Table of contents
- What is cluster feeding?
- When does cluster feeding occur?
- How long can cluster feeding last?
- Cluster feeding signs
- Reasons for cluster feeding
- Are cluster feedings beneficial?
- How to cope with cluster feedings
- Is a breastfeeding schedule necessary?
- Will cluster feeding lead to overfeeding?
What is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster Feeding (sometimes called ‘bunch feeding’) is what the word suggests. Feeds that are ‘clustered’ together; this occurrence is normal!
Cluster feeding is apparent when a baby breastfeeds continually, usually for about three to four hours at once. Some babies may fall asleep at the breast and refuse to stop breastfeeding.
Clustering feeding at night (before bedtime) is most common. Some babies may cluster feed during the day too. Bunch feeding is common amongst newborns but might occur during growth spurts when a baby is older.
Breastfeeding provides comfort and relaxation to a baby, especially when the baby is ill or in pain. Breastfeeding can also be used to calm and reassure a baby. Non-nutritive sucking is more important than what most would like to believe. It only becomes a problem when the mother starts feeling overwhelmed.
When Does Clustering Feeding Start?
It is common for babies to start cluster feeding during the first month and between 6 to 8 weeks. So, when does cluster feeding happen? All babies are different, and your baby may cluster feed at any time.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
So, how long do newborns cluster feed? It depends on the individual baby and their reason for cluster feeding (mentioned below).
Is My Baby Cluster Feeding?
Not sure if your baby is Bunch feeding or not? Ask yourself the following questions.
Does your baby:
- Feed constantly?
- Feed with only short pauses in between feeds?
- Feed for only a few minutes at a time?
- Fuss after sucking for short periods?
- Seem irritable or needy?
If you answered yes to at least 2 of the above questions, your baby is Bunch Feeding! If you suspect that something else is causing this, contact your healthcare professional.
Why Does a Baby Cluster Feed?
There might be a few reasons why your baby cluster feeds.
Possible Reasons for Cluster Feedings include:
- Your baby might be trying to fill their tummy before bedtime; this may result in them sleeping more extended stretches after Clustered Feeding.
- Growth spurts. Babies need to do a lot of growing and will, therefore, go through a few growth spurts. They need the energy to grow and thus need extra breast milk during these times.
- Colic and Acid reflux. The sucking motion while breastfeeding triggers movements in the intestines, thus helping the milk to move along faster and to get digested quicker; this means that constant feeding is soothing for those with colic and reflux.
- Your milk flow is slower in the evenings and not as rich as in the mornings.
- Your baby might need some extra bonding and comfort. If you're working during the day, your baby might need this time to bond more.
- Some experts believe it's nature’s way of telling your body (via cluster feeds) that your baby needs more milk to assist with the immediate growing phase! Whether it’s a growth spurt or to match the increase in demand, milk production is stimulated by constant feeding.
Why Should I Allow Clustered Feedings?
- Bunch feeding will boost or build up your milk supply. The more your baby feeds, the more milk you’ll produce; this is great for building up a breast milk backup stock for when you need to go back to work or plan a vacation.
- Some experts say that the extra feeds before bedtime will keep a baby’s tummy full for extended periods. Therefore, your baby will sleep for longer stretches. And the longer your baby sleeps, the longer you sleep.
- Your baby receives extra immune protection and benefits from increased gut protection!
- You get to relax and rest at the same time.
- You spend more bonding time with your baby.
How to Deal with Cluster Feeding
I Feel so Helpless! What Can I Do?
- Relax. The fact that your baby is continuously breastfeeding does not necessarily indicate a low milk supply. The more you relax, the calmer your baby will be. If you are worried that you have a low milk supply, you can read the signs that show whether your baby is drinking enough.
- Spend some Skin-to-Skin time with your baby. The benefits of Skin-to-Skin contact are endless. Bunch feeding can calm your baby in an instant and boosts your hormone production so your body can cope with your baby’s demands. The skin contact triggers the release of Oxytocin, which soothes you and your baby.
- ‘Wear’ your baby during the day or when possible. When you keep a baby close to you, they tend to be much more relaxed and comfortable. Your closeness might be all your little one needs. Try breastfeeding your baby while in a sling; this gives you the freedom to use your hands.
- Swaddle your baby for sleep time; this has a calming effect on a baby and may increase the time a baby sleeps at once.
- Stay hydrated and healthy. Look after your body so that it can function optimally. Drink lots of water and eat healthy food.
- Get comfy. If you know what’s going to follow, you might as well use the time to get comfortable and do something you like, even if it’s just relaxing in front of the telly or playing a game on your phone.
