Cluster Feeding – Is it Normal?

You may have heard this term or even the words “the witching hours”, they both mean a period in the day when a baby feeds very frequently and not always for a clear reason (well a clear reason for us adults to decipher that is!)

In the first few days after birth it is very common for babies to feed incredibly frequently, probably around 12 or more times per 24 hours.

Your baby is not feeding ferociously often because there is not enough milk, your baby is doing this because this is what nature intends for all human babies to do!

Babies are designed to drink very small amounts very frequently in the first 1-2 days. Most babies only drink about a teaspoon (5-7ml) of colostrum at each feed:

  • Day one; which is just perfect as their tummy is about the size of a cherry and holds about 7mls at each feed on day one! Perfectly designed!
  • Day two; you start to make a little bit more colostrum at each feed and this gradual increase in milk each day stretches bub’s tummy allowing them to drink more. Colostrum is a sugary delicious drink but it is not jam packed with fat at this stage, which means baby needs to keep feeding very often to stay full up. Remember every time your baby feeds it helps your breasts build your milk supply in the first month.
  • Day 3 on-wards as your milk increases in volume, you will notice your baby starts to have longer sleep periods of around 1.5-3 hours mostly.

1st Month

During the first month babies need to feed on average 8-12 times every 24 hours to ensure they are getting enough milk and that you stimulate the breast enough to keep building your milk supply.

Once you have established a good milk supply, in the first month you may find that your baby changes their feeding pattern again. Many mums report this happens around 6-8 weeks after birth.

After the first month, research has shown us that babies will breastfeed anywhere from 4-13 times every 24 hours.

Each mum and baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different and this is perfectly normal. It is just down to the levels of fat in your milk (fat levels change throughout the day) and the amount of milk your breast can hold at each feed. So do not compare yourself with another mum and baby’s feeding pattern, as it will most likely be completely different from yours.

Trying to force your baby into a strict routines often brings with it tears and stress for both mum and bub!

There are of course some mums and bubs who thrive on strict routines, but these are probably the babies who would’ve gotten themselves into a 4 hourly feeding pattern anyway.

So, back to cluster feeds…yes they do continue after the first few days!

Most mums report that their baby feeds really frequently and is unsettled more so during the evening hours, most common is between 6-10pm known as the “Witching Hour“. Mum’s report that their baby wants to be held constantly and feed “all the time” and that baby cries when put down in their cot. This is a very normal and common behaviour for babies who are otherwise content during other parts of the day, feeding and gaining weight well and are generally healthy.

Babies do have these periods of cluster feeding, often most present between 2 and 9 weeks of age. Researchers think it is a developmental stage that all babies need to go through. There are a huge amount of processes going on in a baby’s brain in the first year. Babies can easily get overwhelmed or dysregulated in the first few months in particular. Babies only start to be able to soothe themselves from around 3 months of age. Before then babies who are overtired, overwhelmed, or just feeling like this big world is all too much, cannot calm down by themselves, they need someone to help them. And what better way to be calmed than having a breastfeed, which of course is not just food, but also a pain reliever and a happy hormone giver! Also being held and rocked allows baby to feel safe and warm, like being back in the womb. So it makes sense that they need to be held and fed so much each evening.

Is it Normal to Cluster Feed?

Even though this is normal, it doesn’t stop it being exhausting. And it’s important to note how you are feeling and coping. Some of us have another person around to help us out, whilst other new mums have to manage alone during the cluster feeds. Regardless of your situation it is important to realise that cluster feeding is OK and normal.

How To Respond when Baby Continues to Cry

If you are responding to your baby by holding them and feeding them yet they are still crying in-between feeds, you are not causing harm to your baby, you are still showing them love and they will calm when they are able to.

The other thing to remind yourself is that this is temporary. It can feel like it is going on forever whilst it is happening and this is why it is important to not place any demands on yourself during these times.

  • Try preparing dinner at times in the day when baby is sleeping well and just re heat and eat as you can during the cluster feeds!
  • If you have support then share the holding and rocking of baby with another person to give you a break. If you do not have supports around at that time, listen to your instincts; if you are starting to feel like it is all too much and you feel worried that you are not coping, place your baby safely in their bassinet and walk away to calm down for a few minutes.
  • You could try knocking on the door of your neighbour, who you know and trust, and asking them to hold your baby for 15 mins to give you a break. Most people will understand and if they have children will have gone through the same themselves. Doing this will not harm your baby, but will give you time to relax a little and recharge.

But if you are finding that you are not coping during other parts of the day then it is important to talk with your GP or contact PANDA  for some extra help and support.

Other things which can help to relax babies during cluster feeding times:

  • Skin to skin contact
  • Having a bath with your baby – (only do this if you have another person to help you and baby in and out of the bath and keep your safe).
  • ‘Rocking your pelvis like Elvis’ Whilst holding your baby try some rocking and swaying moves whilst holding baby either upright, over your arm like superman or in a cradle hold. Each baby will be different in the positions they prefer.
  • Carrying your baby in a sling. This keeps baby nice and close and creates a womb like environment.
  • As you rock your baby make a loud “shuuusssshhhh” noise. This is actually calming for babies as it mimics the sounds of being inside the womb.
  • Try taking 5 deep breaths with your eyes closed before feeding baby to ensure you are relaxed and not tense.
  • Make sure you get extra sleep in the day time, even if you don’t feel like it make sure you lay down in a darkened, quiet room to rest your body and brain. Over the next few days you’ll soon be drifting off to la la land easily during the moments you get to lie down in the day!

And lastly remember you cannot spoil a baby by holding them too much. All the information about spoiling babies came out of textbooks written in the early 1900’s! We have known for years and years that holding and listening to your baby’s needs is the best thing to do, yet we still hear this very bad advice!

So listen to your gut instinct and cuddle, love and feed your baby as they need it. This phase will pass and get easier over the next few weeks.

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