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What Is Cluster Feeding (And Why It’s Completely Normal!)

The newborn stage is a beautiful time when you’re trying to learn all about this new human while ensuring that they're growing and happy. You'll spend the first week or two at home with your baby sleeping a whole lot and nursing in between napping sessions, and you might even begin to predict your newborn’s schedule.

Any hopes of a consistent schedule go out the window when your baby starts getting incredibly fussy and seems to want to eat soon after you’ve just finished nursing.

You might be going through a period of cluster feeding.

A busy breastfeeding mother
Cluster feeding can be challenging but you can go through it!

Cluster feeding is very common in those first few weeks and is the baby's way of helping to regulate your milk supply, to ensure you have enough breastmilk to keep them satiated.

While marathon feeding sessions associated with cluster feeding can be incredibly taxing on the mum, it does not point to any issues with breastfeeding. While researchers don’t fully understand why babies cluster feed, there is a consensus that it's your baby's way of ensuring their bellies are full and maybe even helping you produce more milk to accommodate an approaching growth spurt.

Whatever your baby’s reason behind cluster feeding, it’s important to remember that it’s only temporary.

Before we offer tips on managing cluster feeding, let's explain it.

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is when your baby suddenly seems to be eating in clusters – nursing and then what feels like five minutes later asking for more again – and it can last for a few hours at a time. The cluster feeding is then followed by a period when the baby feeds less frequently. In other words, cluster feeding is somehow a more irregular feeding pattern where it becomes difficult to predict when the baby will eat again.

· they’re a few days or weeks old

· they’re showing their usual hunger signs or won’t stop crying until they’re fed

· they want to eat constantly, or they eat very frequently for short sessions each time

· nothing else seems wrong, and they're content when eating

· they still have regular wet and dirty diapers

This may happen at a specific time each day or may occur throughout the day. For example, you might have a baby who wants to cluster feed at night (perhaps to stock up on breastmilk before they drift off to sleep for the night), or your baby just might be going through a growth spurt and may need to cluster feed throughout the day for extra calories.

Either way, you can expect this phase to last only a few days before your supply regulates and you get back to a more predictable feeding schedule.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby be fed at least every two to three hours on-demand or about eight to twelve times per day. During periods of cluster feeding, the number of nursing sessions can increase dramatically, but this phase of cluster feeding helps promote healthy weight gain for your little one while building up your milk supply.

While it may be exhausting, continue to breastfeed on demand and remind yourself that this phase is only temporary.

Cluster Feeding or Infant Colic?

If you have a baby who seems extra fussy in the evenings, always crying for more breastmilk, you might begin to wonder if you’re dealing with a case of infant colic.

There is a very distinct difference between cluster feeding and infant colic. A cluster feeding baby will be satisfied after a feeding session, and their crying will subside until they're hungry again (which might be soon if they're cluster feeding!). Oppositely, a baby experiencing colic will not be soothed by your breastmilk. If you suspect your baby has colic, read our blog post on infant colic for more information.

Cluster Feeding and Your Milk Supply

Breastfeeding is important to support the needs of your growing baby, and the best part is that your milk supply is tailored to the specific needs of your baby. It's supply and demand, so the more your baby empties your breast, the more milk you produce.

During cluster feeding, it can feel like your baby isn’t getting enough milk during one feeding session, which is why they’re asking for more so quickly.

Cluster feeding is a normal part of your baby’s development and does not signal a problem with your breast milk or supply. In fact, it might be their way of boosting your milk supply so that they have enough nourishment to support an impending growth spurt.

La Leche League offers signs of effective feeding in the early days, so you can be sure your baby is getting enough of that nutrient-dense breastmilk.

A better way to know if your baby is getting enough milk is not based on fussiness during cluster feeding but other factors, including weight gain and the number of wet diapers. Read our blog to learn more about the signs of low milk supply.

While cluster feeding is unpredictable and, frankly, quite exhausting, it means that your baby gets more skin-to-skin time and helps your baby get all the nutrients they need to maintain proper growth and development.

While you can expect your baby to be fussier during a period of cluster feeding, there are ways you can make this experience a positive one for you and your little one.

How To Handle Cluster Feeding

While cluster feeding doesn't last long, it can certainly disrupt the entire family for a few days. Knowing how to manage it can help you, your partner, and other siblings get through this phase unscathed.

First, since you’ll be breastfeeding so much more, hydration and proper nutrition are paramount during this time. Always keep a water bottle nearby and have snacks within reach of your nursing station so you can maintain your energy and milk supply to meet your baby’s needs.

Have everything you might need within arm’s length. Since you'll probably be hunkered down for a while, you should keep your earbuds nearby to listen to a podcast or the remote to catch up on your favourite shows. Ensure all chargers are plugged in and ready should you need to charge your phone or tablet.

Adjust nursing positions as often as you can so you don’t get sore or uncomfortable. You can even sit on the floor to be near older siblings.

Just because you have other children in the household doesn’t mean the baby needs to take you away from them. Set up a box of special toys or books for other children to play with only when the baby is breastfeeding.

Some mamas can even master breastfeeding in a baby carrier, so give it a try so you can be on the go while still cluster feeding your little one.

The best way to handle cluster feeding is to adjust your expectations and remind yourself that this is not your new normal. This is a brief phase that will pass. Continue to breastfeed your baby on demand, and don’t get concerned about your milk supply.

As long as your baby is still producing enough wet diapers and gaining weight appropriately, you are giving the very best nutrition to your baby through your breast milk.

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