What is Cluster Feeding? 7 Tips To Help You Deal With It

Imagine this: your baby has fallen into a well-established routine. They feed every three hours like clockwork, no crying, no fuss whatsoever. Then suddenly they start wanting to be fed every hour on the hour. What’s happening? What’s going on? If you’ve suddenly turned into an all-you-can-drink milk buffet, you’re probably in the middle of a cluster feeding. What is cluster feeding? What are the causes, and how can you cope?

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is a time when your baby wants lots of short feeds over only a few hours. There may be a few hours between meals for most of the day, and then all of  sudden there will be hours of constant feeding or sessions that are close together.

Evening hours are the most common for cluster feeding, but this may vary from baby to baby.

These close groupings of foods tend to be more common in younger babies, but some older babies will go through this phase just before experiencing a growth spurt.

cluster feeding and fussy time – what to expect

When cluster feeding, your newborn can become cranky. When a baby is feeding, he or she may breastfeed for a few minutes, stop and cry, and then return to nursing. This same vicious cycle can continue for what seems like forever.

And as a mother, you begin to worry that your baby may not be getting enough milk.

when does cluster feeding occur?

While cluster feeding can occur at any time in an infant’s life, the first feeding usually occurs soon after birth. These closely grouped feeds stimulate the breasts to produce more milk for your baby’s growing appetite. As your baby develops, he or she will experience new bunches, usually about 10 to 12 days, and again at three months of age.

The good news is that this type of feeding doesn’t last forever. By the time your baby reaches 6 months, cluster feeding is usually over.

how long does a cluster feeding session last?

“When will it be over?” That’s the first question mothers ask themselves at a group meal. Having to feed every hour for hours on end can be exhausting, overwhelming and worrying for a mom. Naturally, you want to get it over with as quickly as possible, so you can get back to life as usual.

The good news is that cluster feeding usually lasts only 48 hours, sometimes less.

don’t panic – cluster feeding is normal

When cluster feeding begins, many mothers worry about not producing enough milk for their babies. But cluster feeding is perfectly normal and natural.

It is easy to fall into a state of worry or anxiety during this time. You’re tired, and your mood is all over the place because your hormones are still trying to rebalance themselves. On top of all this, your baby seems hungrier than ever.

Some mothers feel like failures, but the truth is that cluster feeding is only part of the process. It stimulates the breasts to produce more milk, so you’ll have adequate supply as your baby continues to grow.

what are the causes of cluster powering?

No one knows exactly why babies go through the phases of cluster feeding, but many health professionals assume that the purpose of these consecutive feedings is to increase the supply of breast milk.

Speculated causes of cluster feeding include:

Many babies ask for more food when they go through a growth spurt. And that makes perfect sense because your baby’s body is working hard, literally. They are going to need all the fuel they can get, and milk is the fuel she needs.

  • MILESTONE DEVELOPMENT

Some babies will also feed during an important stage. Your baby will go through a number of important developmental milestones in the first six months of life. In the midst of all these changes, feeding can be used in a self-soothing way. It’s comforting and familiar to your baby, so she can seek that comfort during these difficult times.

  • TO STIMULATE THE MILK SUPPLY

Some moms actually initiate cluster foods to stimulate milk production. Doctors say that within 24 hours the breasts will respond by producing more milk.

In other words, the more your baby eats, the more milk you produce to meet their demands.

  • BETTER SLEEP

Some mothers also initiate cluster feeding as a way to improve their baby’s sleep at night. However, there is little evidence to suggest that cluster feeding will improve sleep.

While this tip may work for some moms, most doctors recommend instilling good sleep habits and allowing your baby to fall asleep.

7 ways to manage cluster flows

Feeding can be frustrating for moms – and exhausting. Use these tips to get through them with ease.

1. DON’T FORGET TO SLEEP

Having to feed every hour for hours on end (often at night) can be exhausting. But sleep should be a priority. While it may be tempting to get other things done while your baby sleeps, it’s best to take the opportunity to protect yourself. Your health is paramount. Those dirty dishes aren’t going anywhere. Sleep and worry when you wake up.

2. EAT AND HYDRATE

To produce milk, your body needs fuel. If your baby is drinking milk, he or she must be able to keep up with the demands. This means making regular meals is a priority and making sure you stay hydrated is as well.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

Cluster flows can be incredibly tiring and overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with household chores and errands. Family members and friends will be more than willing to help – especially other moms in your family who know what you’re going through.

4. ACCEPT THE SITUATION

Don’t fight the feeds – accept them and know that it’s perfectly normal and natural. Yes, you can try other soothing methods, but if your baby is going through a cluster-feeding episode, it’s best to give them what they needs.

5. SETTLING IN

If you’re in the middle of a cluster feeding session, sit back and make yourself comfortable. Wear comfortable clothing and get up on the bed or couch. Have a magazine, books, and DVDs on hand to entertain yourself while your baby is feeding.

6. DON’T TAKE IT TOO PERSONALLY

Moms often assume that they are doing something wrong when their baby starts to get restless all the time and wants to breastfeed more often. But cluster flows are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

In the vast majority of cases, these feedings are not a sign that your baby is not eating enough. As long as they have around five wet diapers a day, they are fine.

7. KNOWING WHEN IT’S TIME TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR

Although cluster feeding is normal, there are times when you may want to consult your doctor.

If your baby feeds for more than an hour or if the episode of cluster feeding lasts longer than two days, see your doctor. This may be a sign that your milk production is not keeping up with your baby’s demands.

Although it can be tiring and overwhelming, cluster flows are normal. Do your best to settle in, get comfortable and give your baby what she or he needs during this time. Don’t worry – it’ll be over before you know it, and she’ll be back to her normal routine.

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