Cluster feeding is one of those concepts you don't hear much about until you're a newborn's parent. You've experienced this phenomenon if your little one suddenly wants to nurse repeatedly, with multiple feedings in just a few hours. Learn why cluster feeding occurs and how to cope with this confounding (but temporary) phase of infant development.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
With cluster feeding, your child will switch between feeding and fussing, maybe with the occasional rest, for several hours at a time. They may want to nurse every 30 minutes to an hour or even pull off repeatedly after latching to the breast.
These sessions tend to take place in the afternoon and evening hours. Breastfeeding moms will notice a few sure signs of hunger, such as nuzzling and rooting, soon after nursing ends. Often, little ones sleep for longer than usual when they finally finish a cluster feeding session.
Some parents confuse cluster feeding with colic, which occurs when babies cry for at least three hours at least three days a week for three weeks or longer. While these situations have similar symptoms, colic doesn't necessarily coincide with increased nursing.
Why And When Do Babies Need Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding tends to coincide with a significant developmental leap forward. Many new parents find it happens when the baby goes through a growth spurt, often around three and six weeks. During these phases, your little one might be fussy and want to feed repeatedly for a few hours in the evening.
Your body makes milk for your baby on demand, so cluster feeding is nature's way of helping increase the supply during growth spurts. You might notice that your infant sleeps longer than usual after a night of cluster feeding sessions (always a good thing for tired new parents!)
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Each episode of cluster feeding usually lasts a few days, so while it can be pretty exhausting for parents, it is temporary. Most babies grow out of cluster feeding entirely by about four months.
Some moms worry that cluster feeding corresponds with a low milk supply. Although that's not usually the case, consider consulting a lactation consultant or your baby's pediatrician if cluster feeding lasts longer than a few days.
Dealing With Cluster Feeding
When your little one enters a cluster feeding phase, try to nourish yourself as much as possible when the baby isn't nursing. Focus on healthy foods, hydration, and lots of rest. Avoid pressuring yourself to do anything but care for yourself and your infant, and reach out to your support circle to lean on friends and family if you can.
You can also use this time to get plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. This practice, also known as kangaroo care, has physical and emotional benefits for both mom and baby.
Soothing Techniques To Help Feed Your Newborn
During the fussy times between feedings, switch up your routine and try different ways to soothe your baby. If it's nice out where you live, step outside in the sunshine for a change of scenery. Some moms and dads swear by wearing the baby as they do their business around the house. Singing songs and playing white noise can also create a calming environment.
Keep these tips in mind if you feel tired from a cluster feeding phase. While this can be challenging for breastfeeding moms and partners, having the right tools can help you and your newborn get through it together.