Cluster Feeding : Symptoms, Causes, Benefits and Challenges

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Cluster Feeding
Cluster Feeding : Symptoms, Causes, Benefits and Challenges

Overview

Pregnancy and newborn care are exciting experiences for every woman. Overnight, a woman must take complete care of an individual, dependent on her for survival. There are several things that new mothers have to know about raising a newborn. One of them is cluster feeding.

This blog focuses on cluster feeding and provides essential pointers to identify and manage cluster feeding in babies.

What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding refers to babies feeding frequently, not necessarily because they are hungry. In cluster feeding, the frequency of feeding increases, whereas the duration may be short. It typically occurs between three to six weeks after the baby’s birth and mainly during the evening. During this period, babies experience growth spurts and require more milk than they usually consume. Feeding the baby during this time is vital to ensure optimal growth.

What are the symptoms of cluster feeding?

It is hard to identify cluster feeding as newborns rarely have a predictable eating or sleeping schedule.

Babies may be cluster feeding if:

  • They are few days or weeks old
  • They are displaying their usual hunger signs or do not stop crying until they are fed
  • Nothing else seems wrong and they are content while eating
  • They may still have regular wet and dirty diapers
  • They want to eat continuously or they eat very frequently for short sessions every time
  • With an older baby, though, there may be many days in a row when they eat a lot more than usual all through the whole day. This may be due to teething or growth spurts

 Parents may notice the following symptoms if their baby cluster feeds.

  • Weight gain
  • Fussiness and reduced sleep between each feeding
  • Increase in wet diapers
  • Stop suckling after a few minutes
  • Happens for 3 to 4 hours a day
  • Occurs when the mother has a sufficient milk supply.

What are the causes of cluster feeding?

The reason behind cluster feeding is not explored thoroughly, but some findings are worth sharing. Cluster feeding usually happens during the first six months of a child’s birth. A baby undergoes physical and physiological changes during this period, and they need the required nutrition to achieve the developmental milestone.

Sometimes the babies experience growth spurts, during which they need more nourishment. During this time, they may demand to be fed every 30 minutes. Cluster feeding can also be due to teething.

What is the usual feeding schedule of a baby?

There is nothing such as a standard schedule for babies. Every baby is different, and their requirements vary. Generally, the feeding time of a baby, not cluster feeding, is around 10 to 30 minutes. Healthcare experts suggest feeding a newborn 8 to 12 times a day.

What are the benefits of cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding, though confusing and tiresome for a mother, provides several advantages for the baby. The benefits are as follows:

  • Soothes the baby and helps them relax
  • A full stomach ensures quality sleep for the baby
  • Provides the required nourishment to grow
  • Gives a feeling of security, reassurance and comfort to maintain their emotional requirements
  • Helps boost the mother’s milk supply to cater to the baby’s needs while it continues to grow

When is cluster feeding considered not normal?

Sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate whether the baby is going through a cluster feeding phase or if they have some other issues. Look for these symptoms in them:

  • The baby may not be gaining weight even after feeding a lot
  • Feeding is a non-stop process, and the baby cries unless they get fed
  • The baby’s skin appears to be yellow and becomes tired and dull
  • The baby has tremors after long hours of nursing
  • The baby is not producing enough wet diapers.

What are the challenges of cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is emotionally and physically exhausting for mothers. Due to constant feeding and waking up during late hours, they may feel tired and experience frustration. Some parents may become sleep-deprived and start doubting their ability to breastfeed when the baby takes a long time to settle. The situation worsens if the mother has a low milk supply.

When to seek medical help?

If a mother feels their baby is experiencing underlying health issues and need suggestions to tackle challenging situations, seek immediate medical attention.

How to handle cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is often misinterpreted as not having enough milk to satisfy the baby’s hunger. Cluster feeding happens due to the baby’s requirements and usually has nothing to do with the mother’s milk supply. Mothers need to follow these pointers to help themselves during this phase:

  1. Avoid skipping meals, and always stay hydrated
  2. Let the  partner help with snacks, drinks and other things that make the mother comfortable and relaxed.
  3. Follow the baby’s lead and do the necessary
  4. Change the breastfeeding position often.
  5. Sit in a comfortable place where the mother can get entertained and be relaxed.
  6. Use non-nutritive suckling options such as a pacifier once the mother feels the baby has a full tummy. It can save a lot of energy and time.

Conclusion

Pregnancy and childbirth are overwhelming experiences. Adequate care and awareness of what is coming can help the new parents prepare well. Cluster feeding, though a frustrating and tiresome process for the mother, can be managed with the help of an experienced lactation expert and with the support of family or partner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

What is the difference between cluster feeding and colic?

Colic is very similar to cluster feeding when the baby becomes fussy, generally during the evenings. Children with colic cannot be pacified with feeding, whereas a cluster feeding child can be pacified by a feed. 

What are the symptoms of colic? 

The baby may cry loudly at unpredictable times in the day. Their face turns red, and they look tense. 

Is it necessary to supplement with formula milk during cluster feeding?

No. Cluster feeding is a normal phenomenon; in most cases, it has nothing to do with lack of milk. But the mother can always switch to formula milk if she feels like taking a break. But she may need to pump regularly to keep up the milk supply.