Everything you need to know about cluster feeding

Everything you need to know about cluster feeding

When any newborn changes their feeding routine, it’s normal to be a little concerned at first, especially if you’re a first-time mother. Am I producing enough milk? Is my baby getting the nutrients they need? What am I doing wrong?

If your newborn has shifted from regular feeding times to ‘grouping’ a greater number of short feeds over a shorter period of time, it’s likely that they’re cluster feeding.

Don’t be alarmed – cluster feeding is very common in breastfeeding babies around the 6-12-week mark. Babies need to feed around 8-12 times in any 24-hour period, however, these are not always consistently timed across the day. It’s not something that you need to worry about, but knowing how to identify the signs early makes for a better-prepared mother when the time comes.

Why does it happen?

Newborns often get into cluster feeding habits around early to mid-evening. While experts haven’t yet mastered the baby brain, it’s believed to be a mechanism for filling up before going to sleep. Often newborns will have a longer sleep when they’ve had a larger meal, so cluster feeding is their way of making sure they’re well-nourished for the night.

As your bub grows, so does their stomach. While the scientific reason for cluster feeding is unknown, it’s likely that it’s your baby’s way of telling you to up the ante on breastmilk production.

Some theories behind cluster feeding pinpoint growth spurts as a reason. The leap in growth requires a baby to use more energy – energy which is extracted from milk.

How long does it go for?

Babies can cluster feed at any time. Generally, 10-12 days and then again at 3 months are standard ages. By the time your baby is 4-6 months old, you’re most likely past the typical clustering period.

Does my baby cluster feed because I’m not producing enough milk?

Don’t let cluster feeding dishearten you – it’s not a reflection on your ability to produce milk. Rather, it’s to do with your baby’s growing capacity and building up your milk supply. It has also been noted that increasing the number of feeds at night helps promote milk production for the following day.

Feeding is stressful and tiresome at the best of times, so when your baby is asking for multiple feeds over a short amount of time, it can be easy to succumb to the pressure.

It’s important to not go down the bottle route prematurely – transitioning to formula too early inhibits your ability to read your baby’s hunger signals. Even supplementing will impact this ability; as inconsistent feeding will slow down your milk production.

Looking out for your baby

Keep an eye out for signs that your newborn is getting enough milk

Every baby is different in how they develop and manifest growth. However, a number of common indicators that your baby is getting the nutrients that they need out of their feeds include:

1. Growth

The most obvious indicator of a baby getting enough to eat is weight gain. They’ll also grow in length and their head will enlarge accordingly.

2. Wet nappies:

Studies show that babies who are being sufficiently fed produce at least five very wet nappies every 24 hours.

3. Dirty nappies:

A typically breastfeeding baby will be defecating around 3 times per day. It will generally be light in colour, often yellow-mustardy. It’s also normal for it to contain milk curds.

Keep track of the signs indicating that your baby is hungry: 

Mums are always on the lookout for signs that their little ones are hungry. Short, low-pitched cries that rise and fall are the most common sign that a baby is hungry. However, there are some other behavioural cues that should put up the red flag that your bub is ready for a feed.

  • Restlessness
  • Sucking on fists
  • Opening of the mouth while breastfeeding
  • Actioning towards a bottle or breast and making a sucking motion

Looking After Yourself:

1. Hydration is key:

Make sure you’re keeping up your fluids when breastfeeding, especially when cluster feeding

 2. A well-fed mum makes for a well-fed baby:

Once your little one gets into a routine, plan your day around this. That way, you save yourself the frustration of feeding on an empty stomach.

3. Happy mind, happy mum, happy bub:

It’s important to get out of the house and occupy your mind with things other than feeding, dressing, bathing and ogling after your newborn. Carrying and feeding your baby in a sling is a great way of multitasking; your hands are free to get on with other tasks, and your baby is contently close to their mother’s chest.

4. Don’t skip sleep:

Cluster feeding can be incredibly draining, so be sure to follow the rule ‘when the baby sleeps, mum sleeps’ religiously. Having ample energy is essential, especially when your baby opts to cluster in the evening after a long day.

5. Consider including these foods in your diet:

Having a well-balanced diet is a sure-fire way to ensure that you’re passing on essential nutrients to your baby. Opt for foods that are rich in calcium, like cheese, yoghurt, fish, tofu and beans. You should be aiming for 1000 milligrams of calcium per day.

Magnesium promotes muscle function, so get your 350 milligrams per day from seeds, wholegrains, green leafy vegetables and seafood.

Zinc supports your immune system, and 12 milligrams per day can come from incorporating beef, lamb, poultry and eggs.

It’s also a good idea to take a postnatal vitamin to help along the process of getting your energy levels, nervous system, immune system and production of red and white blood cells in order.

Put It to the Test:

Step by step to cluster feeding:

Step 1:

Create a calm environment – give your baby a relaxing bath and ensure that the house is quiet and composed

Step 2:

Follow your baby’s lead – learn and listen to their signs and signals

Step 3:

Have some feeding aids handy – whether that be something to snack on or keeping an extra set of hands, like your partner nearby, it helps to have some added support during those exhausting and occasionally stressful times.

Every mother and child is different, so if you have concerns regarding your baby’s feeding schedule or your ability to produce sufficient milk, consult a lactation consultant or your healthcare professional.