What is Cluster Feeding?
Normal infant feeding patterns are every 2-3 hours, around the clock. However, when your baby hits a growth spurt, you might notice them starting to cluster feed. Cluster feeding occurs when a baby breastfeeds more often than they were, or closer together than they have been, throwing their typical schedule out the window. This can make you feel like you are not making enough milk, but in reality the additional suckling boosts your milk supply to meet the new caloric needs of your infant. Cluster feeding, although tiring, is very beneficial and a sign that your baby is growing normally. If cluster feeding continues longer than a few spurts over a few days, you’ll want to reach out to your lactation consultant to be seen.
When Does Cluster Feeding Typically Occur?
Cluster feeding is a normal part of physical and emotional developmental growth spurts. Anticipating cluster feeding times at the following stages can help you prepare:
- 2-3 days old
- 2-3 weeks old
- Six weeks old
- Three months old
- Six months old
- During illness
*Although these are when we typically notice cluster feedings, it can happen at any time and still be considered normal.*
Cluster Feeding Characteristics:
- Shorter, more frequent feeds
- Early evening feedings (1-3 hours)
- Increased attachment and desire to stay close
- Potential for more extended sleep
Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?
- Calories: Evening cluster feeding corresponds to a higher fat concentration in the milk. Usually cluster feedings occur when your baby hits growth spurts, so cluster feeding allows your baby to meet their growing demand with more calories.
- Regulation: Babies lack self-regulation until at least three months old. When you nurse your baby, you meet their emotional needs and allow them to feel safe.
Tips for Cluster Feeding:
- Create a comfortable environment with snacks and hydration.
- Stay close to your baby, wearing or holding them.
- Seek assistance when needed for breaks between feedings.
- Consider skin-to-skin contact for relaxation.
- Prioritize rest and nap when your baby does.
- Use coconut oil to soothe nipples affected by increased nursing.
What to Avoid During Cluster Feeding:
- Bottle feeding, as it may interfere with nursing signals.
- Pacifiers, as nursing for comfort is more beneficial.
- Swaddling — Restricting your baby’s contact with you can cause stress for your baby during cluster feeding times.
- Schedules — When cluster feeding, it is important to ditch your regular feeding schedule and focus on your baby’s hunger cues.
Cluster feeding can be physically and emotionally tiring, so don’t be hard on yourself. Remember that cluster feeding is only temporary. Lean on your partner or someone supportive to help you get through your breastfeeding journey. In a matter of days, you will see that your baby’s nursing pattern will return to a new normal.