Your baby probably slept more than he did eat in the first few weeks as a newborn, but as he grows bigger he’ll need more nutrients and calories, meaning he will start to feed a lot more than normal.
Cluster feeding can be a pretty exhausting time, as you might feel like you’re doing nothing but feeding. But don’t worry, here’s everything you need to know about cluster feeding and how to manage it!
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds more, often every 20 minutes, and often more frequently in-between his normal feeding times. As your baby grows, he’ll need more nutrients, so cluster feeding is his way of getting those nutrients and calories as his appetite increases.
**BREASTFEEDING STRUGGLES** . Being a midwife doesn’t make me exempt from breastfeeding problems. You know all babies are different right? I have only ever had 1 baby that latched on like a dream within minutes of birth and he was my first and I fed him for 10 months. With my other 4 children it wasn’t so easy. . As some of you know I had twins at 34 weeks and they hadn’t developed the suckling reflex well enough to suck anything – even a bottle. After 3 weeks of being tubefed and me pumping milk continuously, they were finally able to suckle a bottle but not directly from me. By the time they were 8 weeks old, they finally learned how to latch onto the boob but by that point, the stress had taken its toll on me and my supply had dwindled. After supplementing with formula for a while, they eventually were formula fed exclusively by about 10 weeks. . My 4th and 5th babies both had tongue ties that impacted feeding initially. 5 days after having my 4th, the pain was unbearable and I knew something wasn’t right. I looked in his mouth and couldn’t see anything obvious so felt with my finger instead. He had a posterior tongue tie that I insisted was snipped via a simple procedure at the hospital. Afterwards he fed fine for 18 months. . My 5th baby didn’t latch on and feed from me until she was 36 hours old. She just couldn’t do it and kept slipping off the breast. I knew she had a tongue tie like her brother and hand expressed tiny amounts of colostrum into a syringe to feed her during that time until there was someone available on the ward to perform the tongue tie separation procedure. The early intervention was a breastfeeding life saver and here we are still feeding 18 months later. . I’m lucky that as a midwife I had the knowledge and experience to identify the problem, seek support and push for a resolution. . Breastfeeding doesn’t always come easy for everyone or every baby but with the right support and information, it can be the start of a wonderful journey. If you want to breastfeed but are having problems, reach out to your midwife, lactation consultant or local infant feeding team ❤
It’s important to remember that when your baby starts to cluster feed, that there is nothing wrong with your milk supply and your baby isn’t getting enough milk on his first feed. His instincts know that the more often he feeds, the more milk will be produced.
If you find you’re struggling with feeding, remember to consult your GP or Health Visitor.
How do I identify cluster feeding?
You’ll start to recognise your baby’s cry for when he’s hungry, and he might cry more frequently when he’s cluster feeding.
When your baby starts to sleep more during the night, be prepared for more feeding during the day, too. Your baby will feed more to make up for missed feeds during the night.
- Newborns are more likely to cluster feed when they’re just a few days or weeks old
- They won’t stop crying until they’re fed
- They want to eat constantly
- They seem content when eating
- Regularly have wet and dirtied nappies
Some parents often confuse cluster feeding with colic. The major difference between cluster feeding and colic is that colic isn’t usually soothed by feeding.
Why do babies cluster feed?
Many researchers are still unsure as to why babies cluster feed. Most importantly, although cluster feeding can be hard, it’s a totally normal developmental stage in your babies early stages.
Accoring to Sioned Hilton, registered International Certified Lactation Consultant, cluster feeding is a way for mum to bond with her baby.
‘It is often thought of as nature’s way of encouraging baby to have close baby to mum cuddles, stimulate tomorrow’s milk supply, that in turn boosts feeding hormones.
‘Cluster feeding can also coincide with growth spurts (typically around 3 weeks and 3 months). Even if you have established a routine based on your baby’s demands, you may still find that he has periods of cluster feeding, particularly if he is unwell or needs reassurance.’
How to manage cluster feeding
Cluster feeding is completely normal and it’s important to remember to just relax and follow your baby’s lead. Ways you can help deal with cluster feeding are:
- If you’re breastfeeding, try expressing inbetween feeds to keep up your milk supply.
- Drink plenty of water and eat well.
- Let your family and partner support you when they can.
- Keep yourself entertained during feeds with your favourite boxsets or podcasts.
- Try and change positions when you can to avoid getting sore and uncomfortable.
Many mums are often also concerned that cluster feeding means their milk supply is low, but this is usually not the case. Your doctor or midwife will easily be able to tell if your baby isn’t getting enough milk from their weight, so if you do have concerns about milk supply, speak to your midwife.