean that they are not effectively and efficiently drinking your milk and emptying your breast.

Some babies are also prone to acid reflux. They may be vomiting often, they may be gassy, they may wheeze, they may gag, or they may choke when drinking.

Babies like this may need to be comforted by breastfeeding often. 

But, if you suspect your baby has reflux, you should get them to your doctor or a specialist right away from medical attention.

Wrapping Up

Cluster feeding is an indirect cry for help: your baby needs you and need nourishment.

While you can’t completely stop it, you can let it run its course.

It’s important to take care of yourself during this trying time and get plenty of rest in between feedings.

As a new mom, you’re going to deal with a wide range of issues. Cluster feeding is one of them.

Be sure to stay in the know about this happening and do the best that you can to accommodate both your baby’s needs and your own!

Kate Trout
 

Hi there, I'm Kate! I started Maternity Glow to be a place for new and expecting moms to come to for practical pregnancy advice, parenting tips, and baby care tricks.

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