If you’ve ever finished breastfeeding a baby only to have them crying to eat again five seconds later, you’re familiar with cluster feeding. (Okay, fine, it’s not usually five seconds later. It’s probably closer to 20 minutes later. But it FEELS like five seconds!)
So what gives? Why do babies cluster feed?
What is cluster feeding?
According to Healthline, Cluster feeding is, “when a baby suddenly starts eating much more frequently — in clusters — for a period of time. It usually lasts a couple of hours at a time and differs from your baby’s usual eating behavior.”
Typical breastfeeding for newborns involves feeding every two to three hours. This is already pretty frequent. In a system engineered by the devil himself, the timing between feeds begins counting down at the start of a feeding. In other words, if a baby feeds for 30 minutes, and then wants to eat again in 90 minutes, that’s considered feeding every two hours.
Cluster feeding is feeding even more often than that!
A cluster feeding baby may feed for ten minutes and then fuss to be fed again ten or twenty minutes later. Repeat for hours.
Cluster feeding tends to happen most in the early days of breastfeeding. This can be overwhelming for a postpartum mom who’s already feeling a little underwater with all the demands of new motherhood.
Why do babies cluster feed?
There are benefits to cluster feeding. First, many babies prefer to cluster feed in the early evening. This is almost like “gassing up” for a long drive. Babies who cluster feed often eat in short bursts for several hours and then sleep for a longer than normal stretch.
Second, since breastfeeding is a supply and demand process, cluster feeding can actually improve your milk supply. This is important because as baby grows, your milk supply needs to grow right along with him or her. These frequent feedings prompt your body to make more milk.
How to cope with cluster feeding?
While cluster feeding may have biological benefits and purpose, it can be very mentally draining for a breastfeeding mom. (And of course, it’s physically draining too!)
One of the most helpful things for coping with cluster feeding is to remember this is temporary. While you may feel like a constant snack in human form, baby’s feeding schedule will level out.
Babies often cluster feed during times of significant development. It’s comforting to them to be so close to mom. And of course, all the extra feeding provides adequate nutrition for all that growth.
Another coping strategy to deal with cluster feeding is to prepare. Since you can’t really hand over breastfeeding to anyone else, try to trade off as many other tasks as possible. If baby likes to cluster feed in the early evening (all mine did!), have your partner plan and prepare dinner. Or if that’s not an option, order delivery or bake something straight from the freezer.
If you have friends or family willing to help, have them take the baby for a while in the late afternoon, before the cluster feeding starts. Again, they can’t take that responsibility off your plate, but having a little time to yourself to rest before the feeding marathon begins can do wonders for your mental state.
Breastfeeding is a huge commitment. It takes a great deal of time and energy, but you’re doing a wonderful thing for your baby. Try to remember that when the stress of constant feedings feels like it’s getting the best of you.
This is only a phase and it will end soon!