What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding – stretches of time when a baby wants to feed for shorter amounts of time more and more often, sometimes to the point where it feels like feeding is almost constant – is one of the many possible sometimes-unexpected adventures of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a new mom’s time and energy, and this is especially true during cluster feeding, but babies who are bottle-fed, either with breast milk or with formula can also cluster feed, though it’s less common.

What does cluster feeding look like?

There’s no technical definition of cluster feeding, but it can start as early as 2 days old, and happens when babies feed for shorter amounts of time than usual, and more often. This can mean as frequently as every half hour, though it can be longer. For breastfeeding moms, cluster feeding can also involve a lot of comfort-sucking between feeds. 

When and why do babies cluster feed?

There’s no way to confirm for sure why cluster feeding happens, but it’s thought to be a way for babies to signal that they’re about to go through a growth spurt, and will need more milk. Feeding patterns generally seem to support this idea. Cluster feeding is common in a baby’s first few weeks of life, but as she grows, she becomes more and more likely to only cluster feed before or during a growth spurt.

La Leche League International’s signature publication, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, calls cluster feeding days “frequency days,” and says that these days can commonly be expected around 3 weeks old, 6 weeks old, 3 months old, and 6 months old. Cluster feeding can occur at any time of the day, especially in the first few weeks of life, but as a baby’s circadian (daily) rhythms become more established, cluster feeding can also start to fall into a more regular pattern.

How should I handle cluster feeding? 

While cluster feeding can be exhausting, it’s not a problem, and there’s nothing to really do about it besides wait it out – you’ll be around a lot longer than cluster feeding will. Cluster feeding is a normal, healthy part of many babies’ development. Cluster feeding does pass, and for breastfeeding moms, it’s thought to be an important part of establishing milk supply.


Sources
  • Simone Casey. “The Speed of Feed: Breastfeeding and Cluster Feeding.” CHILD Mags. Child Magazines, January 11 2013. Web.
  • Elizabeth LaFleur. “Should I wake my newborn for feedings?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 28 2015. Web.
  • “Predictable Newborn Patterns.” Birth and Beyond California: Breastfeeding Training and QI Project. California Department of Public Health. Web.
  • “Taking Baby Home.” Howard County General Hospital. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Web.
  • “Why does my baby suddenly want to nurse constantly?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, March 21 2016. Web.
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