Q&A: What is cluster feeding?Beth M. Iovinelli, RN, BSN, IBCLC
Cluster feeding is what it sounds like: A group of breast or bottle feedings closely spaced together, usually baby-initiated.
Generally babies will cluster feed in the evenings, though some like to cluster feed in the wee hours of the morning. This feeding pattern can be very different from what the baby does during the day—just when Mom and Dad would like to start unwinding, Baby seems to gear up and want to feed more often.
During the day most breastfed babies will feed every two to three hours. During a cluster feeding session, babies can eat as close as 30 to 45 minutes apart. Your baby may be fussy and cry more during this time too.
Most moms usually jump to the conclusion that they are not making enough milk. Why else would the baby keep coming back to the breast? But remember: Being at the breast provides nutrition for the baby, but it also provides comfort. Suckling is a reflex and can help a cranky baby calm down, so cluster feeding is often a baby’s way of trying to soothe and regulate himself.
Making Cluster Feeding More Comfortable
Moms who seem to cope the best with this fussy time lie down and snuggle with Baby and let him suckle and drink as needed. This gives Mom a chance to rest and makes it less stressful than trying to get her baby to sleep when he is not ready. The good news is that once the cluster-feeding period is over, most babies will sleep deeply for several hours. (Just be careful not to over-feed or it will lead to more fussiness from an overly full belly.)
If your baby is just plain old fussy and doesn’t want to nurse, suckle, or drink enlist the help of your partner to hold, rock, and soothe the baby. Let the baby suck on your or your partner’s finger. You can also try swaddling the baby (a snug method of wrapping her up). As your baby gets older, she will grow out of this phase.
This fussy time can test the depths of your maternal patience! If you feel you are losing patience with the baby and need a break, ask your partner to take over while you take a shower or get some fresh air. If you are home alone and are feeling frustrated, place the baby safely on her back in her crib or bassinet and take a deep breath. This too shall pass!