Cluster Feeding (sometimes called ‘bunch feeding’) is exactly what the word suggests. Feeds that are ‘clustered’ together; this occurrence is normal!
It is when a baby feeds almost continuously, with only short periods of time in-between. Typically, they would feed with a few hours in-between.
Cluster feeding at night (before bedtime) is most common. Some babies may cluster feed during the day too.
Bunch feeding is common amongst newborns but might occur during growth spurts when a baby is older.
How Long does Cluster Feeding Last?
It depends on the baby, but usually, it only lasts the first month and then returns during growth spurts, i.e., month 3, 6, etc.
Is my Baby Cluster Feeding?
Not sure if your baby is Bunch feeding or not? Ask yourself the following questions.
Does your baby:
Feed with only short pauses in between feeds?
Feed for only a few minutes at a time?
Fuss after sucking for short periods?
Seem irritable or needy?
If you answered yes to at least 2 of the above questions, your baby is Bunch Feeding! If you suspect that something else is causing this, contact your healthcare professional.
Why does a Baby Cluster Feed?
There might be a few reasons why your baby cluster feeds.
Possible Reasons for Cluster Feedings
Your baby might be trying to fill his/her tummy before bedtime; this may result in them sleeping more extended stretches after Clustered Feedings.
Growth spurts. Babies need to do a lot of growing and will, therefore, go through a few growth spurts. They need the energy to grow and thus need extra breast milk during these times.
Colic and Acid reflux. The sucking motion while breastfeeding, triggers movements in the intestines, thus helping the milk to move along faster and to get digested quicker; this means that the constant feeding is soothing for the colic and reflux.
Your milk flow is slower in the evenings, and your milk is not as rich as in the mornings.
Your baby might need some extra bonding and comforting. If you're working during the day, your baby might need this time to bond more. Also linked with comfort feeding.
Some experts believe that it's nature’s way of telling your body (via cluster feeds), that your baby needs more milk to assist with the immediate growing phase! Whether it’s a growth spurt or to match the increase in demand, milk production is stimulated by the constant feeding.
Why should I allow Clustered Feedings?
Bunch feeding is perfect to boost or build-up your milk supply. The more your baby feeds, the more milk you’ll produce; this is great for building up a breast milk backup stock for when you need to go back to work or when planning a vacation.
Some experts say that the extra feeds before bedtime will keep a baby’s tummy full for more extended periods. Therefore, your baby will sleep for longer stretches. And the longer your baby sleeps, the longer you sleep.
Spend some Skin-to-Skin time with your baby. The benefits of Skin-to-Skin contact are endless. Bunch feeding can calm your baby in an instant, it also boosts your hormone production, so that your body can cope with your baby’s demands. The skin contact triggers the release of Oxytocin, which soothes you and your baby.
‘Wear’ your baby during the day or when possible. When you keep a baby close to you, he/she tends to be much more relaxed and comfortable. Your closeness might be all your little one needs. Try breastfeeding your baby while in a sling; this gives you the freedom to use your hands.
Swaddle your baby for sleep time; this has a calming effect on a baby and may increase the time a baby sleeps at once.
Get comfy. If you know what’s going to follow, you might as well use the time to get comfortable and do something you like; even if it’s just relaxing in front of the telly or playing a game on your phone.
Take a break. If things get frustrating, ask your partner to help. While he holds the baby, you can make a cup of coffee or go for a short walk. You’ll feel much more refreshed and relaxed afterward.
Get a breastfeeding partner; this can be your spouse or even your sister. My sister used to sit with me for hours on end. You will be surprised at how quickly time flies when you have someone to chat to. Things are also much easier when you have someone around who can fetch your snacks and charger! ;-)