Are you busy cluster feeding a newborn? Maybe even as we speak? This will help you know what to do so you’re not up all night feeding a baby every hour.
Newborns are perfectly snuggly and sweet and warm and wonderful.
But it can be hard.
If they won’t sleep well, don’t seem to be eating well, and are irritable due to gas pain, overtiredness, or teething… then you can feel like you’re slowly starting to lose your mind from lack of sleep and complete world upheaval.
A common phenomenon with little ones… cluster feeding.
Cluster feeding (n): A breastfeeding pattern when baby groups several feeding sessions in a short window of time. It can happen for a number of reasons, which we’ll dive into below.
4 Likely Scenarios:
- Baby cluster feeds at night, but not during the day.
- Baby cluster feeds both day and night.
- Baby “cluster feeds” but never takes full long feeds.
- Baby cluster feeds sometime in the late afternoon/early evening period (5 pm to 11 pm).
The Do’s & Dont’s of Cluster Feeding Newborns
Cluster feeding can really feel difficult or confusing, but I want to assure you that these newborns days are intense yet they will pass and the habits you start now can create a strong foundation then fade out naturally into a mutually beneficial routine.
Reasons Cluster Feeding Works
So first of all, you’ll end up cluster feeding at some point in the day with your newborn. Their tummies are tiny and they need to fill them up at regular intervals.
This is actually a good thing and you can use the cluster feeding rhythm to your benefit in a way that means baby gets more sleep and you do too.
Reasons Cluster Feeding Is Beneficial:
- Your baby gets lots of nourishment in a shorter period of time which is beneficial during the late afternoon/early evening hours when milk quality can be low.
- Baby can sleep longer stretches after cluster feeding periods.
- Mom can sleep longer stretches after cluster feeding periods.
- Milk supply can be kept up with regular feeding.
- Cluster feeds help babies get through growth spurts with adequate milk supply.
Newborn Night Cluster Feeding: Day Night Confusion?
If your baby cluster feeds at night, but not during the day then sweet baby probably has some day night confusion going on. The goal is to make those cluster feeds during daytime hours so they’re sleeping longer stretches at night. If baby wants to nap for 4 hours during the day… well… don’t let him! Follow my newborn sample routine or do what works for you, but know that if you let baby sleep long stretches during the day he will be up every hour at night.
The way forward?
Purposefully cluster feed in late afternoon and early evening and make sure baby is taking full feeds. This means at least 10 minutes per breast if you’re nursing.
How To Stop Cluster Feeding At Night
Ain’t no mama want to be up every hour at night. The good news is you don’t have to be. Even if you are feeding every hour through the night, you can shift that and begin getting longer stretches at night.
What’s the only way to stop cluster feeding at night?
Make sure baby is getting as much milk as they can throughout the day.
Don’t let baby snack while nursing. 10 minute feeds throughout the day mean baby will be up all night because baby is hungry and needs milk. When you start giving baby full feeds throughout the day (this will mean you’ll have to do jump through some hoops to keep baby up) and baby settles into a predictable routine then they’ll sleep longer stretches at night. ‘
Purposefully cluster feed in the late afternoon period when the milk supply is at its lowest quality (4 pm onwards) so that baby’s tummy is as full as it can be. This will promote deeper sleep. Eventually, even if baby wakes frequently at night for feeds, if you are not giving long full feeds throughout the night baby will get it.
Cluster Feeding Both Day And Night
If baby is cluster feeding both day and night there are only a few likely alternatives.
- Milk supply is low and baby is starving.
- Baby is going through a growth spurt and is starving.
- Baby is only “snacking” and not taking full feeds or getting to the hindmilk rich in nutrients because he just takes a bit then stops.
The best way to help baby stop cluster feeding day and night is to determine which issue you’re having. If it’s milk supply then continue feeding until your supply is up or supplement with formula (see the lactation expert).
If baby is going through a growth spurt then there’s nothing to do but wait it out and feed baby as much as possible to keep them full and get your supply up to meet the demand.
What to do if baby only “snacks”
- Keep baby awake during feeds by taking off their clothes except diaper. You can also rub their feet, cheeks, or hands with a baby wipe or keep trying to stimulate them to stay awake long enough to feed.
- Do not put baby down to sleep if they fall asleep while nursing unless they just won’t wake up. Keep trying to feed baby even if it takes a bit of time so they’ll get as much as they can.
- Don’t let baby just hang out nursing if they aren’t actually feeding.
- Give the baby a paci if they wake and want to nurse right after having nursed a short time ago. They might just need to satisfy the sucking urge and this will help. Also, the next time they feed after this will mean they’ll take more milk and keep your supply up. “Snacking” can contribute to a lower milk supply because baby is never emptying a breast and getting the rich milk.
Eventually by doing those things baby will stop snacking and start taking fuller feeds which will naturally result in longer times between feeds.
Cluster Feeding In The Early Evening
The prime time to have cluster feeding sessions is the late afternoon early evening. As I previously said, the milk supply can be lower in quantity and quality at this time due to the stresses of the day, so feeding baby every 2 hours for a few hours will help keep your supply up, will keep the little one happy, and will set them up to sleep longer stretches at night.
Your evening routine might look something like this.
4:30 p.m. Nurse and nap
6:30 p.m. Nurse and catnap (or skip nap)
8:30 p.m. Nurse and bed
10:30 p.m. Dreamfeed
By purposefully cluster feeding in the right time you’ll help everyone sleep more at night while keeping your precious one topped up on milk.
Need sample routines for babies 6 weeks and older?
By now, you know how to handle the newborn days, but what after? The good news is this: you’ve set your baby up for a foundation of success.
Now all you need to do is continue to find routines that work for you and your baby as they grow up and begin getting bigger and bigger. Sob. After having had 5 babies with 5 different personalities, I know a thing or two about finding a good schedule.
This is why I’ve created a book of sample routines and schedules for babies ages 6 weeks up to 5 years. The book includes information on how long to let baby stay awake, how much play time is good for each age, what to do with baby when baby is awake but not quite mobile, and even how to manage toddler and baby joint routines.
Chapters covered in Rhythms, Routines & Schedules include:
Section One: Sample Schedules
- 6 Weeks to 3 Months Old
- 3-6 Months Old
- 7-9 Months Old
- 9-12 Months Old
- 12-18 Months Old
- 2-3 Years Old
- 4-5 Years Old
Section Two: Tips and Tricks
- Tips for Managing the Day With Multiple Children
- Daily Rhythms for an Only Child Ages 1-4 Years Old
- Daily Rhythms for Multiple Small Children Ages 0-5
- Sample Bedtime, Mealtime, and Playtime Routines
- Tips for Keeping Kids Busy Throughout the Day
For more sample routines, mom tested and approved schedules for babies ages 6 weeks and up, check out Rhythms, Routines & Schedules right now.
I’ve created a free email series just for you! If you struggle with creating an easy flowing routine or rhythm in your home… this is it. I’ve gathered all my easiest routine hacks into one free series and, best of all, you can get a big sneak peak into our book that has over 25+ routines for babies ages 6 weeks to 5 years. This series will help you:
- find a routine and rhythm for your child
- learn how to juggle multiple routines (for 2 or 3+ kids)
- know what is and isn’t working so you can make one tweak that’ll change your day
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
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