Cluster feeding…that exhausting time when our babies are on and off the boob CONSTANTLY! We have all heard this term and understand that babies cluster feed, yet there is still a lot of mis-information out there about this topic. There are people who will state that cluster feeding is not normal (false) and then other people who will say that cluster feeding is always normal and nothing to worry about (false). The truth is somewhere in between and is about LOOKING AT THE WHOLE PICTURE when assessing the situation.
The truth of the matter is that in MOST cases (statistically speaking) a baby who is unsettled and looks for the boob immediately upon putting them down (even if they just breastfed), is actually just a baby who wants to be cuddled and breastfed, not a baby who is starving. On the flip side of that, a baby who is at the breast constantly on and off all day and night and rarely doing anything but crying whether you’re holding them or not, is not normal. Confused yet? Here is my list to help clarify when cluster feeding is normal, and what it’s not!
Normal Cluster Feeding
*Just an important side note…these are all normal if the WHOLE PICTURE looks normal as well. Gaining weight as expected and nappies (diapers) are meeting the minimum output in a 24 period. It’s always about looking at everything that’s going on when you are assessing a baby and their breastmilk intake.
The “witching hour” (or HOURS!). I remember when my mother mentioned the “witching” hour to me as a new mum. I had never heard this term and was so thankful that she mentioned it. “Babies get really cranky in the afternoon and breastfeed a lot”, she told me. I could kiss her now for saying this simple sentence to me. Most babies will do this. I’m surprised if someone tells me their baby doesn’t do this! After the first few weeks once your baby “wakes up” a bit, you’ll probably find that your baby will start to do this too. This is not an indication in of itself that your baby is not getting enough milk. It just means that your baby needs some extra cuddles and breastfeeds. It can last for a few hours, usually starting in the later afternoon hours. Best to get skin-to-skin and pop your baby in a baby carrier. Breastfeed in the bath with your baby or bounce on an exercise ball while feeding them. This is an important time for your baby to have unrestricted access to your breasts.
Cluster feeding when sick, thirsty and/or exhausted! For mothers who have been breastfeeding awhile, they’ll all be able to point to a time where cluster feeding happened for a specific reason. Sickness, thirst and exhaustion are just some of them. A baby who is sick will be seeking comfort from breastfeeding and often times will be the only thing they can tolerate while they are fighting a bug. When it’s really hot (like where I live in Australia!) your baby will probably breastfeeding really frequently as well. And of course exhaustion! Breastfeeding brings a baby or toddler to an instant state of relaxation. When they are tired they’ll usually breastfeed much more frequently, sometimes a few times within an hour…or never let go!
Cluster feeding during developmental milestones and teething. When your baby is learning how to do something (crawl, walk, talk) their breastfeeding can go into overdrive with even more frequent wake ups at night! The good news is that this is totally normal. Our babies brains develop so rapidly and breastfeeding brings comfort, familiarity and security to our growing children.
A baby who wakes and looks for a breastfeed if you put them down, but sleeps happily for their nap if being held. This is not a baby who is hungry, this is a baby who is needs some extra cuddles. If your baby happily sleeps in your arms and not in cot…congratulations! You have a normal baby! Here is why I think the invention of the crib ruined motherhood for us all…
Anytime your child feels like torturing you. Enough said. Grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Make sure you have your phone and remote in hand! And good luck. ♥️
NOT NORMAL Cluster Feeding
*Just a side note…if all of the other things are looking normal about this baby (weight gain going well, nappy output perfect within the 24 hour period) then there could be something else going on unrelated to the volume of breastmilk intake such as tongue tie or food intolerances.
An unsettled baby who is crying even right after being fed and immediately looking for another breastfeed, after MOST feeds. This type of behaviour is not normal if it’s happening frequently. AS mentioned previously a bit of a “witching hour”…or hours can be completely normal, however a baby who is on and off the breast MOST of the time day and night is not normal and a good indicator that something is going on related to their breastmilk intake (remember look at the whole picture!) or something else going on.
Not having periods of awake times and sleep times as expected. Babies sleep a lot. We all know this! However babies also wake to breastfeed, wake to look around for a bit and babies usually try to throw in a 2am wake up period for an hour just to hang out with us and bring us to the brink of insanity. HOWEVER a baby who is awake all the time or very sleepy all of the time is a baby who might not be getting enough OR have something else going on.
A baby who is breastfeeding for up to an hour or more at EVERY or MOST feeds, 24/7. This is a really important one. Babies will breastfeed anywhere between 5 minutes to 45 minutes-ISH. And the time spent at the breast can change between each feed for the same baby. BUT if your baby is taking an hour or more at every or most feeds then this can be an indication that they are not effectively and efficiently removing the milk. Time to get an IBCLC or volunteer breastfeeding counsellor to help you look at the whole picture and assess whether or not your baby is getting enough milk.
Cluster feeding combined with reflux symptoms (vomiting large amounts, “silent” reflux, very gassy, wheezing, gagging, choking etc.) A baby who has reflux symptoms and is seeking comfort from the breast very frequently to help relieve these symptoms is a baby who needs a thorough evaluation by and IBCLC and/or your GP. With my first born his symptoms ended up being caused by my huge over-supply! This is just one of the many possible causes though. Please head here for more info on reflux and here for vomiting/spitting up.
All of this doesn’t have to be confusing! There are a lot of scare mongering articles out there about infant feeding. The good new is…it’s not rocket science! 🙂 If you are concerned about your baby’s breastmilk intake and whether or not they’re getting enough, please head here to go through the checklist.