How to Survive Cluster Feeding in Newborns
It's right around dinner time. You just fed your precious, perfect newborn baby. She drifted off to sleep in your arms, and ever so slowly you laid her down in her crib. You have this baby thing down.
And then, just as you're about to take a bite of your own dinner, she starts fussing. Her room? Dark. Her diaper? Clean. Her belly? Ravenous.
Yes, she just finished eating 20 minutes ago, and she's already hungry again. Welcome to cluster feeding.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is a totally normal, totally pain in the butt part of raising a healthy, happy baby. It's defined as a period of time in which a baby wants multiple short feeds over the course of a few hours.
If your baby feeds for a short time, dozes off, and then cries for more, that's a classic example of cluster feeding. They also may seem grumpy and hard to settle until they finally drift off into a deeper sleep.
It can be draining to keep up with, but it's a normal part of a baby's feeding schedule. It happens most often with breastfed babies, but some formula-fed babies feed in clusters too.
Why Cluster Feeding Happens
Doctors and lactation consultants have a few theories as to why babies engage in cluster feeding. The two main theories are that:
- Feeding multiple times in a row allows a baby to get enough nutrition to tide them over for a longer stretch of sleep.
- Feeding frequently helps to establish or raise the mother's milk supply.
The real answer is likely a combination of both. Regardless of the cause, all experts agree that cluster feeding is completely normal and will shift into a less exhausting pattern when baby is ready.
How Long Before You'll Get to Actually Sleep Again?
Cluster feeding is especially common in the early days of breastfeeding, but it often resurfaces during growth spurts throughout their first few months of life.
Growth spurts are most common at about two weeks, six weeks, three months and six months of age. Nursing more during growth spurts is your baby's way of telling your body, "Hey, I'm bigger now! I need more milk than I did last week, so make some extra!"
As your baby gets older, episodes of cluster feeding should dwindle. They usually grow out of it by the time they hit the four-month mark, although their six-month growth spurt might spur an additional bout of fussiness.
How to Make Cluster Feeding Easier
In most cases, a mom's body adapts automatically to make just the right amount of milk. Nature's cool like that. That doesn't mean the process is easy on mom, however.
It's common for moms to feel burnt out, both physically and emotionally. To get through what feels like an endless stretch of cluster feeding, try the following:
- If your baby's cluster feeding follows a daily pattern, try to get rest during the off hours so you aren't running on empty at feeding time.
- Hydrate. Water is important for both your health and your milk supply, so drink up.
- Don't skip meals. New moms don't always have an appetite, but good nutrition is just as important now as it was during pregnancy. Breastfeeding moms burn up to 400 more calories per day than usual. Eating consistent, healthy meals gives you the fuel you need to make fuel for your mini-me.
- Keep snacks and water near your favorite nursing chair, along with reading material, your phone charger and the TV remote. Consider it time to relax, bond with your baby, and catch up on your favorite series at the same time.
- If you really need a breather, pump and store milk ahead of time so that your partner or another family member can take over cluster feeding duty for an evening. It takes a village.
Helpful Feeding Resources for New Parents
Speaking of villages, don't hesitate to reach out to your baby's pediatrician or a lactation consultant if you have any worries about your baby's growth or feeding routine.
Most of the time, cluster feeding is no cause for concern. Call the doc ASAP if your baby isn't:
- Gaining weight
- Producing at least six wet diapers per day by the sixth day after birth
- Settling into sleep after a stretch of cluster feeding
For additional concerns, WIC has several resources for parents, including free lactation consultations and a breastfeeding helpline. La Leche League also runs support groups across the country.