- Quickly respond to your baby’s feeding cues. Let them feed on demand; this will keep your baby from getting frustrated.
- Take a break. If things get frustrating, ask your partner to help. While he holds the baby, you can make a cup of coffee or go for a short walk. You’ll feel much more refreshed and relaxed afterward.
- Get a breastfeeding partner; this can be your spouse or your sister. My sister used to sit with me for hours on end. You will be surprised at how quickly time flies when you have someone to chat with. Things are also much easier when you have someone who can fetch your snacks and charger!
Do You Think You Need a Breastfeeding Schedule?
Are you confused about how often you need to feed your baby, whether or not you should wake your baby for feedings, or if you should put them on a feeding schedule? A strict schedule is not needed. What would be helpful is a sleep routine; this can help your baby wind down at night and will encourage a longer stretch of sleep at night. See sleep routine.
Learn more about feeding patterns and breastfeeding schedules.
Can You Overfeed Your Baby by Allowing Cluster Feeding?
No, you cannot overfeed your breastfed baby. Your baby will nurse when he needs comfort and nurse when he is hungry…both of these needs should be met.
If you have an oversupply of milk, and your baby is excessively gassy, has green, explosive stools, and seems fussy most of the time, you may have a lactose overload issue. This can also cause a baby to drink more because they only receive the watery foremilk, which is loaded with too much lactose. See how to fix a foremilk-hindmilk issue.
Comments, Questions & Answers
This is the first place I've ever read/heard the term "cluster feeding." My first daughter did this quite a bit, and every attempt I made to stop it failed miserably, so I finally gave in and made the best of it.
Everyone, including my midwife and lactation consultant, said I should try to break the habit she was forming. But I let her go on clustering feeding, co-sleeping, and constantly clinging to me.
When she was just over 2.5 years old, she quit breastfeeding, co-sleeping and potty trained all in the same week. Shortly after that, I took her to daycare for the first time, and she ran off happily, not caring whether I stayed.
Some kids are just born a little insecure, and I firmly believe that if you just let them know that you'll be there as long or as much as they need you, they will relax and grow out of the behavior sooner. It's nice to finally read something that says following my instincts was the best thing to do.
Actually pretty helpful. My daughter is a week old. Sometimes she will nurse for about an hour, be done, and pass right out. Other times she will nurse for hours on end and right when I think she may be done. She wants more.
She usually likes to wake up and nurse until she falls back asleep. Now and then, she will be done and stay awake and relax for a while before she will either pass out or nurse again until she is passed out.
I usually let her nurse on one side until I notice she is slowing down, burp her for a good minute or two at least, then switch sides. She is usually on each side for about 15-30 minutes before I need to switch her.
And she usually never cries unless she is hungry or whenever she wants to be held.
Clustering feeding/nap questions
My son is now two weeks and one day old. So far, we've been breastfeeding on demand every 1-3 hours, swaddling him in the night, and having him sleep on his side. That has allowed him to sleep for five hours at a time.
During the day, when he sleeps, we put him in his bouncy seat or swing. The doctor told me this week that I cannot swaddle him anymore, I also have to wait at least two hours between feedings, and I need to put him on his back and stomach for a few hours during the day.
She says that if we swaddle him, he'll work his way out of the swaddle and wake up, so we'll have to get up to re-swaddle him. And we can't cluster feed because he'll get used to it and expect to be fed every time he cries.
So the past two days have been a living hell. He hates being put on his back and stomach and will only sleep for twenty minutes at a time when I position him like that.
Additionally, he hasn't been sleeping because he's always hungry since I have to wait two hours to feed him. We've been miserable and decided to only swaddle in the night because we'd rather wake up once every five hours to re-swaddle/feed instead of every twenty minutes to try and soothe him without a swaddle.
We've given up on him sleeping on his back or stomach during the night because the same thing happens, waking up every twenty minutes.
I've been in tears not being able to feed him when he's hungry, and I don't know what to do. When I finally feed him, I have to fight to get him to stay awake so he can do fifteen minutes on each breast. Because of that, I don't enjoy breastfeeding as I used to since I have to fight him to keep him from falling asleep.
I don't know what to do. I want to do what the doctor says, but I want to feed my baby if he's obviously hungry. The doctor has made our lives miserable because of these stupid rules. Any advice?
"Rules" of parenting
The first and most important rule in parenting is to do what feels right for you, your baby, and your family.
It seems to me that you had a great system that worked very well for you and your baby!
Doctors are supposed to be people we always trust to know best, but that is not the case, especially regarding breastfeeding and parenting.
Follow your instincts. If your baby sleeps better on their side, do that. If the baby is hungry every hour, feed them!
