What is cluster feeding?

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If your baby is always nursing, you may be wondering if something is wrong or if your milk supply is inadequate, but Rose deVigne-Jackiewicz, an RN and international board-certified lactation consultant, says this so-called “cluster feeding” can actually be very normal. Many babies tend to cluster feed in the evening, but it’s also normal if their fussy cluster feeding time happens earlier in the day or even multiple times a day. Read on to find out why babies cluster feed and how to cope.

Why do babies cluster feed?

There are some theories, but the exact reasons are unknown. Some theories include: boosting mom’s milk supply, eating more to prepare for a long sleep, needing extra attention from mom, and growth spurts. Some think that babies suffering from GERD or colic may want to nurse more in an attempt to soothe their digestion problems. The simplest answer may be that many babies are most awake and alert in the early evening and this tends to coincide with cluster feeding habits.

TIP: While feeding your baby in a sling, you keep your hands free to get on with other things. Want more information about cluster feedings? Listen to our podcast episode or read our transcript!

When should we be concerned?

It’s important to keep in mind that cluster feeding can be very normal, especially in the first 4-6 weeks of a baby’s life. If you talk to your healthcare provider about the issue, they should ask about the age of the baby and the general feeding pattern. If the baby is feeding all the time (i.e. every hour), they never seem satisfied, they’re not gaining weight, and/or they’re not sleeping, that may be a reason for concern. An easy way to check on baby’s health is to make sure he/she is gaining weight. If they are, that’s a good sign.

Any advice for parents struggling with normal cluster feeding?

Keep in mind that babies often go through growth spurts around 2 weeks, 8 weeks,  and 3 months. The cluster feeding may be a short-lived phase. In the meantime, the following tips can help:

  • Try to accept it/prepare for it. Grab a glass of water, a snack, and get comfortable on the couch.
  • Don’t plan any big activities during cluster feeding periods and try to stick close to home.
  • Consider babywearing – this practice allows the baby to be close while giving mom the ability to multitask.
  • If you think the baby is craving skin-to-skin time and contact, try giving Dad or Grandma the chance to offer it, so you can get a break.
  • Try nursing while lying down – this position can be very relaxing.

Should we offer the bottle?

If it is truly cluster feeding and baby is gaining weight as expected, then deVigne-Jackiewicz advises against offering a bottle. She says that many well-meaning family and friends will encourage you to “give yourself a break,” but this approach can actually interfere with breastfeeding if given too early on. It could also inhibit the mother’s milk supply.

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