Cluster feeding: What is it and how to cope when your ravenous baby won’t stop feeding
“Didn’t I *just* feed you?!” Ahh cluster feeding.
It can often feel like a total clusterf—k if we’re being totally honest but hang in there. There’s no denying it’s beyond draining for any new mum, but it’s a normal part of the newborn days and indicates healthy development and growth.
In those very early days as your milk supply is still being established, it’s normal for babies to be ravenous and cluster feed (which simply means an excessive amount of feeds back-to-back) around the clock.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is a term used to describe when a newborn baby feeds frequently and for short periods of time in a short span, typically in the evenings or at night. Cluster feeding is also known as “cluster breastfeeding” since it is commonly associated with breastfeeding, but it can also occur with bottle-fed babies.
Newborn cluster feeding is a natural behaviour that serves a critical purpose in establishing milk supply and meeting the baby’s nutritional needs. This type of feeding pattern can be intense and challenging for new parents, but it is essential for a baby’s growth and development. During this period, babies may want to feed every 30 minutes to an hour, for several hours in a row, causing many parents to feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
Reasons why newborns cluster feed:
Comfort – many babies will feel unsettled as soon as they come off the breast and find sucking an easy way to stay calm.
Snacking in the early evening can help maintain your milk supply for the next day.
Babies can get hungrier in the evening and try to ‘fill up’ so they can sleep for longer stretches overnight.
Your baby is having a growth spurt.
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What are the signs of cluster feeding?
The telltale signs of cluster feeding are when baby becomes unsettled and shows signs of hunger (think poking their hungry tongue out looking for a boob, chewing their hand, nuzzling your breast, alertness, trying to suck your shoulder or relatch back onto the boob) right after you’ve fed them.
Many mums also worry that their boobs won’t have enough milk to feed their bubs during these more intense bouts but remember, they are never empty.
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How long does a cluster feed last?
This varies with each baby but cluster feeding lasts for around 10-15 minute snack sessions over a two to three-hour period.
When when do newborns cluster feed?
Typically cluster feeding in newborns happens when your baby is around the three to six-week mark, in the late afternoon/early evening and can last into the night.
Cluster feeding at night is particularly difficult for new parents as it can impact their sleep schedule. However, it is important to remember that cluster feeding is normal, and it will eventually pass as the baby grows and their feeding needs change. New parents can try to manage cluster feeding by practicing good sleep hygiene during the day, resting when the baby sleeps, and enlisting the help of family or friends to provide support.
How long does cluster feeding last in newborns?
Cluster feeding amps up when your baby is going through developmental milestones or a growth spurt and usually calms down after two to three-day bouts.
Should I let my newborn cluster feed?
Yes, be led by your baby but don’t forget to look after yourself during this time too. Remember that as your baby nurses, it’s helping your supply increase and meet their change and development needs.
When you set up your newborn feeding station at home, it’s always handy to have lots of healthy snacks and a big drink bottle full of water close by so you can stay hydrated and well-nourished. Say YES to offers of help from friends and family (whether that comes in the shape of home-cooked meals or minding your other children).
Take special care of your nipples while your baby cluster feeds as they can become quite sore and tender (Lansinoh cream is a god-send) Oh, and a fab Netflix series to keep you entertained too of course.
Signs you may need to seek medical help
While cluster feeding is a completely normal part of a newborn’s development, see your doctor or midwife if your baby is:
Failing to gain weight
Not having any wet or soiled nappies
Unsettled after finishing a feed
While it’s exhausting AF to be permanently glued to the couch with a hungry caterpillar attached to you, it’s actually a good thing because this is your baby and your body working together to build that milk supply and get the good stuff flowing. Doesn’t make it easier though, we know, so lower the bar during this time and repeat after us: this too shall pass!
Need help or someone to talk to? Check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268)
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Bella Brennan Follow +
Bella is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience in women’s publishing and digital media. In her spare time, she loves making up dances to the Wiggles with her two little girls, swimming in the ocean and trying to sneak away from her family for a cheeky nap.
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