What is "cluster feeding" or "bunch feeding"?
Cluster feedings are apparent when a baby has periods when he/she continually breastfeeds for up to three hours at a time. (it may be longer or shorter or several short feedings)
Sometimes a baby might fall asleep on the breast, refusing to let go and wanting to nurse more when waking. Your baby may be cranky, fussy and extremely demanding during these times.
These first few weeks will establish your milk supply. Life will get easier, but for now, life may be a little unpredictable. You need to follow your baby's lead.
Don't let anyone scare you into thinking that you are not producing enough milk. Many moms may hear comments like " Should she be eating again?" "Do you think she's getting enough?" This is enough to make any mother worry. Try to surround yourself with women who have successfully breastfed their babies. La Leche meetings are an excellent place to find this type of support.
Putting your baby to the breast when he/she cries will not spoil them!! Your baby may be fussy and crying a lot, and you might be feeling frustrated because you have tried bouncing him, burping him, a diaper change, but he continues to cry.
There is no "right" or "normal" time to wait between feedings. If your baby stops crying when you breastfeed him, then that is what he wants. If your baby doesn't want to nurse, he will let you know. But, he may respond with relief, as if he's saying "finally! Why did you take so long?" All babies are physiologically made for constant contact and feeding. Keeping your baby on a feeding schedule is not the way nature intended it to be.
Are You Enduring a Cluster Feeding Evening Again?
Cluster nursing usually happens in the evenings, but can occur any time during the day or in the middle of the night.
Cluster breastfeeding is very common in newborn babies. Cluster feeding at night can become very tedious; Mom and Baby will usually end up sleeping in the same bed.
During the day, the baby might only breastfeed a few times and sleep between feedings. In the evenings, he/she might try to catch up on lost feedings with a period of continuous feeding.
NB: Cluster sessions do not indicate a low milk supply!
Supplementing your baby with formula will cause your body to produce less milk. By allowing the extra feedings, you ensure that your body is producing just the right amount of milk for your little one.
Is your baby getting in enough milk?
Possible Causes of Cluster Feedings
- Most of the time, it's normal development. A new-born baby is not fully skilled at nursing yet, he/she has a small mouth, small tummy and a digestive system that is still developing. This is why your baby might need more time at the breast. On top of this, your breasts are still adapting to the amount of milk required, and the constant nursing will ensure a good supply of breast milk.
- Growth spurts.
- Acid reflux.
- A weak suck can cause many sucking issues, such as tongue tie.
- Breast milk supply is generally lower in the evenings and evening feed breast milk is not as rich as morning breast milk.
- Your baby might have extra sucking and bonding needs in the evening.
- Colic can also cause a baby to want to breastfeed more often.
- Milk flow is sometimes slower in the evenings.
- Cluster feeding babies are usually seeking closeness (maybe because mom is working during the day). Learn more about comfort sucking here.
How Long Does a Bunch Feeding Last?
It depends on the baby, but usually, it only lasts the first month and then returns during growth spurts, i.e., month three, six etc.
- Prepare your activities around a cluster feed, if you know that your baby usually cluster feeds at a certain time of the day.
- Take your baby to the pediatrician to make sure that the problem is not caused by GERD.
- Get your little one to breastfeed while in a sling; this gives you more freedom to move around and also helps calm a fussy, gassy baby.
- Keep yourself busy while your baby is breastfeeding; read your favorite magazine, watch a movie or chat on the phone.
- Swaddling your baby can calm him/her for breastfeeding, too.
- Breastfeed on demand and avoid sticking to a feeding schedule, as this can make your baby even more fussy and miserable.
- Newborn cluster feeding is a temporary thing and learning to work around it and accept it, will help you enjoy your breastfeeding experience more.
- Infant cluster feeding can work to the advantage of mothers who are returning to work, as babies who cluster feed, usually sleep longer at night. A mother can use this time to relax and bond with her baby.
- Breastfeeding in the laid back breastfeeding position can improve milk transfer because it allows your baby to position him/herself at the breast. Most mothers find this position much more comfortable too.