Are you busy with a cluster feeding newborn? 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 to survive.
If they won’t sleep well, don’t seem to be eating well, and are irritable due to gas pain, overtiredness, or even baby 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.
What is it?
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 (some purposeful, some not), which we’ll dive into below.
Some other names for this are topping up or tanking up (giving baby a bit more to make sure they aren’t hungry when they go to bed) or even split feeding.
Split feeding is used when you sort of divide up a feed into two so that baby gets what they need immediately, then some more again before going off into dreamland.
How babies cluster feed – 4 likely scenarios:
- Baby cluster feeds at night, but not during the day.
- Baby cluster feeds both day and night.
- Or baby snacks but never takes full long feeds.
- Baby cluster feeds sometime in the late afternoon/early evening period (5 pm to 11 pm) on purpose.
Rules of thumb while cluster feeding your newborn
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.
Remember, during this time you may find your baby log comes in handy to refer back to.
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 this feeding rhythm to your benefit in a way that means baby gets more sleep and you do too.
Reasons Tanking Up Is Beneficial And Why Babies Do It:
- Your baby gets lots of nourishment in a shorter period of time which is beneficial during the late afternoon/early evening hours when, depending on your personal stress levels, milk quality may be lower.
- Baby can sleep longer stretches after cluster feeding periods.
- Mom can sleep longer stretches because baby is sleeping longer stretches.
- Milk supply can be kept up with regular feeding.
- Cluster feeds help babies get through growth spurts by maintaining adequate milk supply.
Hourly feedings at night: 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 more frequently at night.
Tried-and-true *hands on* newborn settling strategies that even the most fussy (or wide-awake-sleep-refusing) newborns cannot resist!Learn More
The way forward?
Purposefully cluster feed your newborn 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, often times twice that.
You can tell when baby is no longer actively nursing but just remaining latched on in a few ways.
First, look at the muscles on baby’s cheek. If they are nursing it will be moving up and down. Next, discern whether baby is swallowing or not.
Then, look at baby’s chin, is it moving as it does during active sucking (aka nursing).
If none of these are happening baby is likely asleep and engaging in non-nutritive sucking.
Use our checklist to use cluster feeding to your advantage without feeding every hour all day every day!
How to stop cluster feeding at night (if you’re ready)
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.
It’s super hard when your newborn is cluster feeding all night, but you will get there and it will get easier!
Are you feeding your newborn both day and night?
If you have a cluster feeding newborn 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 a lactation expert).
Alternatively, 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.
Use this simple printable chart to track your feeds to make sure baby is fed, your supply is up, and everyone is well.
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. You can put them on a soft blanket or tummy time mat and let them kick in their diaper until they’ve woken up, then continue feeding.
- Try not to 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.
- Differentiate between active nursing and non-nutritive sucking, and let baby do one but maybe not the other.
- Give the baby a pacifier (the pacifier I recommend that stays in baby’s mouth) 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.
Read: The Ultimate Newborn Sleep Schedule: Week By Week For The Postpartum Period
Cluster feeding in the early evening
The prime time to have newborn 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.
Because of this, 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.
- Feed every 1.5 to 2 hours during the early evening.
- Give baby plenty of milk before their bedtime so they are satisfied and sleep longer.
- Cluster feed during the DAY so you don’t find yourself having to cluster feed at NIGHT.
- Drop the cluster feeds when baby is no longer interested in one of the feeds.
Remember, feeding at frequent intervals in the late afternoon early evening will not solve actual sleep problems, but it will help your little one have a full tummy.
Sleep issues might subside if they were hunger related.
Use our checklist to use cluster feeding to your advantage without feeding every hour all day every day!
Easy to implement routines, rhythms and schedules from birth through school-aged kids to help you streamline day-to-day life with kids, including a step-by-step guide for getting started.Learn More
Need sample routines for babies 6 weeks and older?
By now, you know how to handle the early days, but what after? Here is the good news: 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.
After having 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.
Cluster Feeding FAQ
Cluster feeding typically will happen until around 4 or 5 months of age. Once baby is around 5 months (see the 5 month old schedule here) and they are eating solids, there isn’t as much of a need for cluster feeding.
If your supply is low and baby is frequently feeding, this will increase your supply. Milk supply and quality is typically lower in the late afternoon early evening and cluster feeding can help fill baby.
Babies need to eat when they are hungry. Too much “snacking” can mean that baby is getting a lot of the foremilk which is less nutrient dense and will contribute to more feeding. Solution? Full feeds with hindmilk for baby.
Yes and no. Babies can tend to feed every hour all day long if they aren’t getting enough milk or they are snacking. If baby is feeding every hour all day long they’re not actually getting much food, they are using your breast as a snack bar. If you’re okay with this, then you’re good to go. And if not, focus on full feeds.
If babies take full feeds (nursing for 30 to 45 minutes typically) they won’t need food every half hour or even every two hours. If they snack they will feed more frequently.
Take our 3 day challenge to create life-giving family, child, and self-care routines.Learn More