Attention exclusively breastfeeding mamas! Whether you are new to the game or an old pro, we need to talk about newborn cluster feeding.
The life of a newborn is glorious. Baby eats and sleeps, while someone else takes care of all the rest.
Cluster feeding is something every exclusively breastfeeding mama is bound to go through. And it can be a tough challenge to overcome.
So before you think you are going crazy, or that there is something wrong with your breast milk supply, etc. Let’s talk more about newborn cluster feeding and help you get a better understanding of what is going on.
In this article:
- Newborn breastfeeding schedule
- What is cluster feeding?
- Why do newborn babies cluster feed?
- Infant growth spurts
- Tips to get through newborn cluster feeding
This article may contain affiliate links. And this is not intended to replace the medical advice of your provider. See disclosures for more information.
Newborn Cluster Feeding: How to Cope & Conquer
Typical Breastfeeding Schedule of a Newborn
I know that may sound like an oxymoron. Because anyone who knows how babies operate will tell you that they seem to deviate far from ever being “typical”. But bare with me.
The general rule of thumb for newborns is that they should be eating every 2-3 hours. Sometimes more frequently, but never more than 4 hours in between feeding.
So this is what I mean when I say the typical breastfeeding schedule of a newborn.
When a baby is first born, they will tend to be very sleepy. Waking only to eat, and usually dozing off soon thereafter.
It can become pretty routine. Retrospect, it is actually quite nice!
The immediate newborn phase is usually quite typical. Exhausting. Yes. But mama can pretty much come to know her baby’s routine.
The real challenges start when your baby changes the game.
What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your baby breastfeeds constantly for larger chunks of time. The nursing sessions are no longer 2-4 hours apart, but are more frequent and can last longer.
If your baby seems to be breastfeeding for 45 minutes every hour, for 3 hours… your baby is cluster feeding.
“My newborn wants to eat every hour!”
Does that sound familiar, mama? Just when you thought you had your baby’s game figured out, they change the rules.
Here’s the scenario:
Your baby is 4 weeks old. Up until now, she has been eating routinely every 3 hours. The other night you even slept for the most consecutive hours since she was born. Hello rejuvenation!
And then out of nowhere. Your baby starts waking more often in the night, or nursing constantly in the evening for hours at a time.
What happened to my sweet little routine-oriented baby?
Mama, meet your baby’s first major growth spurt.
Newborn Growth Spurts
Babies go through an immense amount of growing in their first year and beyond. But for now our focus is on the beginning.
Loosely speaking, the general guidelines for growth spurts are :
- 7-10 days
- 2-3 weeks
- 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
Does that seem overwhelming? Imagine how your baby feels. Babies are growing a mile a minute. It’s no wonder why they may seem to fuss all the time.
Why do babies cluster feed?
Growth spurts are a main reason why newborn cluster feeding occurs.
The demand on their growing bodies requires more energy. And to get more energy they need more calories. More calories equal more nursing.
So, if you are wondering why your baby is still nursing after 45 minutes. Or if they are wanting nurse for 15 minutes every hour for 4 hours straight. Rest assured, mama.
There is nothing at all wrong. Your sweet baby is probably just going through a growth spurt.
Other reasons for cluster feeding:
- teething pain
When do babies cluster feed?
Cluster feeding is most likely to occur around any of the growth spurt time periods mentioned above. And they typically happen in the evening time.
Have you heard the phrase: “the witching hour”?
It is your baby’s natural instinct to want to eat more, when they need more calories. And in preparation for sleeping longer stretches at night (praise the Lord), your baby tends to cluster feed in the evening time.
How long does cluster feeding last?
The long and short of it is, you may go through cluster feedings with your baby for the duration of your breastfeeding journey.
Cluster feeding will usually only last for a couple of days at a time. Just when your baby needs some extra calories or wants additional comfort (as in during an illness).
And every baby will be different. Some babies may have very few episodes of cluster feeding. While other babies may seem like they are constantly going through cluster feedings.
But it will not be forever. Cluster feedings will eventually stop. It may seem like the breastfeeding sessions will never end now, mama. But hang in there, they will
How to deal with newborn cluster feeding
When you are in the trenches of exclusively breastfeeding, it can sometimes be tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To get through the struggles of cluster feeding, here are some things you can do.
Get your household tasks done earlier in the day.
If you know your baby has started to tend to cluster feed in the evening time, plan to get things done earlier in the day. Realize that you are going to be “tied up” for a possible few hours and plan accordingly.
Have snacks/water on stand by
Being hungry or thirsty will not make your job any easier, mama. Remember to take care of yourself too. And if you are stuck in one place nursing your baby for hours on end- be prepared with a snack and bottle of water for you.
Breastfeed your baby somewhere you can be comfortable. If you are going to be spending a lot of time in that one spot, you want it to be comfortable for you. Back support is super important to remember!
DVR, Amazon Prime, Blogging Perhaps?
Keep yourself entertained and sane by recording some shows or movies. Late night Amazon Prime shopping was a definite coping mechanism I used. And lastly, maybe you will find interest in dipping into the world of blogging.
Find something you enjoy. Something to pass the time and relax, mama. This won’t be forever, but it will be for now. And you have to figure out a way to roll with the punches.
How to stop cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is a natural thing your breastfed baby goes through. To give them the increase in calories they need as they go through their growth spurt, there really isn’t a way to stop cluster feeding.
Continuing to breastfeed your baby on demand is the only way to get through cluster feeding. Your baby will stop once they are full.
When does cluster feeding end?
I know what your thinking because I have been right where you are, mama. You are tired. And you don’t know if you can take another minute (or however many your baby will nurse for).
Hang in there. What seems like forever and a day will once be behind you.
This phase of cluster feeding will only last a few days. Your baby has a short need for an increase in calories, and you are their source, mama!
You will sleep again.
Your baby will eventually wean from breastfeeding. And you won’t be their sole source of nutrition forever.
I have never heard anyone say exclusively breastfeeding is easy. But, I have heard again and again how it is so worth it.
- It’s OKAY to Nurse Your Baby to Sleep
- Baby is Refusing to Breastfeed
- What Nobody Tells You About Exclusively Breastfeeding
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