Cluster Feeding: A Complete Overview

Does it seem like your baby can’t get enough food? Here you are at cluster feeding. It’s draining, but it’s only temporary.

After all, sleep deprivation is common among new parents. However, what might surprise you is how much newborn cluster feeding wears you out. It’s one of those new parenting experiences that you won’t really get until you go through it yourself, but it’s completely normal and thankfully it doesn’t last forever. Nevertheless, it helps to be prepared so that, when the feeding panic starts, you can handle things thoughtfully rather than becoming alarmed. Are you prepared to learn the truth about newborn cluster feeding? We explain what it is, why it occurs, when it begins, and how long it will last. We also offer some advice on how to cluster feed and get ready for the endless breast or bottle buffet that lies ahead.


What is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster Feeding

When your baby needs several short feeds spread out over several hours, it’s called cluster feeding. Early on in the breastfeeding process, it frequently occurs. Your baby’s cluster feeding is a normal behavior. The incidence is highest in the late afternoon or early evening, though it can occur at any time of day.

Babies usually need to be fed eight times or more in a 24-hour period during their first few days of life. However, keep in mind that newborns usually don’t follow a set feeding schedule before you set your clock and expectations. Most babies will want to feed more frequently than this, and they will group or cluster feedings together to take less time.

A newborn will typically be fed for 15 to 20 minutes, which will keep the baby full and nourished for approximately three to four hours. On the other hand, when a baby is cluster feeding, they get multiple feedings in a short period of time, followed by a longer sleep interval.


What Causes Babies to Cluster Feed?

Though the exact reason why babies cluster feed is unknown, there are a number of interesting theories. Experts frequently hold the opinion that it occurs during a newborn’s physical or developmental growth spurt. The infant’s routine in utero and safe sleep for babies may also be related to newborn cluster feeding. The majority of expectant mothers are aware from fetal movements that their baby begins to move as soon as they go to sleep and that they will need to get up to use the restroom approximately four hours later. Throughout the initial weeks of life, this biological rhythm of activity remains. Infants typically feed well around the time that their mothers go to bed, and four hours later, they may begin to cluster feed.

If your baby is cluster feeding while you’re breastfeeding, you might be concerned about whether their increased appetite is a sign of a low milk supply or if you’re simply not giving them enough food. Though it makes sense that your thoughts would go there, the exact opposite is actually occurring. A baby’s cluster feeding during the first few days helps to establish and increase the mom’s milk supply. The hormone process that converts the mother’s first milk, colostrum, into plentiful mature milk, which typically happens between postpartum days three and seven, is aided by the baby’s frequent nursing.

Early evening is when babies often cluster feed, and it’s also known as the “witching hour” for babies. It can be hard to tell if a baby who is cluster-fed is fussy because they’re hungry or just because it’s that time of day since the only way they can communicate their need to eat is by crying. In the early evening, colic or stress may be the cause of an uneasy baby who doesn’t seem to want to eat.


When Does Cluster Feeding Begin?

After learning what cluster feeding is and why it occurs, you might be wondering when it begins. Sadly, following the difficult work of labor and delivery, it’s unlikely that you will have much time to relax. As early as the infant’s second day of life, newborn cluster feeding may begin. It can actually be very helpful, even though this may be the last thing you want to deal with while you’re recovering and trying to get the hang of breastfeeding. In breastfeeding, the law of supply and demand is applied through cluster feeding. Mother’s supply of milk rises in response to the baby’s increased demand for it. The body is working hard to produce milk during those first few days after birth and will increase supply as needed, so the more times a baby feeds from the breast, the more milk the body will eventually produce.


How Much Time Does Cluster Feeding Require?

You’re seeking answers because you’re exhausted and in need of comfort. How long does cluster feeding last? Baby cluster feeding occurs in spurts that typically last a few days. But in the first few weeks of life, as your supply keeps growing, you ought to know that the baby will prefer to cluster feed most of the time. But after this initial phase, with the help of typical development charts, you’ll be better able to predict whether and when the baby will go through another phase of cluster feeding. Breastfed babies settle in and become less unpredictable after the first few weeks. Cluster feeding ages occur at two to three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months, and they usually correspond with growth spurts. However, the first three weeks of cluster feeding a newborn are frequently the most intense and longest-lasting period for parents.


Signs of Cluster Feeding

As babies get older, their need for milk in a single feeding gradually increases. Thus, how can you determine whether their increased demand for milk is a result of cluster feeding or just a natural aspect of their growth and development? The following are some common signs of cluster feeding to watch out for:

  • Consuming the same amount of food as they would during a typical feeding, but wanting to eat again 30 to 60 minutes later.
  • Sleeping for extended periods of time with deep breathing after two or three close feedings.
  • Acting irritated when being fed, looking away from the nipple when it is directly in front of them, or periodically latching on.
  • Exhibiting fussiness or irritability when they are awake but not nursing.
  • Eating in short periods, often quite frequently.
  • Early evening and nighttime are the best times for perpetual feedings.


Advice on Cluster Feeding

Cluster feeding is extremely difficult on a breastfeeding parent, particularly if you’re still getting the hang of nursing. You can take the following actions to help it become a little more manageable:

  • Note the number of feedings the infant has received. The number of feeds from cluster feeders is still as expected; they are just not distributed equally throughout the day and night.
  • To allow you to rest in between feedings, try to get as much assistance from your partner or a support person.
  • In an attempt to get the baby back on a schedule, don’t force or postpone feedings; this will just make them fussier.
  • If you want to be certain that they are getting enough milk, keep an eye on their weight gain. Babies should gain an ounce or more every day once their mother’s milk turns from colostrum to milk.
  • Throughout this phase, make sure you stay hydrated and nourished to maintain your health and supply.
  • If possible, try to nap when the baby does.


How to Stop Cluster Feeding

The truth about cluster feeding is that it simply needs to run its course, even though you may be itching for a little break. Giving up and letting your child take the lead is the best course of action. Hemphill emphasizes how crucial it is to avoid rushing or postponing feedings in an effort to end cluster feeding. Babies eat whenever they want, day or night, and on demand.

Although cluster feeding a newborn can be difficult for parents, there is hope that this phase will pass. Rest as much as you can and rely on your support network until it passes. You are capable of this.


Common Worries About Cluster Feeding

You may become emotionally and physically exhausted from cluster feeding. A lot of parents experience fatigue and frustration. Some mothers claim that they lose confidence in their ability to breastfeed or that they feel like failures.

Your baby takes a while to settle, so you may be concerned that you aren’t producing enough milk. You may also feel as though your breasts are empty. However, your breasts are never empty of milk. Never are they totally empty.


When Should You Consult the Midwife or Doctor?

A baby’s feeding schedule typically includes cluster feedings. Consult your physician, midwife, or nurse if your infant:

  • is not gaining weight
  • is not generating dirty and wet diapers
  • does not settle down after feeding



Final Word

When your baby wants to nurse more frequently than usual, he or she will cluster feed, which involves eating once and then returning for additional feedings. During growth spurts or in the evening, cluster feeding is frequently observed. Although cluster feeding may cause you stress and limitations, it usually only lasts a short while.