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Cluster Feeding

Updated: Jul 30

What is it? | Why do babies do it?

If you're reading this page you're probably really really tired and maybe even totally and utterly touched out. I'm sorry, I can't tell you this is going to end immediately but I am writing this article for you to know why this is happening and give you some perspective to help you get through this.

What is Cluster Feeding?

KellyMom says "Cluster feeding, also called bunch feeding, is when babies space feeding closer together at certain times of the day and go longer between feedings at other times. This is very common, and often occurs in the evenings."

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has defined cluster feeding as several short feedings close together.

Jody Segrave-Daly of FedisBest specifies cluster feeding as “around two to three feedings, typically in the evening, for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, for two to three hours. It’s usually a marathon of cluster feedings.”

Why do babies Cluster Feed?

If only we could ask them, but in the absence of being able to, let's look at some facts that enable us, with a degree of certainty, to work out why your baby is doing this.

  1. The hormone Prolactin is necessary for the secretion of milk

  2. When a baby suckles, the level of prolactin in the blood increases, and stimulates production of milk

  3. During the first few weeks, the more a baby suckles and stimulates the nipple, the more prolactin is produced, and the more milk is produced

  4. More prolactin is produced at night

  5. Babies go through growth spurts at the beginning of the second week, and again at week three and six (and onwards)

  6. Babies are hungrier when they are in growth spurt mode

Are you starting to join the dots yet? Don't worry if sleep deprivation is preventing you from having any logical thought right now, I'll spell it out for you.

When babies are having growth spurts they need more milk. When they suck at the breast it tells our brains to produce more Prolactin, when we produce more prolactin we produce more milk, our bodies naturally make more Prolactin at night.

So.....if your baby is "cluster feeding" in the evening or nighttime there is a very high probability that their natural biological instincts are kicking in and they are telling your body and brain to make more milk for them.

When is cluster feeding considered normal?

  • The type of cluster feeding we are referring to here should not to be confused with the feeding pattern a newborn baby does to bring your milk in, which is similar and very normal too

  • Cluster feeding is normally for a limited time period of 3-4 hours in 24 hours. It is not cluster feeding if it is happening all day or all night

  • It is not a sign that you have low milk supply, in fact cluster feeding is normal if the breastfeeding parent has an adequate milk supply

  • Baby is having plenty of dirty and wet diapers

  • The baby is gaining weight within recommended guidelines

Referring back to the feeding pattern that true newborns do to bring your milk in - this is better referred to a frequent nursing, which is every 90-120 mins or so, and again very normal.

When is Cluster Feeding not normal?

  • A baby who cries unless they are breastfeeding and continues to exhibit hunger cues for very long periods in the day or night

  • A baby who is jaundiced becomes lethargic or has tremors after long periods of non-stop nursing, or at ANY time

  • A baby that is losing weight

  • A test weight after nursing on both breasts, for at least 15 minutes each, that reveals inadequate intake

If you are experiencing any of the above this is the point when "cluster feeding" becomes a clear sign of insufficient breast milk and/or insufficient transfer of milk, and both the breastfeeding parent and baby should be assessed by an IBCLC Lactation Consultant and/or Pediatrician urgently.

I know this article that doesn't make cluster feeding physically any easier, but for a lot of mums understanding the why can help them cope better.

If you need help with breastfeeding contact Kathy today. Download the app and message her directly, click below


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