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What is Cluster Feeding and Why Do Babies Do It?

May 12, 2022

Contributing Expert: Tara Kotagal, MD

This post is part of our newborn health and wellness series. For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page

You may have heard the term cluster feeding before. Wondering if your baby is doing it and what it means? Lurie Children’s pediatricians answer the most common questions about cluster feeding.

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Typically, newborns need to eat every 2–3 hours in the first few weeks of life. But sometimes, they may suddenly want to feed more often than before. This is called cluster feeding. It simply means eating more frequently than every two hours.

Why Do Newborns Cluster Feed?

Babies cluster feed for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is for comfort. But often it is because they are growing and they need more milk.

At What Ages Do Newborns Tend to Cluster Feed?

Newborns usually cluster feed when they are going through a big period of growth. The most common ages are:

  • Right after birth
  • At two weeks of age
  • At one month of age

How Should I Handle It if My Baby Wants to Cluster Feed During the Night?

A baby’s sleep can get disrupted when they are going through developmental milestones. This can be frustrating! It is especially hard if your baby has been sleeping for well and then suddenly regresses.

Do your best to feed on a schedule during the day so that your baby has a full tummy leading up to bedtime. Try to differentiate between hunger cues and soothing cues. As your baby gets older, they should start to sleep in longer stretches overnight. If they are still waking up frequently to feed at four months, talk with your pediatrician about sleep training.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between a Baby Who Wants to Cluster Feed and a Fussy Baby?

You may not always know the difference. Look for hunger cues, like lip smacking, moving their head from side to side, rooting (as if searching for food) or moving their hand to their mouth.

If your baby cries out shortly after a feed, try soothing techniques, such as using a pacifier, shushing, swaying or swaddling.

Can Formula-Fed Babies Cluster Feed?

Yes, they can. However, formula tends to be more slowly digested than breast milk. It may leave babies feeling fuller at bedtime, leading to less frequent awakenings overnight.

Do All Newborns Cluster Feed?

Remember that every baby is different and it is hard to compare one infant to the next. While cluster feeding is a common phenomenon, each baby may do it a bit differently.

What if My Baby Wants to Cluster Feed, but I Need a Break?

While you need to take care of your baby, you also need to take care of yourself! Feeding a baby takes a lot of work. Breastfeeding parents should try to limit feeding sessions to 30 minutes or less. And take at least a 30-minute break in between feeds. If bottle feeding, try alternating feeding responsibilities with another caregiver. Make sure you are prioritizing your own rest.

Remember, always reach out to your pediatrician with your feeding questions. Your pediatrician is your partner in helping to care for your baby and making sure they meet all their development milestones.

In addition to expert specialty care, Lurie Children’s offers several primary care locations around the Chicago area for your child's healthcare needs — from infancy through childhood and adolescence. Learn more about our primary care services

 

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