You can NOT spoil a newborn. By responding to your baby's cues, you teach them to trust you.
Follow your instincts. Ignore your doctor, who is NOT a specialist in breastfeeding and is giving you the standard for FORMULA-fed babies. It may be challenging, but your baby will thank you.
Clustering Feeding Issues
My son is seven weeks old, and every evening at about five, he wants to nurse until about 11.
He spends 10-15 minutes on each side eating and then comfort nurses for about 30 minutes on the last side.
Then he will take a 10-minute break. During eating time, I can hear a good suck-swallow rhythm, but during comfort nursing, his suck is weaker with no or little swallowing.
It is overwhelming as Dad can hardly spend time with him, and I am the only one who can comfort him.
I know it is normal and will end eventually. He is content after eating the rest of the day. I want some reassurance that I am doing the right thing. He is my third. My older two didn't go through this phase. He was also a month early. Thanks!
Boobs, the original pacifier
Breasts are the original pacifier. If your baby uses you to comfort nurse, you have a few options. You can sit/lay and nurse baby, wear your baby and nurse, or give your baby a fake plastic pacifier if he will take one.
It may be easier for dad to comfort baby if your baby can't see or smell you (or your boobs) in the room. It may also help if your baby is wrapped in a shirt you wore the day before or if you drape it over dad's shoulder and have baby rest against it. Dad and baby need to work together and find their rhythm; after a good feeding, they should be left for a bit to do so.
It can be frustrating for mom to hear her baby cry and not run over and instantly fix everything, but it can frustrate dad also not to be as easily able to comfort his baby. Give it time.
It sounds like the baby is well fed and generally happy and just needs time to adjust to dad being around at night.
Night time cluster feeding and reverse sleeping?
(Greenville, SC, USA)
I'm a new mom, and my baby is about 10-11 days old. At first, when my milk came in, I was struggling with engorgement, but after that evened out through pumping, my left nipple started to hurt a lot and crack and bleed.
The Lactation consultant I talked to said to use bacitracin and pump on that side and use a slow flow bottle Dr. Brown's, because she had seen me and seen that my baby had a good latch and did not think that this would undo the progress we had made.
So I started pumping on the left and feeding him the slow-flow bottle. He did great. And since my right nipple was OK, we continued to nurse at every feeding from that too. Last night, it scared me because he did some cluster feeding, and I felt maybe he got too much from the bottle because he went after it voraciously.
And we had a 3-4 hour clustering feeding session between the bottle and my right breast, and I even brought my left breast back into play, but afterward decided that wasn't best because it hurt again after nursing.
We have also been following the 1-3 hr day schedule and 2-4 hr. This has been difficult because I don't get much sleep at night because he is a slow nurser.
I'm wondering if I should approach it with more of an on-demand thing during the day and hope for longer stretches at night.
Any wisdom on how to get longer stretches at night? I have been letting him nap for a long time during the day, and I heard that might hurt their nighttime patterns.
Breastfeeding on Demand
I always recommend breastfeeding on demand. I do not believe in schedules, especially now that your baby has reached the two-week mark.
It could be that your baby is going through a growth spurt. During these times, a baby sometimes drinks more than usual, it's nothing to worry about, and feeding frequency should normalize again within a few days.
In connection with your nipple that cracks and bleeds. Have you tried different breastfeeding positions on that side? Sometimes, when a baby is positioned differently, it can reduce friction.
Have you tried using lanolin?
The long naps during the day could affect the night's sleeping pattern. Is he sleeping longer than 3-hour stretches during the day? If so, I know it can be challenging to get them to wake up...you could try. Or try to breastfeed him while he is half asleep; this will ensure that he is not as hungry during night hours. Reverse cycling is common and natural...but I know it's not easy for a mom. (My little girl did this for a few months)
I hope this was helpful. Let me know how things go! I would love to hear from you again
I am on my second baby and let them both create their schedules. I feed on demand, and sometimes I feel like it is every 20 minutes. My first would take many naps during the day and eat every two hours at night. My second (12 weeks) has started staying up most of the day and sleeping for more time at night. Last night was five hours before she woke up to eat.
How many days does cluster feeding last?
(New South Wales)
Can anyone tell me because I have no experience in these matters? Is it normal for a mother to feed her new baby daughter night and day from birth? The baby is now three months old and feeds every 2 to 3 hours. It somehow seems a little too much.
Yes, that is perfect timing! Your newborn should be breastfeeding at least every 2 to 3 hours during the day and at night. Here from about two months, your baby might decide to start sleeping through at night if you are one of the lucky ones!
You can be grateful your baby is not breastfeeding more often than that! Mine loved to comfort feed and would spend an hour on the breast each time she breastfed.