Cluster feeding can be an intimidating expression for new parents. It is the term used for when a baby's feeding times are bunched together. Cluster feeding is very common in newborns and young babies. Some mothers also report cluster feeding with older babies who are approaching a growth spurt.
The Spacing of Feedings
When babies space their feedings closer together at certain times of the day, it can often be followed by a longer sleep period than usual. It can be exasperating for new moms battling exhaustion because cluster feeding can feel never-ending. It most often occurs in the evening; however, cluster feeding can happen at any time of the day. Babies are often more fussy during periods of cluster feeding, or rather, cluster feeding often coincides with your baby's fussy time. Nursing, snoozing, crying, nursing, snoozing, nursing, nursing, nursing, crying, snoozing, crying, and nursing again. It feels like baby is nursing constantly, while they are pulling off, fussing, nursing, then fussing again.
The first thing you need to know about cluster feeding is that it is perfectly normal, and there is nothing wrong with your milk supply. In fact, this is exactly how babies increase the supply: by demand. While it can be unsatisfying when baby is fussy and hungry right after nursing, it does not mean you aren't making enough milk and need to supplement. On the contrary, giving your baby a bottle will only tell your body that you need less milk, not more. Studies show that after baby is born, the supply of milk is no longer driven primarily by hormones, but by milk removal, which is driven by baby's appetite. That means the more baby grows, the more baby eats; the more baby eats, the more milk your body produces. Cluster feeding actually helps stimulate that increase in supply.
Addressing Frequent Feedings
It is natural for nursing mothers to worry about whether their babies are getting enough milk. The fussiness and the frequency of cluster feeding can increase those worries. Remember that it is normal for nursing babies to eat more often, as breast milk is digested faster than formula, and cluster feeding is a normal pattern in breastfed babies. Also, formula fed babies experience fussy periods as well, but breastfed mothers have a built-in way to comfort them. Cluster feeding is often most noticeable during growth spurts, and babies unquestionably have more than their fair share of those!
The best thing you can do to keep up with your baby's feeding demands during a period of clustering is to keep yourself hydrated and comfortable. Don't be afraid to follow your baby's cues on when they want to be fed. Even babies who previously kept a spaced-out routine in feedings can suddenly experience growth spurts and start cluster feeding. Trust your body and baby to find the way through these changes and work to a new rhythm naturally. Have patience and if possible, recruit help from dad or others to work around these draining hours by bringing you plenty of water, snacks, and stress relieving activities. Cluster feeding can seem daunting, but it is also a wonderful sign of exciting growth for baby and your journey of motherhood.