Everything You Need to Know About Cluster Feeding and Your Newborn
If you’re breastfeeding, you might find that your little one sometimes keeps you busier than usual from time to time. Occasional sudden increases in the frequency of feeds, usually caused by growth spurts, are sometimes known as cluster feeding.
Cluster feeding affects breastfeeding moms in particular; however, formula-fed babies can also feed more frequently at certain stages of development.
Why do babies cluster feed? When does cluster feeding start? When might it end? What’s the best way to cope with a cluster-feeding baby? Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more.
What Is Cluster Feeding?
Cluster feeding is a term used to describe when a breastfed baby wants to be fed more often than usual at certain times of the day.
Every baby is different, so it’s difficult to define precisely when normal feeding crosses the line to become cluster feeding. As a breastfeeding mom, what you’ll notice is a marked increase in the number of feeds compared to what’s been normal so far.
But what does normal even mean, given that the frequency of your little one’s feeds tends to change anyway as your little one grows?
Well, right after birth, your newborn baby’s stomach is still very small, so in the first few days it’s normal for your little one to eat very often — perhaps every one to three hours — to get all the nutrients she needs.
Then, during your baby’s first few weeks and later when your baby is about 1 month old and 2 months old, her stomach gets bigger and she gradually starts taking more milk at each feed. The gaps between feeds also usually get longer.
If your baby starts cluster feeding, this trend is suddenly reversed. When this happens, it might seem as if you’re back to square one, and that your little one has reverted to the constant feeding you experienced in those first few days or weeks.
But don’t worry: Cluster feeding is a common and normal stage in your baby’s development. While it may be a little more tiring for you, it’s actually helping her grow and develop.
Why Does a Newborn Baby Start Cluster Feeding?
Bouts of cluster feeding can occur if your little one is having a growth spurt and needs more food to fuel this rapid development.
Despite their name, growth spurts aren’t always related to an increase in your baby’s size and weight; you could also see a spike in your little one’s appetite when she’s working on developing new mental or motor skills.
In the first year, babies tend to experience the most rapid growth in the first two months after birth, so there may be a higher chance of cluster feeding during this period.
A growth spurt often occurs at around the beginning of the second week, and another one is common between three and six weeks, but every baby is different. There’s no knowing precisely when your little one’s hunger pangs will strike, or how long the cluster feeding phase will last.
Do Formula-Fed Babies Cluster Feed?
The short answer is yes, they can. Although formula-fed babies usually feed less often than breastfed ones because breast milk is digested faster than formula, formula-fed babies, of course, also experience growth spurts — and the associated munchies — as well.
If you’re formula feeding your little one, there’s a chance that she may eat more frequently — and even cluster feed — during these periods, too; but it’s also possible that the interval between feeds will stay more or less the same and she’ll just want to take a little more at each feed.
How Long Does Cluster Feeding Last?
Feeding patterns can vary continuously for as long as your baby is breastfed or formula-fed, but bouts of cluster feeding generally occur during the first few weeks and months after your little one is born.
How to Deal With Cluster Feeding
Bouts of cluster feeding can make those first few months — already a tiring time — seem more challenging, but it’s important to go with the flow and ride out those periods of more intensive feeding. Remember, the growth spurts won’t last forever.
In the meantime, try and get as much rest as you can in the “calmer” periods, and take steps to avoid getting sore nipples, such as making sure your baby’s mouth is deeply latched, and using different breastfeeding positions from time to time.
Rather than setting a rigid timetable for feeding your baby, keep an eye out for feeding cues — the signs that he’s hungry — and let him feed “on demand” as much as possible.
Signs that your baby is hungry include turning towards your breast (rooting) if he’s breastfeeding, as well as smacking his lips or putting a fist in his mouth and sucking on it.
Our downloadable go-to breastfeeding guide is also a great source of tips and advice.
How to Tell if Your Baby Is Still Eating the Right Amount
All the changes in feeding patterns that can occur during those first few months of your little one’s life can be confusing. If you’re at all unsure, check in with your baby’s healthcare provider.
In the meantime, here are some ways to check your baby is getting enough milk:
Pay attention to your baby’s feeding cues. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s hard to be sure exactly how much milk your little one’s had. Keep in mind that your baby’s feeding sessions can vary in length, and he’ll usually stop eating when he’s feeling full. If you’re bottle-feeding, you might be unsure whether your little one has gotten all the breast milk or formula he needs from the bottle. Signs that he’s still hungry might include putting his hand in his mouth or smacking his lips after draining the feeding bottle dry. Fidgeting or looking distracted mid-feed could mean he’s no longer hungry. As your little one’s feeding patterns become established, you’ll soon get to know his unique signals and cues.
Keep an eye on your baby’s growth. As long as your little one’s size and weight gain are on track, he’s probably eating the right amount. Your baby’s healthcare provider will be keeping track of all this for you.
Count those dirty diapers. What goes in must come out, so counting wet and poopy diapers is another way of keeping tabs on your baby’s intake of fluid and nutrients. After the first 5 days, around 6 or more heavy wet diapers and about 3 or 4 poopy ones every 24 hours is a good sign that your little one is getting enough milk. Incidentally, all those diapers — whether they end up filled with meconium, regular poop, or pee — could be earning you great gifts, discounts, and coupons. Download the Pampers Rewards app to get started.
Will Cluster Feeding Make My Breast Milk Run Out?
Your little one’s feeding actually stimulates milk production, so in most cases your body will ramp up the supply to meet demand during periods of cluster feeding.
Stress or illness may decrease your milk supply temporarily. Ways of overcoming these temporary glitches include staying hydrated, eating healthily, and getting a little more rest (if you can).
Some medications can also affect your milk supply. If you think a medicine that you’re taking could be reducing the amount of breast milk you make, talk to your healthcare provider. Your provider might be able to suggest an alternative medication for you while you’re breastfeeding.
If you think you might not be producing enough milk, you can always ask your provider or a lactation consultant for personalized advice on how to increase your breast milk supply.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Caring for a newborn baby is a full-time job and, just like any other rewarding occupation, it can have its more relaxed and its busier periods. For most moms, times of cluster feeding fall into the latter category!
But there’s a big upside to all of this: As you watch your little one growing and changing from day to day, simply knowing that each bout of cluster feeding is fueling the next stage of your baby’s development will make the extra effort seem worth it in the end.
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