Understanding cluster feeding: Essential insights for breastfeeding success

Understanding cluster feeding: Essential insights for breastfeeding success

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Many new parents often want to understand how they can identify and manage newborn cluster feeding. Cluster feeding is normal baby behaviour and it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your baby or your milk supply.  

We spoke with expert Shterna Glick to help give some guidance and answer some of the common questions which arise around the topic. Shterna is a Midwife and Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). As well as a Mum of five, the youngest of whom are twins. She has worked as a Registered Midwife in the public hospital system and works privately as a Lactation consultant at Melbourne Lactation.  

What is cluster feeding? 

Cluster feeding in babies is a phenomenon that many new parents encounter, particularly in the initial weeks following birth. This common behaviour is characterised by periods where newborns seem to have an insatiable appetite, feeding far more frequently than usual. These cluster feeding sessions often occur during the evening hours, presenting a unique set of challenges and concerns for parents who are already navigating the often uncertain and exhausting terrain of caring for a new life. 

During these intense feeding bouts, it’s not unusual for babies to want to feed as often as every 30 minutes, leaving parents feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. Shterna explains the seemingly constant demand for feeding can be exhausting and may stir feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, especially for first-time parents who are still acclimatising to the rhythms and responsibilities of parenthood. Understanding cluster feeding is crucial for maintaining both the physical and emotional well-being of parents and baby alike. Recognising that this behaviour is normal and temporary can provide a sense of relief and confidence for new parents.  

Shterna shares ”Cluster feeding is a phase that won't last forever. Typically, it subsides around the 12-week mark as babies start adapting to their new environment, developing a more predictable circadian rhythm and sleep pattern.” 

Cluster feeding and low milk supply 

A prevalent misconception among breastfeeding mothers is the notion that cluster feeding is indicative of low milk supply, this misunderstanding can be distressing. The perception of low milk supply is a significant concern for many breastfeeding mothers and is one of the leading reasons why some decide to supplement or cease breastfeeding altogether.  

The reality, however, is far from this misconception. Cluster feeding is a completely normal and common behavioural pattern observed in thriving, healthy newborns. It is not a sign of insufficient milk supply but rather a phase where babies seek comfort, closeness, and additional nourishment during specific periods, often aligning with growth spurts or developmental leaps.  

Cluster feeding timing  

Cluster feeding sessions are typically most prevalent during evening hours, often starting around 6pm and possibly extending until midnight. Each baby is unique, so the exact timing can vary, but parents often notice a discernible pattern of increased feeding frequency during these hours. Evening cluster feeds can be particularly challenging for parents as the day winds down, and fatigue sets in. However, understanding that this is a common behaviour among infants can offer reassurance. 

As Shterna Glick, insightfully puts it: “Parents should be aware that each infant has their own unique feeding rhythm. Evening times may seem demanding, but it’s essential to understand that cluster feeding is a normal and temporary phase that many newborns go through. It’s a sign of your baby's healthy development and not something to be overly concerned about.” 

Shterna’s top tips for managing cluster feeding sessions: 

  • Understand that cluster feeding is a normal and universal newborn behaviour
  • Hold and comfort your baby, offering a dummy if needed
  • Adjust your expectations and don't stress if your baby doesn't want to lie in their bassinet during these periods
  • Alternating sides during cluster feeding sessions can be beneficial. This approach ensures a steady milk flow and helps in keeping the baby calm and satisfied during feeding
  • Remember, this phase is temporary and usually resolves within a few months. 

Looking for more advice about preparing for breastfeeding and breastfeeding your newborn? Try these articles from Lactamo’s the circle: 

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