Have you heard of the “witching hour” for babies? It’s a time of day, usually evenings, when baby is not happy with anything we do. This can be accompanied by increased feeding. Some babies will nurse as often as every 20 minutes!
Breastfed babies typically nurse about every 2 hours anyways, but during certain stages it might feel like your baby is constantly attached to the boob. If your baby is wanting to nurse more frequently and they are being fussier than usual your baby could be cluster feeding.
How can I tell if my baby is cluster feeding?
Most breastfeeding newborns will eat 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. In the first few weeks and months they may be nursing on an erratic schedule so it can be difficult to determine if they are indeed cluster feeding or not. You can usually tell if a baby is cluster feeding by their age and overall demeanor.
Infant Growth Spurts
Babies do a lot of growing in the first year and are constantly going through developmental stages. Cluster feeding and growth spurts are often intertwined.
Common ages for growth spurts are:
- The first few days at home
- 7-10 days
- 2-3 weeks
- 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 7-9 months
It’s not uncommon for cluster feeds to continue after your baby turns a year old. This is because breastfeeding isn’t just for nutrition - babies and toddlers use it as a comfort technique too. So if you are wondering why your toddler is deciding to nurse nonstop again, they may need a little more emotional support right now.
Signs of Cluster Feeding
Around the time of a growth spurt you might notice that your baby is being a lot more fussy than usual or seems more distracted during feeding sessions.
Typical cluster feeding signs are:
- Several feeds in a short time frame followed by long stretches without eating
- Being very fussy at certain times each day (evenings are common)
- Pulling off the breast to cry or fuss and then returning to the breast many times
Keep an eye on your little one to make sure they don’t seem to be in pain. If they are acting like they are in pain and inconsolable they may be experiencing colic instead of cluster feeding.
Does cluster feeding mean I have a low supply?
When baby is constantly wanting to eat and seems unsatisfied after it’s easy to assume your supply has dropped. You might even be tempted to supplement with formula to calm your crying babe.
Most of the time there isn’t actually an issue with your supply.
Breastfeeding is driven by supply and demand, so by supplementing you risk actually lowering the amount of milk your body will make. Your baby suckling more during cluster feeding is their way of communicating with your body that it needs to start increasing your milk supply.
Although it’s not always the case, fussiness can be an indication that your milk supply isn’t keeping up with baby’s needs.
There are a few things you can track to rule out low milk supply. First is the number of wet or dirty diapers they have in a day. 6-8 dirty diapers in 24 hours is a normal output. Second is whether or not your baby is gaining weight or if they are starting to lose weight.
Always, if you are concerned about your baby’s weight gain or feeding, please reach out to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant. Milky Mama offers virtual consultations with an IBCLC or Certified Lactation Consultant. You can find out more information about our breastfeeding support services here.
What can I do to make cluster feeding easier?
It might not seem like it while it’s happening, but cluster feeding won’t last forever. It’s usually only a few days or a week and then your baby should return to a less strenuous feeding routine.
Below are a few ways to get you through it:
- Pick a comfortable spot to be your nursing station for the time being. The couch, recliner, or your bed are all good places to consider.
- Keep a drink and snacks easily available in case you get hungry or thirsty during a marathon feeding session.
- Have something to keep you entertained like the TV, your phone, or a book.
- Try babywearing to keep your baby close. You can learn to nurse baby in the carrier so you can multitask!
- Enlist the help of your partner or loved one. They can be in charge of older siblings, preparing meals, or fetching something for you while you nurse.
- Take care of your own needs before your baby starts fussing. Have someone else look after the baby so you can use the bathroom, shower, or eat a meal uninterrupted.
As tiring as it may be, cluster feeding is absolutely normal for your infant. Cluster feeding IS NOT an indication that you aren’t making enough milk. It’s nature’s way of getting you and your baby through their growth spurts, illnesses, or teething stages. Stick to feeding on demand and soak up the extra baby snuggles.
Most importantly, don’t forget that you matter too! A perfect way to treat yourself during cluster feeding is with a Milky Mama Sampler Pack. You’ll not only love the delicious brownies, cookies, and drink powders but you’ll also love the extra boost to promote a healthy milk supply. Grab your Sampler Pack now. You deserve it, mama!