Got a stage 5 clinger who won’t let go of your boob? Like your nipple feels like it’s now permanently attached to your little squish? You’ve got a cluster feeder. These cluster feeding tips will help you survive when your newborn is feeding every hour.
If you’re a new mom just learning to breastfeed, it can be so confusing and frustrating when it feels like you *just* finished nursing your newborn, and those hungry cries start again before you even get a chance to grab a drink or some food, let alone go to the bathroom. These cluster feeding tips were essential for me to be able to survive those newborn phases of nonstop stop feeding my three kids and go on to breastfeed for a combined 6+ years now.
A lot of the most useful tips are actually not even tips at all, but just learning how cluster feeding works and why newborns (and older babies sometimes) do it. Being empowered through knowledge was what helped me stay steadfast in completing my breastfeeding goals.
So we will start by answering some of the frequently asked questions about breastfeeding newborns and cluster feedings.
While I’ve spent a lot of time researching and learning about breastfeeding, plus have years of experience doing it, I am not a lactation consultant or medical professional. So if you are really concerned about you or your baby’s health or nutritional needs, please find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for some help.
(FYI. Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I make a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.)
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Is it normal for a newborn to feed every hour?
Yes. During certain times, like growth spurts, babies will tend to eat for longer stretches more often. Most of the time when a baby is feeding every hour or even multiple times an hour it is due to a growth spurt, developmental leap, or in the evening “witching hour.”
Newborns should feed around 8-12 times a day, or usually every 2-4 hours. But babies aren’t machines and don’t know how to read clocks. So sometimes they will go longer stretches without eating or bunch all of their feedings together into a shorter period of time.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when babies bunch their feeds together into a short period of time. So instead of spreading 8-12 feedings throughout the course of the day, they might feed multiple times in an hour or a couple of hours, especially in the evening a few hours before bedtime.
How long does cluster feeding go on for?
Cluster feeding usually happens during growth spurts, developmental leaps, the witching hours, or also teething and illnesses.
So how long cluster feeding goes on depends on why your baby is cluster feeding. If you can connect your baby’s age to the typical time of a growth spurt or a developmental leap (like the 4-month sleep regression) then that is probably the reason. Usually, this will last a couple of days, but can be shorter or longer.
If your baby tends to cluster feed during the witching hour (the evenings), then it will probably last longer. The witching hour typically starts when they are a few weeks old and can last up to three months. It’s not easy, but it DOES end eventually.
When babies nurse while teething (which can begin months before teeth pop) or illness, many babies will cluster feed for just a few days at most.
Can a baby cluster feed all day?
It can definitely feel like it. Some babies will want to be latched on a lot of the time when they are going through a big growth spurt or developmental leap.
This is generally very normal and not an indication of a problem unless there other factors happening, like they aren’t gaining weight, as well.
It’s also important to note that there are different types of nursing. Babies can either be actively nursing or passively nursing. When they are actively nursing you will probably be able to feel them sucking more strongly and hear or notice them swallowing gulps of milk. When they are passively nursing, it will feel more like flutters instead of strong pulls when they suck. Passive nursing can be associated with cluster feeding and comfort feeding.
What age do babies cluster feed?
Babies can start cluster feeding and can continue to cluster feed from time to time until you end the breastfeeding relationship. This doesn’t mean they will always cluster feed, but rather there will be periods of time that a baby will cluster feed, basically until they are weaned because while cluster feeding is mostly associated with growth spurts, the witching hour, and developmental leaps when they are newborns, it can also be connected to teething, illness, and just for comfort during stressful times as they get older.
So for example, my babies might have stopped cluster feeding months ago, but then out of the blue want to be attached to the boob all day nursing because they are about to pop a tooth and the milk soothes their sore gums. Or maybe one of them has the flu and the milk is a perfect comfort, pain reliever, and immunity support, not to mention mommy cuddles are great too.
Can your nurse your baby too much?
Generally no. When babies breastfeed, they are actively working to get milk. So when they are full they will either stop or just start passively nursing.
The only reasons I have come across that might give you pause is if you have a very strong, fast, and heavy milk flow, like if you have an oversupply. Sometimes if your milk comes out too hard and fast, it can come to quickly for baby to be able to properly regulate how much they are getting, leading to them overfeeding. If you think this might be the case, then you can try paced feeding on the breast the same way you might pace feed from a bottle to try to slow it down a little bit. However, this is NOT the norm and usually isn’t connected to cluster feeding.
Does cluster feeding increase milk supply?
Usually, cluster feeding will increase your supply. Milk supply is based on supply and demand. So the more baby demands, the greater your supply.
This is NOT usually an indication of low supply unless there are other signs, like low weight gain. Babies will many times cluster feed to increase milk production because they are growing and will need more milk as they get bigger.
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How do you deal with cluster feeding?
Get comfy and cozy.
Breastfeeding a newborn or cluster feeding baby usually means many hours snuggled up with your squishy newborn binging on Netflix and snacking. If you CAN just relax, get comfortable, and enjoy the process, then do it. One of the best cluster feeding tips is to just accept it and enjoy it. It is normal and you’re doing ok, mama.
Get the best breastfeeding pillow
This is a matter of personal choice. When I had just one baby I loved the Boppy for a breastfeeding pillow, but when I had twins and was tandem nursing I couldn’t have lived without the Brest Friend Twin pillow.
Now, I always recommend the Brest Friend Twin pillow. It is huge! It might feel cumbersome at first, but when you’re kind of stuck cluster feeding for hours, it is nice. Plus it has a pocket to stash your remote, snacks, phone, and a drink.
Learn to breastfeed in a baby carrier.
Sometimes you just need to get up and move around but a cluster feeding infant declares they are NOT having that. Make you BOTH happy by popping them into a carrier, whipping out a nip, and going out for a walk or even just a small stroll around the house.
For more cluster feeding tips and how to breastfeed your newborn, check out this post!
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