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Cluster feeding describes a pattern of feeding where your baby will want to feed more frequently than usual. This can happen at different times after your baby is born.
The following list can be signs that your baby is cluster feeding:
- Wanting to feed more frequently than normal
- Feeds for a shorter amount of time
- Wants to feed continuously
- Is fussy or cries more often during these feedings
- Still rooting to feed even after draining the breast of milk
- Fussing immediately after eating
- Is 2 to 3 weeks of age, 6 weeks old, 3 months or 6 months old
- Still has regular wet and soiled diapers
Why is my baby always hungry?
There are plenty of explanations as to why your baby seems hungry all the time. Cluster feeding is your baby’s way of getting your body to produce more milk.
This routine does not mean that you do not have enough milk, but rather, your baby is getting your body ready to produce more milk.
1. Growth spurts
Babies will go through periods where they will grow significantly and require more feedings. These times can range from baby to baby, but they typically happen around 2 or 3 weeks of age, 6 weeks old, 3 months old, and 6 months of age.
It may helpful to keep track on a calendar of your baby’s cluster feedings to help gauge when to expect another period of frequent feedings later on in their growth period.
2. Sleeping longer
Babies who are beginning to sleep longer in the evenings will often cluster feed during the day to fill themselves up before a long rest. This cluster feeding schedule will also give your body cues to make more milk during the day and less in the evenings.
3. Your baby is sick
Cluster feeding can happen when your baby is sick with a cold and needs comfort since they are not feeling well.
Having a cold can be hard on a little one, especially when they can’t tell you that they are thirsty or are uncomfortable
Feed your baby as often as they require, especially if they are fighting a cold. An increase in the frequency of fluids during this time will help your baby feel better.
4. Your baby is teething
Babies who are cutting teeth can become very fussy and look for comfort often. This discomfort may show up in the form of frequent feedings.
They may have many of the same signs, including fussiness, wanting the breast often, but only feeding for a short time, or are over 3 months old.
Growing teeth can be a difficult time for many babies, so offering the comfort of breastfeeding can help soothe them.
5. Your baby just wants comfort
Some babies during the evening will act like they are hungry and root around for the breast. After you begin to feed them, they will settle right down and fall asleep.
This behavior indicates that your baby is not hungry, but is seeking comfort from you, rather than food.
Even though you can comfort your baby easily this way, it will also cue your body to produce more milk during this time.
Does cluster feeding mean that something is wrong?
You may worry that a baby who is continuously feeding is a sign of a problem. Or you may worry that you are not producing enough milk or that your milk is not nutritious enough.
Although it can feel completely exhausting and overwhelming (and even make you feel like a failure as a breastfeeding mother), cluster feeding is not an indication that there is something wrong with your milk supply.
As long as your baby is growing and wetting and soiling diapers, they are getting enough nutrients, and things are perfectly normal.
These frequent feedings will even out in time and will not last forever. But, of course, if you have any health concerns, you should contact your health provider.
If your baby seems completely inconsolable, it could be an indication of something else. Babies cannot tell us that they have a problem, so crying and fussing is their only way to communicate.
Cluster feeding vs. colic
Some mothers confuse cluster feeding with colic. These are two different situations, and while cluster feeding will remedy itself quickly after a few days, colic will not.
Colicky babies will be fussy and inconsolable for a great deal of time, rather than just a few days, like cluster feeding babies behave.
If you suspect that your baby is dealing with colic rather than cluster feeding, talk to your health care practitioner.
How to cope with cluster feeding
Cluster feeding creates a supply and demand system with breast milk and promotes an increase naturally.
As cool as that sounds, making more milk is exhausting for mothers, especially if they are not getting an adequate amount of sleep between feedings.
You may be tired from frequently feeding your baby during the day or evening, and that can feel very overwhelming. It may feel like all you are doing is feeding your baby all day long.
If your baby is cluster feeding, here are a few suggestions that can help:
- Drink lots of water
- Eat lots of healthy snacks
- Try to rest when you can
- Ask for help from others
Breastfeeding mothers can burn a lot of calories when they feed babies and will need more nourishment as long as they are producing milk, so getting enough water and healthy foods are essential during this time.
It can help to have a bottle of water handy and some small handheld snacks to eat while your baby is feeding.
Some mothers choose to pump or offer formula to their baby during these cluster feeding periods, but you handle feeding your baby is your choice.
Sometimes having a partner or family member help supplement a feeding with the baby can give the mother some much-needed rest.
How long will your baby cluster feed for?
Although it may seem like it will never end, your baby will eventually return to a regular feeding schedule in no time. Cluster feeding will typically last for only a few days in a row before your baby settles into a routine again.
If your baby continues to cluster feed for a week or longer, your pediatrician or health care provider may want to assess your baby’s weight to ensure they are growing.
Babies who seem to cluster feed for an extended period may not be getting adequate nutrition and are trying to get that from feeding more often.
Talk to your doctor or health care professional if you have any suspicions that your baby requires more than just breast milk.
When should you be concerned
Mothers may be concerned that their baby is not getting enough nutrients or that something is wrong with their baby if they are cluster feeding and cannot be satisfied.
Often, babies will go through a schedule of feeding that will increase and decrease as they grow and change. But there can be instances where you should be concerned with your baby and cluster feeding, including:
- Not wetting or soiling as many diapers
- Is not gaining weight
- Other physical conditions like cleft lip or cleft palate
If you have any concerns with your baby’s health or feeding schedule, again, contact your health care professional or pediatrician.
It may also be helpful to try to keep a written schedule of your baby’s feeding times and length of the feedings. This record can be a way to notice patterns or indications of a larger issue.
The discomforts of cluster feeding
Getting through a cluster feeding period can be difficult for the mother, especially if she is facing any of the following:
- Dry, cracked, or sore nipples from frequent feedings
- Back, neck, or shoulder pain
These discomforts are common for mothers who are breastfeeding, especially those who are feeding their baby more often.
It’s so important to take care of yourself when you are breastfeeding to help minimize any of these symptoms. Feeding your baby should not be painful or uncomfortable for you.
- Keep your nipples moisturized and clean when not feeding your baby.
- Try to feed your baby in different positions to help combat strain on the same angle of the baby’s tongue.
- Use a breastfeeding pillow to reduce your instinct to bend or hunch over to your baby.
- Use ibuprofen to help relieve any pain you may feel from cramping or soreness.
Cluster feeding is a very normal process that your baby will grow through, and it does not mean that there is anything wrong.
Your body will respond to your baby’s needs and cues as they feed more frequently to ensure that you will have enough milk to nourish them as they develop.
As long as your baby is gaining weight and having an adequate amount of wet and dirty diapers, you have nothing to worry about concerning their feeding schedule.