Cluster feeding is when babies eat really frequently. It is perfectly normal and even expected with a breastfed baby.
Breastfed babies eat very frequently anyway (often 10-12 times per day in the early weeks) and most babies will have fairly predictable bouts of cluster feeding as they grow.
However, it’s important to know that not ALL cluster feeding is “normal.” Sometimes cluster feeding is a sign that baby is having trouble getting a full feeding the breast and therefore has to keep coming back for small meals. ⠀
This can happen for lots of reasons! Baby could be tongue tied or have a weak suck, or could be too sleepy at the breast to really feed well. It can also be a case of low milk supply or even oversupply.
Cluster feeding vs. colic
If your baby is fussier than usual, you might wonder if they have colic. Colic is similar to cluster feeding in that it can come on suddenly and often occurs in the evening.
A baby with colic usually can’t be soothed with nursing or formula. However, a cluster feeding baby will be soothed during nursing sessions.
Colic is defined as
- at least three hours of crying
- for at least three days a week,
- at least three weeks in a row.
It affects up to 40% of all babies worldwide. There’s no difference in risk between male or female babies, nor between breastfed or formula-fed babies.
Colic symptoms include:
- crying that sounds more like screaming
- face and body that appears tense or contorted
- crying at a predictable time each day, often in the evenings
- crying that peaks at six weeks and usually passes by 3 months old
How do you know if your baby’s cluster feeding is normal or if you might need extra help?
Normal cluster feeding:
- Usually happens at growth spurts/leap weeks
- Day 3
- Day 7
- At around 2-3 weeks
- At around 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- Lasts for 24-48 hours
- It is very common in the evening
- It is normal when you or baby are recovering from an illness or medical procedure
- Usually happens when they are going through a developmental spurt.
- It helps prevent jaundice.
- Promotes healthy weight gain.
- Helps you maintain a good supply.
These are tips on how to cope with cluster feeding:-
- Go with it – the more your breasts are stimulated the more milk they produce, so they will keep up with the demand.
- Get comfortable so you can feed correctly.
- Keep drinking – hydration is vital for breastfeeding success.
- Ask for help – get your partner to make you dinner, make sure you have your phone, book, charger, TV remote handy.
- You can fed whilst you are wearing the baby in a sling which does mean you’ll be able to move around!
- Be prepared – make sure your breastfeeding area has everything you may need and if you have older children you’ve got toys/books/paper and pens handy
- Look after yourself. You may not need it but a lanolin cream or other nipple cream could really help if you feel sore. If the soreness persists then see a breastfeeding consultant for advice.
You do not need to supplement with formula – your milk should be enough but you can express and feed the baby that way if you need a break.
How to soothe a fussy baby
There are many tricks other than feeding you can try to soothe a fussy baby. Some babies may be soothed by the same method every time. For other babies, what worked yesterday, or even earlier in the same day, may no longer work. Feel free to experiment with these or other ideas:
- Wrap baby in a swaddle to help recreate the experiences from the womb.
- Offer a dummy.
- Hold baby as you slowly walk or rock.
- Dim the lights and reduce other stimuli, such as loud noises.
- Use white noise, either from a white noise machine or cell phone app, or from a fan, gently running water, or even a vacuum. You can also create your own white noise by holding your baby upright on your chest and humming in low tones. Don’t forget they are used to the noise of your body around them so it won’t be upsetting to them.
- Hold them in different positions. They may be fussy because they’re uncomfortable or want a change of scenery.
- Sing peaceful songs, recite poems, or speak to baby in a soft, gentle voice.
You may need to seek out breastfeeding help if your baby:
They are cluster feeding for most of the day and night for more than 48 hours
The baby’s peeing or pooping enough or their nappy output has gone way down recently
The baby isn’t staying on their growth curve or is gaining weight too slowly