Your baby probably slept more than he did eat in the first few weeks as a newborn, but as he grows bigger he'll need more nutrients and calories, meaning he may start to feed a lot more than normal.
Cluster feeding can be a pretty exhausting time, as you might feel like you're doing nothing but feeding. But don't worry, here's everything you need to know about cluster feeding and how to manage it!
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds more, often every 20 minutes, and even more frequently in-between his normal feeding times. As your baby grows, he'll need more nutrients, so cluster feeding is his way of getting those nutrients and calories as his appetite increases.
It's important to remember that when your baby starts to cluster feed, that there is nothing wrong with your milk supply and it isn't that your baby isn't getting enough milk on his first feed, so you don't need to think about supplementing with formula. His instincts know that the more often he feeds, the more milk will be produced.
If you find you're struggling with feeding, remember to consult your GP or Health Visitor.
Some parents often confuse cluster feeding with colic. The major difference between cluster feeding and colic is that colic isn't usually soothed by feeding.
Concerned your baby might have colic? Read more about colic here.
Cluster feeding and milk supply
Your milk supply is cleverly tailored to how much your baby's demands. Naturally, your baby was sleeping more when he was a newborn meaning you may have gotten into a feeding pattern. But it's normal for his intake of breast milk or formula to double during his first six months of life and by cluster feeding, your smart tot can ensure there's plenty more where that came from.
Cluster feeding signs
- You'll start to recognise your baby's cry for when he's hungry, and he might cry more frequently when he's cluster feeding.
- When your baby starts to sleep more during the night, be prepared for more feeding during the day, too. Your baby will feed more to make up for missed feeds during the night.
- They won't stop crying until they're fed
- They want to eat constantly
- They seem content when eating
- Regularly have wet and dirtied nappies
Cluster feeding and fussiness often go hand in hand but if you're unsure whether or not your fussy baby is cluster feeding, try other ways to soothe him as well as feeding such as swaddling, rocking or even using some white noise.
Read more: What is power pumping and how will it help my milk supply?
Newborn cluster feeding
Many breastfeeding mums experience their newborn baby's cluster feeding right when they're just a few days or even weeks old. It can be hard to know straight away whether your baby is cluster feeding when they are this young because they are yet to establish a routine for you to compare this to.
Do formula-fed babies cluster feed?
Yep! Just like with breastfed babies, if your little one is bottle-feeding with formula or breast milk, he may still cluster feed when experiencing a growth spurt. Formula-fed babies do tend to feed less generally simply because breast milk digests quicker than formula.
Why do babies cluster feed?
Many researchers are still unsure as to why babies cluster feed. Most importantly, although cluster feeding can be hard, it's a totally normal developmental stage in your babies early stages.
According to Sioned Hilton, registered International Certified Lactation Consultant, cluster feeding is a way for mum to bond with her baby.
'It is often thought of as nature’s way of encouraging baby to have close baby to mum cuddles, stimulate tomorrow’s breast milk supply, that in turn boosts feeding hormones.
'Cluster feeding can also coincide with growth spurts (typically around 3 weeks and 3 months). Even if you have established a routine based on your baby’s demands, you may still find that he has periods of cluster feeding, particularly if he is unwell or needs reassurance.'
How to manage cluster feeding
Cluster feeding is completely normal and it's important to remember to just relax and follow your baby's lead. Ways you can help deal with cluster feeding are:
- If you're breastfeeding, try expressing in between feeds to keep up your milk supply.
- Drink plenty of water and eat well.
- Let your family and partner support you when they can.
- Keep yourself entertained during feeds with your favourite boxsets or podcasts.
- Try and change positions when you can to avoid getting sore and uncomfortable.
- Make use of your sling or baby carrier. Pop your baby in a sling and cluster feed on the go if you feel up to it.
Many mums are often also concerned that cluster feeding means their milk supply is low, but this is usually not the case. Your doctor or midwife will easily be able to tell if your baby isn't getting enough milk from their weight, so if you do have concerns about milk supply, speak to your midwife.
How long does cluster feeding last?
It may be completely natural but that doesn't mean cluster feeding isn't completely knackering and you're more than entitled to wonder when it'll end. The good news is that bouts of cluster feeding don't tend to go on for longer than two days so the end is in sight.