Doubts come pouring into your mind when your little one starts to frequently cry for milk. You start doubting whether your baby is getting enough milk or whether your milk supply has gone down or something is wrong with her?
When my newborn wanted to feed every 30 minutes, I was in the same boat as you. It can get very frustrating and physically exhausting, and your anxiety level can hit the rooftop while thinking why your little one wants to feed so many times in a short span, but don’t worry and hang in there. The light at the end of the tunnel is appearing slowly.
Cluster feeding, also known as bunch feeding, is when your baby wants to feed multiple times, maybe in 20 minutes or even 2 hours. This can happen anytime in the day- maybe during the night, during the night and day, or only during the evening time. Cluster feeding first happens usually when your little one is 3 weeks or 6 weeks; this is when they are going through growth spurts, which is quite normal. During this time, as your baby is growing, her calorie intake is also increasing, and therefore she’ll need more fuel in her tank.
This is a very normal phase that every mother and child goes through. The only thing you have to make sure of is that you have enough breast milk to satisfy your baby’s needs. Though it can seem very tiring, cluster feeding can actually increase your breast milk due to an increase in demand and also help make your baby feel full for a longer time, making her sleep for longer hours and giving you the needed rest.
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What is cluster feeding?
A newborn usually nurses in a predictable schedule, and you can even recognize when your baby starts showing different cues of hunger every 2–3 hours, which makes it 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. Cluster feeding or bunch feeding is when your baby spaces several feedings together in a short span of time, say- you fed your baby at 4:15 pm and at 4:50 pm your baby is asking again to nurse.
This behavior is normal! There’s no need to worry if your baby does this. Most mothers doubt whether their milk supply is tanking, which is why the baby is not satiated and is asking for more. The short answer is no. It’s not your milk supply but your baby’s continuous physical growth that leads them to get hungry quickly.
Why do babies cluster feed?
There can be several ones why your little one is attached day and night on your breast.
Your baby is going through a growth spurt
This is a time when your baby has a more intense and faster growth. During this time, she will want to feed more frequently, her sleep patterns can change, and she can be a lot fussier.
When does growth spurt happen?
Your baby likely goes through quite a few growth spurts in the first year of life.
- 1 to 3 weeks of age
- 6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
During a growth spurt, your little one will try to cluster feed, especially during the evening.
Your baby can also be growing through a developmental leap which again is when their brain is developing at a faster rate. For me, the app called “Wonder Weeks” has helped a lot to keep track of the next possible developmental leap of the baby and the times when they’ll probably be fussier than usual.
Milk flow is slower at night
Earlier it was believed that due to changing hormones, a mother’s milk supply is less in the evening and night, but that was dismissed. Rather, it is now claimed that milk supply is slower during the evening, making your baby quite fussy because they want more milk quickly.
This made sense to me because now when I recall, my little one would start getting fussy and cranky as soon as the sun sets, and this pattern was observed every day. So, maybe your little one too cluster feeds more in the evening and at night because she’s not getting your milk quickly and wants more and more.
Breastfeeding soothes your baby
Coming into this brand new world can be terrifying for a newborn baby, and the only source of comfort for them is you and your warmth. No amount of swaddling or cradles or lullabies have a chance of winning against your warmth.
So, one of the reasons your baby chooses to cluster feed can be to soothe themselves, and breastfeeding comforts them very much. As you might’ve noticed, your baby will fall asleep in a few seconds when you start to breastfeed them because they are quite comfortable and soothed by your warmth.
I remember when my newborn baby would feed for 30 to 45 minutes in a stretch (and this would go longer if I don’t unlatch him), and again after 45 minutes, he’ll be asking for more. In situations like these, I would always doubt my milk supply but later realized that babies cluster feed or feed for long periods of time for comfort and warmth.
Your baby is thirsty, sick or teething
If your baby is sick or even teething, she will look for comfort. As adults, we have learned tricks to de-stress ourselves, like watching our favorite movie or eating our comfort food. Still, for babies, the only way of communicating anything to us is through crying, and to de-stress or to feel comforted, their only solution is you.
So, comfort your baby in times of sickness. Although cluster feeding can be quite exhausting for the mother, believe me before you know it, it will all be over, and you and your baby will have moved past this phase.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding
|It may increase your milk supply.||It can be physically and emotionally exhausting for the mother. |
|It may help your baby sleep for a longer period of time.||It can lead to having very little or no time to do any other personal or household work.|
|It can help babies to emotionally and neurologically regulate.||It can be unpredictable.|
|It encourages skin-to-skin with your baby, which is very beneficial for the baby and mother.||It can cause nipple soreness.|
How to cope with cluster feeding?
The baby can sense what the mother feels, so if you’re tensed, exhausted or all worked up, your baby can pick up on it and can get fussy. So, it is necessary for you to take care of yourself, especially during a cluster feeding phase.
Here are a few tips on how to cope with cluster feeding phase:
- Keep yourself hydrated at all times when you’re breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can make you feel very thirsty, so it’s important to keep a bottle of water at your side.
- Get your snacks and drinks ready in front of the TV. Make yourself comfortable with fluffy pillows and watch something while feeding your baby.
- Get things done in the morning if you’re little one tends to cluster feed in the evening. Take a bath, have a little “me-time,” or play with your other kids.
- You can practice feeding your baby in the baby carrier so that you can walk around while feeding your baby. This way, you’re not stuck to one place and can get things done.
- Lean on your partner for meals or hire help with doing household chores. Don’t try to do everything on your own, as it can drain you out quickly.
- Give your baby to your partner or family to take care of whenever your baby is active or sleeping and is not demanding a feed so that you can take a short break and rest.
My baby is cluster feeding; does it mean I have low milk supply?
There can be many reasons why your baby is cluster feeding, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a low milk supply. As long as your baby’s weight is increasing and produces sufficient wet nappies a day, you don’t need to worry.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Cluster feeding is just a phase, and it doesn’t normally last for more than two days, but if these cluster feeding sessions go for more than a week, you might want to check her weight to see whether your baby is getting enough calories.
Can cluster feeding cause stomach pain in newborns?
There’s no scientific evidence that cluster feeding causes stomach pain in newborns. Rather, it will increase your milk supply and help your little one sleep for a longer period of time.
So, all in all, you need to remember that it’s okay for your baby to cluster feed or demand feed so quickly, and it doesn’t mean that you need to necessarily supplement or top up with infant formula.
Cluster feed can drastically improve your milk supply, and if you still have a doubt, then do a ‘power pumping session’ between feeds, where you pump for 10-20 minutes and rest for 10 minutes and repeat this process for an hour.
Meanwhile, mamas relax and take it one day at a time.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.