Cluster Feeding Your Baby

Mother feeding baby daughter with bottle

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Cluster feeding is a pattern in which a baby eats several times within a few hours. There is nothing wrong with cluster feeding (it's not a sign of anything dangerous). Some babies are more likely to eat this way before a long nap or during growth spurt phases. 

Usually, cluster feeding occurs with breastfeeding babies, but formula-fed babies can also cluster feed. The most common eating pattern for babies is to take a large feeding every few hours. With cluster feeding, however, the baby might nurse several times at very close intervals.

Cluster feeding can be described as one big batch of small feedings. 

More often than not, cluster feedings occur in the evening hours during the baby's fussy period. During this time, the baby might want to be fed several times over the course of a few hours. You might feel like you're breastfeeding your baby so often that you can't get a break. You might also wonder (or worry about) why your baby is constantly hungry.

Why Babies Cluster Feed

Cluster feeding is more commonly seen in newborn babies. Bunched feedings help build up the breastfeeding caregiver's milk supply as well as increase the baby's daily calorie intake.

Older infants might cluster feed during a growth spurt. As your baby ramps up their evening feedings, cluster feeding also allows them to have a longer stretch of uninterrupted nighttime sleep.

Babies might want to cluster feed when they are irritable and need comfort, such as when they are teething or during minor illnesses.

How to Handle Cluster Feeding

"On-demand" breastfeeding is usually best for your baby. This means feeding your baby whenever they want to be fed. Breastfeeding can feel unpredictable, and cluster feeding adds another element of unknowns. With time, you might start to notice a pattern to the clusters, and eventually, your baby might grow out of them.

Make sure to note whether your baby is finishing each feeding fully. This is because the hindmilk (the milk at the end of a feeding) is important for your baby's growth and development.

Cluster feeding that results in small, incomplete feedings might not give your baby the optimum nutrition needed to gain weight. It can also cause uncomfortable engorgement if your breasts are not fully emptied. 

When to Worry

Parents who are concerned about whether or not their baby is getting enough milk can keep track of the number of wet diapers their baby has in 24 hours. There are many causes for a drop in wet diapers, such as not eating often enough, a low milk supply, or metabolic issues. If diaper counts drop, contact your pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

On the other hand, if your baby is gaining weight well and cluster feedings continue for a long period of time, it might be a good idea to consider whether your baby's fussiness is being caused by something else, such as colic. If this is the case, you might need to think about interventions other than feeding.

If your baby is displaying extreme signs of irritability, a fever, or change in behavior, call your doctor right away. They will want to schedule a check-up to make sure that there is not another issue causing your baby's symptoms.

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