Newborn babies may breastfeed anywhere from eight to 12 times each day. But if your baby nurses several times in short succession, usually in the evening or late afternoon, you might have a cluster feeder on your hands. But don’t worry—even though cluster feeding is exhausting, it’s normal and a phase that will pass. Keep reading to learn more about this newborn nursing pattern.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding, sometimes called bunch feeding, is characterized by excessive nursing in a short period of time. Your baby might switch between breastfeeding, resting, and fussing for several hours on end.
The signs of cluster feeding are hard to ignore: Soon after your baby finishes eating, they display their typical hunger symptoms again. This might include mouthing, nuzzling against your breasts, increased alertness, smacking their lips, or opening their mouth and turning their head to whatever touches their cheek (rooting). Your baby might also sleep for longer stretches of time after a cluster feeding session.
Cluster feeding is a completely normal phenomenon that signals growth and development. However, it can be mentally and emotionally draining for parents, who are already stressed and fatigued by the demands of a new baby.
Why and When Do Babies Cluster Feed?
The newborn stage is key for growth and development, and breast milk helps your baby get the nutrients they need. Indeed, milk production functions like “supply and demand”—if your baby wants more milk, your body will produce more. Feeding at frequent intervals ensures your little one’s growing appetite will be satiated.
Most parents notice cluster feeding during their baby’s fussy periods—usually in the evening or late afternoon. Experts don’t completely understand why it happens at this time, but they theorize that your newborn might be overtired or overstimulated from their immature nervous system. Little ones rely on you for comfort, and nursing helps them relax. Also, experts suggest that milk supply decreases slightly at night, and cluster feeding helps your baby fill up before bedtime.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Cluster feeding ages vary for each baby, but it usually happens around 3 weeks and 6 weeks, when they have growth spurts. It may last for a few days at a time. Talk to your pediatrician if cluster feedings spans much longer because your child might not be consuming enough calories.
So when can you expect cluster feeding to stop altogether? Infants usually grow out of it by 3 or 4 months of age. Some older babies might cluster feeding on occasion, especially when they need extra comfort (like during illness or a growth spurt).
Dealing with Cluster Feeding
If you’re currently in the cluster feeding phase, you’re probably tired and frustrated. We promise it will pass eventually, but in the meantime, be prepared for your baby’s all-you-can-eat sessions by getting plenty of rest, water, and nutrients beforehand. Some moms make the best of the situation by having movie marathons, calling relatives, or reading during cluster feeding. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner or relatives for help if you need it.
Also, soothing techniques can calm your baby down during fussy times. Try wearing your baby in a carrier, reducing simulation around them, making relaxing noises like shushing, trying different positions, giving a baby massage, or other techniques.
Cluster feeding doesn’t mean you need to supplement with formula or that you have low milk supply. However, you should consult your pediatrician or a lactation consultant about any concerns regarding newborn feeding.