Will this ever end?

Quick notes

  • What is cluster feeding and is it normal?

  • How do I survive cluster feeding?

  • What if it’s not cluster feeding?

If you have a newborn, and you are breastfeeding, you may find yourself feeling like you’re feeding your baby non-stop.  This could be due to a phenomenon commonly known as cluster feeding.  Perfectly normal babies already nurse about eight to 12 times per day, but these feedings may become even more frequent if your baby is cluster feeding.  This is not something that should cause you to worry, as it is exceptionally common with breastfed infants.

Attie Sandink, who is an Ontario-based lactation consultant, says, “Babies know how much milk they need.  If they’re not getting enough, they just want to feed and feed.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not making enough milk, but you should be sure to feed your newborn every time she wants to eat.  If your baby is hungry often and mostly at nighttime, then she is likely cluster feeding.  Unfortunately, cluster feedings can last for months.

How do I survive cluster feedings?

Cluster feeding can be undeniably difficult, and new mothers often feel like they are nursing their newborns nonstop.  Some mothers find it helpful to just do all of their necessary tasks during the day, and then just settle in for several hours of breastfeeding at night to cope with this challenge.  Others enlist the help of family members for household tasks or meals.

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There are multiple reasons for cluster feedings.  Growth spurts or a drop in evening prolactin levels, causing a reduced milk flow, might be the culprit.  If slow milk flow is a problem for you, it may be helpful to get the hang of breast compressions, which simply means to press on your breast during nursing.  Some babies simply cluster feed for comfort.  Some mothers also find that carrying their baby in a sling is helpful so that they can multitask.

Cathy Wegiel, mother of four, says this about how she survived cluster feeding:

“I always nursed in the armchair in the living room, and the other kids would snuggle with me and read stories.  And if he was hungry during dinner, I nursed at the table and tried not to spill my food on him.”

It is often helpful to keep a healthy snack basket and bottled water near your favorite nursing spot to reduce interruptions.

When should I be concerned?

Although cluster feeding can be exhausting, it is usually completely normal.  It can be encouraging to remember that cluster feeding is temporary, and that you are doing the absolute best thing for your baby’s health and diet by breastfeeding.  However, there are times when you should consult a lactation consultant or a doctor, which are:

  • If your baby is not gaining weight despite feeding constantly
  • If you are in pain while nursing your baby
  • If your baby is producing less than six wet diapers per day

Cluster feeding usually occurs when your baby is anywhere between a few days to a few weeks old.  It is typified by babies wanting to feed very frequently, having several wet diapers per day, and a baby that is content when feeding.  Cluster feeding can sometimes happen in older children while they are teething or in formula-fed children, but it happens most often in breastfed infants.

What if it’s not cluster feeding?

Steady feedings can help prevent jaundice, promote weight gain, and establish a good milk supply in the mother.  However, cluster feeding can be confused with colic.  If your baby screams often for long periods of time despite being well-fed, seems tense and uncomfortable, and cries at predictable times of day, you may be dealing with colic.  Colic usually reaches its height around three weeks of age and generally passes by the time a baby is three months old.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

Tips to naturally produce more breastmilk/Parenting 101

Examples of how you can increase your breastmilk production naturally.

How to get dad to help with the chores/Parenting 101

Advice about enlisting family help during cluster feeding.