As a new mum, you may have heard the term cluster feeding used by other parents or healthcare professionals. But what exactly is cluster feeding, and why do babies require it? This blog will explain the reasons behind cluster feeding and how long it will last.
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding refers to when newborn babies need to be frequently fed, but for shorter periods of time, typically for 10-15 minutes at a time for two to three hours.
Breastfed newborns need to feed frequently – at least 8-12 times in a 24-hour period. This is because breastmilk is more easily digested than formula.
Baby’s stomach is the size of a small marble when first born so it needs to be replenished more often with frequent feedings. Even as baby grows and their stomach capacity increases, it can feel like your baby won’t stop feeding, especially at night — but don’t worry as this is completely normal. Newborn babies prefer short feeds over the course of a few hours, instead of just feeding once. Find out more about baby’s stomach size here.
Cluster Feeding in Newborns
As newborn babies need to feed very often, especially in the early weeks and months, they teach your body how much milk to make to get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. When baby has the instinct to feed and be close to you, it can often make you feel like you’re feeding your baby constantly… but remember this is very normal and it doesn’t last forever.
How to Identify If Your Baby is Cluster Feeding?
Newborn babies have very unpredictable eating and sleeping patterns, this makes it difficult for mothers to identify whether their baby is going through cluster feeding, or not getting enough breastmilk due to low milk production.
However, some obvious signs of cluster feeding are:
- Will stop crying and feel content after they’re fed
- They’re showing their usual hunger signs
- They’re only a few days or weeks old
- Want to constantly eat
- Have regular wet and dirty nappies
Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?
Cluster feeding happens when babies want to feed more often and in a more condensed period of time. Cluster feeding happens more frequently at night and can coincide with baby preparing for or going through a growth spurt, preparing for longer stretches of sleep (though this is not always the case!) or they may be catching up if they didn’t eat as much during the day.
Life changes can also impact baby and they may want to be closer with you resulting in longer feeding sessions. This is often the case when baby is feeling discomfort from being ill or teething. It can also coincide with a change in your situation like a return to work, or some other discomfort in baby’s life.
At first you or concerned relatives may think this fussiness is down to your milk supply, however this is unlikely.
Soothing, rocking, walking and offering the breast are the best things you can do. Remembering that this will pass is critical! It can be exhausting, but it won’t last forever.
Is Cluster Feeding Related to Low Breast Milk Supply?
You may worry that this constant need to feed may be due to your baby not getting enough breast milk because of low milk supply. If the baby is gaining weight and needs nappy changes a few times a day, it means they’re getting enough milk.
However, if you notice anything concerning, consult your doctor. For more information on low breast milk supply, click here.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
If you find you’re feeding your newborn often you may be wondering when cluster feeding will stop. It’s important to remember that feeding frequency changes all the time depending on circumstance, but it usually occurs in the first few weeks and months.
However, breastfeeding is not just about the nutrition, though that is very important, it is also about baby wanting to be close to mum. You and your baby will have many ups and downs and you will both get through this. Be patient, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a breastfeeding specialist or healthcare professional for tips and reassurance with this to make your breastfeeding journey as easy as possible.
Is Cluster Feeding Good?
Cluster feeding is great for your baby as it’s part of their development. Benefits of cluster feeding are:
- It will help your baby sleep for longer
- Emotionally and neurologically regulate the baby
- Increases skin-to-skin time, which is great for both mum and the baby
- Increases your milk supply
However, there are also some disadvantages, mainly for mothers – but remember these are only temporary.
- It may increase nipple soreness – apply our Lanolin Nipple Cream for relief
- It’s mentally and physically draining
How to Manage Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding can be a tiring and stressful task, here are some ways you can manage this:
- Rest as much as you can before your cluster feeding hours kick in
- Eat well and drink loads of water as breastfeeding requires a lot of energy and can dehydrate you
- Find something to watch or listen to while you breastfeed your baby, this will make time go quicker
- If you have other kids, create a nursing area in the living room where you can play with them while you feed your newborn
- Practice nursing your baby in a baby carrier so you can walk and do other tasks
- Ask your partner, friends, or family to help with the housework
- Change your breastfeeding positions so your body doesn’t get sore
Overall, cluster feeding is completely normal and only lasts a couple of weeks. If you have any questions or concerns, visit your doctor who will be able to assess your situation independently. Otherwise, you can access our breastfeeding resources for general information.
Don’t forget, our social media pages are full of mums in the same situation as you and can share their experiences in order to help you too. Join in the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.__PRESENT