Most babies stick to a relatively rigid feeding routine, but there are times when they break from their schedule and start bunching feeds quite close together. This process – which is known as cluster feeding – can be quite distressing, but it’s actually very common.

It’s also a perfectly natural part of the nursing process, which means that there’s no need to worry yourself too much.

In this article, we’re going to explore the ins and outs of cluster feeding; explaining the process in full, and talking you through the things you can do to keep your baby happy.

When should I worry about cluster feeding?

As we are discussing below, cluster feeding is rarely a cause for concern. Instead, cluster or batch feeding should be seen as a normal part of nursing behavior.

The only exception to this rule is when cluster feeding occurs alongside:
  • Reflux symptoms like spitting up/vomiting or burping
  • A sudden change in the consistency of your baby’s poop
  • Crying or fussing that continues after your baby has finished feeding

If cluster feeding occurs alongside these symptoms, it might be indicative of a more serious problem. You should seek medical advice as soon as you possibly can.

How to stop cluster feeding?

Coping with cluster feeding can be difficult: The demand for extra milk can leave you feeling exhausted, and the constant struggle to keep your baby happy can be quite demoralizing.

It’s important to make sure that cluster feeding isn’t discouraged though: As mentioned below, cluster feeding behavior may be triggered by growth spurts, which means that it’s very important to ensure that they have access to all the nutrients that they need.

If you’re breastfeeding, you should try to avoid switching to a bottle. It can be very tempting to do this – particularly if you feel like you’re running low on milk.

Research actually shows, however, that the fat and protein content of your milk increases when the supply is low, which means that forcing yourself to keep feeding will actually provide more nutrition for your baby.

It’s also important to remember that milk producing hormones decrease when you stop feeding, so bringing out the bottle may make it much harder to keep up with breastfeeding later on.

Instead, scientists recommend that you:
  • Rest lots
  • Drink plenty
  • Eat regular meals

This will help to encourage milk production and ensure that you can keep up with your little one’s feeding binge.

It can also help to find a comfortable place to nurse. Sitting somewhere snug, dimly-lit and warm can help to soothe your baby’s nerves, which will help if their cluster feeding behavior has been triggered by a bit of an upset.

What is Cluster Feeding?

A wide-ranging study published in the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics suggests that the majority of babies go through a phase where they break from their normal routine, and start asking for multiple, 5-10 minute feeds in relatively quick succession.

This process is known as batch or cluster feeding.

my-baby-is-cluster-feedingWhile it can be very tempting to assume that this change in feeding behavior is the result of:

  • Poor quality milk
  • Insufficient milk, or
  • Some other issue with your nursing behavior

it’s important to remember that cluster feeding is actually a natural part of your child’s early development.

The exact reasons for cluster feeding aren’t fully understood just yet, but some scientists think that it could be linked to growth spurts, teething or schedule disruptions.

There’s also a definite link between cluster feeding and increased sleep. In fact, an article published on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby shows that babies often sleep for several hours after a cluster feeding period, leading some experts to conclude that cluster feeding is triggered by your baby’s need to fill up before a big rest.

baby-yawningSo next time your baby starts to demand several, short feeds in quick succession, don’t start worrying that you’ve done something wrong. Instead, focus on making sure that your little one gets all the food they need, and try to stay positive until their schedule resets.

If you’re struggling to keep up with the demand for milk – or want to know more about what to expect during this difficult time – you’ll find answers to some common cluster feeding questions below.

When do babies cluster feed?

Anecdotal evidence collected by Today’s Parent suggests that cluster feeding normally occurs in the first 3-4 months of infancy. That said, cluster feeding can happen when your little one is a bit older; particularly if they’re just about to go through a growth spurt.

Cluster feeding can also occur in response to over-stimulation, teething or illness, so you could experience cluster feeding behavior at any point.

In most cases, cluster feeding episodes tend to occur in the evening. Some experts suggest that 5-7pm is the most popular time, as this is when your baby is preparing to sleep for the night.

Cluster feeding episodes can occur at any time though: Some babies will cluster feed early in the morning, and others will start to demand more frequent feeds in the middle afternoon.

tired-mom

Experts say that you shouldn’t get too hung up on when your baby is cluster feeding. Instead, they recommend that you try to be aware of your baby’s feeding habits, and do everything you can to ensure that their needs don’t go ignored.

How long does cluster feeding last?

The duration of cluster feeding behavior normally depends on the cause. Very young babies tend to cluster feed for the duration of their first 2-3 big growth spurts, which means that they’ll start bunching feeds together until their around 11-14 weeks old.

If your baby is cluster feeding because they’re ill, need extra comfort or have started to feed, the duration of cluster feeding episodes will be much more varied. Some parents suggest that 2-3 weeks is normal, but others report much shorter phases.

Ultimately, the important thing is remembering that cluster feeding behavior will stop at some point. Until then, it’s best to keep your baby happy and remember that they are cluster feeding for a reason!

how-long-cluster-feeding

What about overfeeding?

Don’t worry about Colic or overfeeding either: A lot of moms worry that letting their babies feed whenever they want will cause health problems, but it’s actually quite difficult to overfeed your baby.

According to this article on The Bump, babies will naturally pull away when their full, and only actively seek out nipples (or bottles) when they need the food. This means that staying aware of your baby’s feeding signals will naturally prevent overfeeding

It’s also worth noting that episodes of cluster feeding are closely followed by a relatively quiet patch. This means that your baby’s total milk consumption will average out over time.

Wrap-up

Although it’s frustrating, cluster feeding is a relatively normal phenomenon. Some babies never cluster feed, but there’s no need to worry if your little one does start bunching their feeds together.

Coping can be difficult, but it helps to stay positive, and do everything you can to encourage milk production. It’s also helpful to remember that cluster feeding episodes do pass in time, which means that you will be able to resume your normal routine at some point in the near future!