Most people associate ‘cluster feeding’ only with breast fed babies, but a bottle fed baby may also cluster feed, in exactly the same way a breast fed baby will. Cluster feeding is a pattern of feeding that is different from their standard feeding pattern. For example, they may feed three to four hourly throughout the day but once it gets to 5pm, they feed every half hour for two hours. The feeding sessions are usually shorter and they drink less than a normal feed.
Cluster feeding is not always about hunger. It can be about seeking comfort; they want to suckle and be close. It can also be caused by a growth spurt, if they are not feeling well, if they are teething, or they are just a bit tired and cranky. Which is why cluster feeding is not exclusive to breast fed babies.
The key thing to remember about cluster feeding a formula-fed baby is that a bottle of formula is only safe to feed to your baby for one hour. After an hour you’ll need to throw it out and make a new one. If your baby has started to cluster feed in the late afternoon or early evening the best thing you can do to prepare is have several sterilised bottles prepared with boiled water so you can add formula and heat as you need to.
You may go through two or three bottles in a few hours. But cluster feeding is a completely normal phenomena and just part of the ever changing habits of little babies. They won’t do it forever. You don’t need to worry about over feeding, as your baby will throw up any excess.
If you’re not sure if it’s hunger related or your baby is just seeking comfort, you can try offering more formula in one feeding session. Make up one of your prepared bottles with an extra scoop of formula, according to the instructions on the tin and offer the whole bottle to your baby. If they only take the same small amount of milk, it may be that they are seeking the closeness that comes with feeding.
If this is the case, you could try using a dummy and a baby carrier. If you wear your baby while you go about your evening routine they will enjoy that same closeness that comes with feeding. If you are happy for them to use a dummy, their sucking reflex will also be satisfied.
If you don’t want to try either of these and are happy to sit through this phase of cluster feeding, the only thing you need to be vigilant about it providing a fresh feed after an hour.