Cluster Feeding: What to Do When Baby Wants to Eat CONSTANTLY

Cluster feeding is something almost every new mom will face, and it’s hard! In this post, we’ll explainwhy, plus equip you with helpful tips and tricks.

Cluster feeding is something almost every new mom will face, and it's hard! In this post, we'll explain: what cluster feeding is, why babies cluster feed, and equip you with the tips and tricks you need to make it through this exhausting and sometimes painful phase (yes, it is just a phase!).

You just gave birth to this miraculous little human being. You’re exhausted. You haven’t showered in days and you’re in full postpartum mode. And yet, your sore nipples won’t catch a break because baby wants to feed ALL. OF. THE. TIME. Don’t worry, mama, this phenomenon is called cluster feeding and it is a.) perfectly normal and b.) temporary. ?

Cluster Feeding Video by Genevieve Howland

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Does it seem like baby wants to nurse all the time? Forget every two hours—it seems like your baby is ready for that milk every 20 minutes! Sounds like cluster feeding, a time when baby needs to nurse frequently in order to satisfy his appetite. Though cluster feeding can happen at any time of the day, it often happens in the evening and is accompanied by a period of fussy and restless behavior that can last for a few hours.

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Why Do Babies Cluster Feed?

A schedule sounds nice, right? New parents learn very quickly that you can’t always count on an infant to follow any sort of schedule, no matter how hard you try! It’s normal to experience irregularities to your sleeping or feeding routine with a newborn (or even toddler!)

When baby wants to cluster feed, it’s generally to satisfy the nutritional demands of a growth spurt (also known as a wonder week)—a time when baby is growing and developing both mental and motor skills.

After a bout of cluster feedings, mom’s breast milk output or supply will usually be higher to support baby’s bigger size.

How Long Do Babies Cluster Feed?

Your baby may want to cluster feed anywhere from a few days to several weeks at a time during a significant growth or development period.

According to La Leche League, baby experiences the most rapid growth during the first two months of life. Significant growth spurts (and hence, cluster feedings) most often occur at these times:

  • Day 2
  • weeks 2-3
  • weeks 4-6
  • 3 months

Navigating these lengthy periods of increased feedings can be difficult. It’s crucial to remember that this too shall pass—your baby just needs a little extra help in order to fully develop into the healthy, beautiful child that he is destined to become.

How to Take Care of Yourself During Cluster Feeding

When baby wants to eat every 20 minutes, your focus narrows on making sure he gets enough to eat. But don’t forget to take care of yourself! Cluster feeding can be a trying time for Mama, too. Here are some ways to ease the emotional and physical burdens:

Take care of your breasts

Even if your baby has a good latch, frequent nursing sessions can be brutal for your nipples. The good news: There are many effective remedies for sore nipples that are safe for both you and your baby. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself:

  • Use nipple creams: Buy creams, use coconut oil, or try my DIY recipe.
  • Apply a warm compress: Cover your breasts with a warm, damp towel for about 10 minutes to ease any tenderness and increase blood circulation.
  • Avoid underwire bras: Underwire can put unnecessary pressure on breasts, causing even more soreness.
  • Go topless: It’s your house and you can do what you want! Loose clothing—or no clothing at all—will eliminate any extra chafing and can do wonders for irritated nipples.
  • Rotate breastfeeding positions! This will help “wear and tear” to your nipples as each breastfeeding position affects the nipples in slightly different ways.

Eat well and stay hydrated

If you’re tempted to scrimp on meals in attempt to lose that baby weight, now is not the time. Your body can burn up to 500 calories a day breastfeeding! That means you really need good calories (high protein; high fat) coming in. (Here are some yummy meals for inspiration.) It’s also important to stay hydrated—a breastfeeding mama needs extra water to keep up with the demands of creating more milk. Shoot for at least 8 cups of water a day, if not 12.

Get professional help

Don’t go at it alone! If you have questions about cluster feeding, are experiencing pain, or feel stressed, find a professional who can help. Lactation consultants and organizations like La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA can offer professional advice as well as support groups for new moms.

Lean on family and friends

Utilize your partner to make cluster feeding more manageable. If find yourself stuck in an unusually long feeding session, don’t be afraid to ask your partner to bring you a glass of water, readjust your pillows, or even tidy the house while you feed baby. You may also want someone to cook for you! Or find some healthy takeout places.

Practice babywearing & skin-to-skin

When baby wants to nurse constantly, put him/her in your baby carrier! Baby can nurse away and you can actually get a few things done around the house. Even better, do it while practicing skin-to-skin contact. This simple practice boosts milk supply, endorphin levels and calms a fussy baby.

Embrace the bonding time

We know it’s tough Mama! But you got this. Try to focus on the biggest benefit of frequent nursing sessions: extra snuggles with your beautiful baby. Believe it or not, you will blink and baby will be heading off to kindergarten. (The days are long but the years are short!) By having the “long view,” you may be able to cope better during this tough time.

