Cluster feeding: causes, symptoms, tips and how to control it
It’s 3AM and your baby has been cluster feeding since midnight. When you try to put her down, she cries and fusses.
Your nipples are killing you. She will not sleep. And you have nothing left to give.
Is this what being a parent is? Did everyone lie about the joys of parental bonding in an attempt to get you to join their sadistic parent club?
Will this ever end?
Yes, it ill. What you’re experiencing is cluster feeding, and it’s not fun.
Cluster feeding is a pattern in which a young baby eats several times within a few hours.
Clustered eating is natural for babies. And some babies are more likely to eat this way before a long nap or during a growth spurt.
Cluster feeding is when a baby groups many feedings close together during the day.
Normally, cluster feeding happens with breastfeeding babies. But bottle-fed babies can cluster feed too.
The most common pattern of eating for babies is to feed once, and then space out the next feeding a couple hours later.
With cluster feeding, however, the baby may nurse several times one after the other. It can be described as one long spurt of mini feedings.
More often than not, cluster feedings occur in the evening when the baby is extra fussy. The witching hour.
During this time, the baby will want to eat several times over the course of a few hours.
As the mother, it may feel as if you are breastfeeding your baby so frequently that you can’t take a breath. It’s normal to wonder why your baby seems to be constantly hungry.
Why Babies Cluster Feed
Cluster feeding is more common in newborns.
Cluster feedings help build the mother’s milk supply and increase the baby’s daily calorie intake.
Older infants can also cluster feed during an intense growth spurt.
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And, clustered eating like this may allow your baby to have a longer stretch of uninterrupted sleep at night. So there are benefits.
Babies also want to cluster feed when they are irritable, teething, or have a minor illness.
How to Approach Cluster Feeding
Simply, you should feed your baby when he or she wants to be fed.
Sometimes, babies want to be fed because they are hungry. At other times it is for comfort. Or because they are sick.
If you are breastfeeding, this can make you feel like you are always feeding your baby.
Breastfeeding is stressful enough on its own. Cluster feeding adds an element of frustration and unpredictability.
Cluster feeding might just be the way your baby prefers to eat — and that’s fine.
Ideally you want your baby to finish each feeding completely.
Cluster feeds that result in your baby taking small feedings with only a small amount of milk may not provide optimum nutrition.
When your baby is cluster feeding, try to figure out the pattern and adapt.
Try shifting your baby’s feedings to a time that works better for you (easier said than done I know). If you have a partner, pump to give yourself a break.
When to Be Concerned
Most of the time, cluster feeding is completely normal.
Keep track of your baby’s wet diapers if you are worried they are not getting enough milk.
If your baby is feeding so often it is interrupting sleep patterns, try some methods to help baby fall asleep.
If diaper counts drop, contact a pediatrician. Lactation consultants are helpful as well.
There are many causes for a drop in wet diapers, such as not eating frequently enough or metabolic issues.
If your baby is gaining weight as appropriate and still cluster feeding, you may want to consider other factors. For babies whom are colic, interventions other than continued feeding may be advised.
If your baby has a fever or displays continued signs of irritability, contact a pediatrician.