Formula Cluster Feeding: Does it Ever Happen?

A man in a light blue shirt and jeans is sitting on a dark blue couch. He is holding a newborn while bottle feeding.

The other day, a random thought popped into my head: when babies drink formula, is cluster feeding a “thing?”

As a former breastfeeding mama, I know my newborn babies went through their fair share of cluster feeds, but I didn’t stop to consider whether a formula-fed baby has the same innate desire to eat more during specific periods of their little lives until some of our readers posed this exact question.

Here at Undefining Motherhood, we know that breastfeeding is FREAKING hard, and not all mamas and babies take to it easily. If you’ve decided to formula feed for WHATEVER reason, we support you! 

So if you’re a mama pondering the question, “Do babies cluster feed if they drink formula?” put your worries away. Read on to learn everything you need to know about formula cluster feeding, which really is a thing!

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What is Newborn Cluster Feeding?

Most babies will formula feed 8-12 times a day. However, little ones begin expressing hunger cues during a cluster more frequently than this, and yes, it happens to formula-fed babies, too.

Instead of waiting longer stretches to eat (every 2-3 hours is typical), your baby might act like they’re starving only 30 minutes to an hour after their last bottle. 

Usually, this behavior happens during the late afternoon or early evening hours. 

Since cluster feeding usually coincides with increased fussiness, you might wonder whether your baby is going through something like colic. The good news is that cluster feeding is normal and isn’t something to worry about. 

While you might feel frustrated during your little one’s cluster, it shouldn’t last long! Most babies will only cluster feed for a couple of days. And of course, call your pediatrician if you have questions or need reassurance!

A baby is laying in a woman's arms drinking from a clear bottle with a blue and white striped top on it.
Wondering if formula cluster feeding is a thing? Here’s what you should know!

Will Babies Who Drink Formula Start Cluster Feeding?

We usually relate clusters to a breastfed baby. But as we’ve discussed, formula cluster feeding happens, too! Want to know why? Check out these reasons formula-fed babies might start cluster feeding:

1. Growth Spurt

Around three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months, many infants go through growth spurts

During a period of time when your baby is experiencing fast developmental and physical growth, it might seem like they can never get enough milk. This is largely because babies need enough calories to support this process!

2. Improving Baby’s Sleep

Sometimes a baby cluster also happens because your little one is trying to start sleeping longer at night. Instead of waking up for feeds, they might drink more right before bed to stay satisfied longer.

3. Comfort for Fussiness

The Cleveland Clinic states that a baby might become “fussier than normal” during growth spurts. To help themselves calm down, your baby might experience a heightened desire to eat–but why?

On behalf of the website Happiest Baby, Dr. Harvey Karp says that suckling is a natural relaxation technique for babies. Not only does it decrease stress levels, but it also lowers a little one’s heart rate and blood pressure. 

Is Cluster Feeding Bad if Your Baby Drinks Formula?

When babies start experiencing cluster feeding sessions, our new mama paranoia might go into overdrive. If your baby suddenly eats more than usual, it’s not uncommon to assume there’s a problem.

It’s not unusual, for instance, for breastfeeding moms to automatically assume that cluster feeding stems from low milk supply or an issue with their nipples or baby’s latch. 

If you have a formula-fed baby, you might face similar concerns.

Cluster feeding is a natural experience. It’s your little one’s way of getting the extra milk their little bodies think they need. 

You should be in the clear as long as they’re acting normal and putting out plenty of those dirty diapers they’re so good filling. Ugh, gross.

For babies drinking formula, the only risk of cluster feeding is overfeeding your little one, which can cause a bellyache.

Be on the lookout for signs your infant is full, such as:

  • Turning their head away from their bottle
  • Relaxed, splayed hands
  • Pushes food away
  • Closes mouth
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When is it Time to Call the Doctor?

Just because cluster feeding doesn’t usually signify a problem, it doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally need to contact your child’s pediatrician. 

If your little one stops gaining weight, seems lethargic, or isn’t putting out enough dirty or wet diapers, make an appointment with their healthcare provider as soon as possible. 

Should You Supplement with Formula if Your Nursing Baby is Cluster Feeding?

Remember what we said: Cluster feeding does NOT mean there is an issue with mom’s milk supply!

It’s not unusual for breastfeeding mamas to think about supplementing with formula during cluster feeding. This isn’t necessary, though. Your baby’s desire for increased feeds has nothing to do with the amount of breast milk available.

In fact, nursing more frequently is actually an option if you’re trying to figure out how to increase your milk supply!

Breast milk production is based on supply and demand. When your little one nurses more, it triggers a natural response for your body to make more milk to satisfy their needs. 

Your Baby’s Cluster is Probably Just a Sign They’re Growing

So, yes, cluster feeding is often seen among breastfeeding babies, but that doesn’t mean infants who drink formula won’t do it, too!

Cluster feeding is a natural technique babies use to increase their caloric intake during certain periods, such as changes to their sleep schedule or growth spurts. They may happen a few times within the first year of your baby’s life, but they never last for long.

Sure, you might find yourself warming up some extra bottles for a few days, but remember, it is natural, normal, and one more milestone for you and your little one!

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Have any of your little ones ever experienced formula cluster feeding?

FAQ About Formula Cluster Feeding

Here’s a breakdown of parents’ most frequent questions about whether formula-fed babies cluster feed.

Do Babies Who Drink Formula Cluster Feed?

Absolutely! It’s common for formula-fed infants to experience cluster feeding during growth spurts.

Why Do Infants Cluster Feed?

The most common reasons for a baby’s cluster include growth spurts, changes in sleep routines (such as starting to sleep through the night), or for comfort.

Should You Worry About Formula Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding isn’t a concern as long as your baby isn’t showing signs of overeating, such as excess gas, tummy discomfort, and crying.

How Long Will a Baby’s Cluster Last?

Most of the time, a baby’s cluster will end after a couple of days.