A positive attitude can do wonders for your baby, too. When you’re more relaxed, baby tends to be more relaxed and nursing sessions will run smoother (your breasts won’t want to letdown if you’re high stress).

No matter what methods you employ to cope with the demands of cluster feeding, keep in mind that this too shall pass—it’s a common phase in the development of your child.

How to Handle Cluster Feeding at Night

Since cluster feedings can happen round the clock, but are especially common during the night (Grrrreat!), here are some extra strategies if you find yourself up all night…

Carve out a space for yourself

Set up a dedicated location in your home where you can nurse and relax in peace. Make sure you have a cozy chair and leave everything you may need for added comfort—a nursing pillow, a blanket, snacks, a big jug of water (!), nipple cream, etc.

Use soothing techniques

Try to keep your baby as relaxed as possible when nursing by swaying, rocking, and utilizing ambient sound machines to keep baby in a sleepy mode. Avoid bright lights, loud sounds or too much stimulation. You can nurse skin-to-skin to help boost your milk supply, support calming oxytocin levels, and keep baby happy and calm.

Be flexible

Having flexibility in your daytime schedule can help make staying up at night feel more manageable. Sleep when the baby naps during the day. The household chores can wait and scrolling on Instagram isn’t going to give you energy.

Or, ask a friend or family member for help. Adequate sleep (and a proper diet!) can go a long way towards making you feel more refreshed and capable of managing any late evening cluster feeding.

Do Formula-Fed Babies Cluster Feed?

Formula-fed babies can exhibit this behavior, although usually to a lesser extent than those that are breastfed. Luckily many of the same tips and tricks will work for formula-fed babies as well.

Can Baby Be Overfed?

While it is technically possible to overfeed your baby, it’s very unlikely that a breastfed baby gets too much milk as it takes work for him/her to extract milk from your breast! (Have you ever noticed your baby sweating during a nursing session?!) Your baby will generally guide you, offering cues that he/she needs more food or is satisfied.

If you are bottle feeding, try a slow flow bottle and practice paced bottle feeding to prevent overfeeding your baby.

Am I Making Enough Breast Milk?

Cluster feeding can lead new moms to wonder if they are struggling with low milk supply. In most cases, cluster feeding has nothing to do with your milk supply. Rather, baby just needs extra nutrients to fuel all that growing he’s doing!

You can certainly add in special foods or teas that boost milk supply to help during the extra demands of cluster feeding, but don’t be concerned unless baby is showing signs of being underfed.

Signs Something Else Could Be Wrong

Sometimes, baby’s constant desire to nurse or overall fussiness may be due to other issues like colic, baby reflux, needing a good burp, or simply overexhaustion.

Signs that you want to pay attention to include:

  • Baby is losing weight
  • Baby has fewer wet/dirty diapers
  • Baby has fever
  • Your breasts don’t seem empty after feedings

If these signs are present, call your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for help. During bouts of cluster feeding, baby should be gaining weight and maintaining strong diaper output, so these symptoms could indicate another issue.

How About You?

Did your baby cluster feed? Please share your experiences and any strategies that helped you manage a more demanding nursing schedule!

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

7 Comments

  1. That was absolutely amazing. This video has helped me a lot. Thank you so much! It gets tough during the night but it’s all worth it if it’s for his best health and growth!

    • Glad that we could help. Take care and best wishes to you!!! 💕

  2. My 3 month old daughter started cluster feeding since maybe 2-2 1/2 months. She will cluster feed every two hours between the hours of 6am-7/8pm then sleep all night. I am just wondering when will it change. I was breast feeding only but it became so painful. I decided to pump instead but it’s like double work. Today I thought to myself maybe I can’t handle this anymore and just need to put her on formula. I’m feeling a little motivated to keep going after reading this article.

  3. Can you tell me the brand of Vitamin K drops you are giving to Baby Faith? Natural or synthetic? Almost 39 weeks with baby #3 and want to be prepared 🙂

  4. My 1 month old cluster fed ten hours today. The last three hours were nothing but frustration on his part, he’d suckle, no swallows, and then would become frustrated at the breast and pull off. I can tell hes hungry, his diapers are steady even though I feel like hes barely getting an ounce when I do let down. Reading your article helped my sanity… I just hope this isnt a multi week cluster feeding ? currently hes passed out from probable exhaustion…

  5. I’m going on over a month straight with my little one feeding periodically throughout the day and cluster feeding from 7-8 pm STRAIGHT TO 4-5 am every. Single. Night. I’m losing my damn mind. Everyone says cluster feeding lasts a few weeks, but she’s halfway through week 5 of non-stop 9 straight hours of feeding every night. I miss the good old days when she actually slept her nights. She’ll be 11 weeks on Thursday. I hope this ends oon.

    • I hope you’ve gotten some rest!


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