What Is Cluster Feeding and Does My Baby Need It?

Mother feeding baby daughter
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If you are breastfeeding, you may feel like you are constantly feeding your baby. It is recommended that when you are breastfeeding your baby, that you practice "on-demand" breastfeeding. In other words, you feed your baby when he or she wants to be fed. Sometimes, babies want to be fed because they are hungry, sometimes they are going through a growth spurt, and sometimes, it's for other reasons, like comfort or even because they are sick.


Breastfeeding can feel unpredictable and one of the ways that nursing a baby can vary is through cluster feeding. If your baby has ever nursed several times, very close together (making you feel like you can't catch a break!), your baby has done cluster feeding. 

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding is a breastfeeding pattern displayed when a baby groups several feedings closer together at a certain point in the day. Basically, the baby eats a bunch of small feedings in one big spurt. Some babies will eat a large feeding, then space out their next feeding hours later. With cluster feeding, however, the baby may nurse several times very close together. More often than not, cluster feedings occur in the evening hours during the baby's fussy period. During this time, the baby will demand to be fed several times over the course of a few hours. For the mother, it may feel as if she is breastfeeding her baby so frequently that he is constantly hungry for a period of a few hours.

Cluster feeding is more commonly seen in newborn babies, but in slightly older infants may cluster feed as well during a growth spurt. These bunch feedings serve the purpose of helping to build the mother's milk supply and of increasing the baby's daily calorie intake. As the baby ramps up his evening feedings, it may allow him to have a longer stretch of uninterrupted nighttime sleep.

Is Cluster Feeding Normal?

Cluster feeding is completely normal. For moms who are concerned about whether or not her baby is getting enough milk, she can keep track of the number of wet diapers her baby has in 24 hours. If diaper counts drop, the mother should contact a pediatrician or a lactation consultant. There are many reasons that might cause a drop in wet diapers, such as not feeding often enough, an issue with low milk supply, or metabolic issues.

However, if the baby is gaining weight well and the feedings continue for a long period, it might be a good idea to consider if the baby's fussiness is the result of something else, such as colic, in which case interventions other than feeding could be considered.

Or, cluster feeding might just be the way your baby eats -- and that's perfectly fine too. Just be sure to note if your baby is finishing each feeding fully, as the hind milk (the milk at the end of a feeding) is very important for your baby's growth and development. Cluster feeding that results in your baby just taking small feedings where he only gets a small amount of milk may not give him the optimum nutrition he needs to gain weight and it may cause you problems with an uncomfortable engorgement if your breasts are not fully emptied also.


Your baby may also want to do more cluster feeding with growth spurts or in times when he or she is more fussy or irritable, such as with teething or minor sicknesses. If your baby is cluster feeding, it is best to try to nurse him or her on demand. If you have a partner, consider pumping to give yourself a break if you need it and if your baby seems to be displaying extreme signs of irritability, a fever, or change in behavior, you may also want to schedule a check-up to make sure there is nothing else going on with your little one. 

Updated by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN