Can we admit something? When we become new parents, especially first-time parents, it often feels like we have no clue what we’re doing. We’re winging things and doing our damnedest to keep our tiny humans alive.
So, when they suddenly change their behaviors and start doing something different, it can leave us scrambling to figure out “what’s wrong.”
Sometimes, though, there may not be a problem. Perhaps your baby is doing something completely normal, like exhibiting signs of cluster feeding, but if you’ve never been through this before (and even if you have!), it can freak you out a little!
Cluster feeding, a.k.a. your baby suddenly acting like they can’t get enough milk and are starving to death, is standard behavior among infants. However, the problem is that some signs your baby is clustering might resemble other conditions, like colic or the witching hour.
With all of these possibilities swirling around, how are you supposed to know what the actual hell is going on with your newborn??
Thankfully, when it comes to feeding your kids and overcoming baby obstacles, an entire community of experts and fellow parents is ready to guide you through the experience.
Look at the list below to determine whether your baby might be in the middle of a breastfeeding or formula-fed cluster. We’ve got you, new parent!
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What Is a Cluster Feeding in Babies?
While the first few weeks with a new baby is a whirlwind of chaos and unpredictability, your days will eventually become more routine.
For example, you’ll start to create reliable feeding schedules with your little one.
However, as soon as you think things are under control, you could notice another shift. Your baby might even start acting like they want to eat all the time.
When your infant is suddenly nursing or wanting bottles more often than usual, this is called cluster feeding. Generally, most newborns will go a few hours between each feed. During a cluster, though, your baby might want to eat as often as every half hour!
While this can be frustrating to parents trying to keep up with their eating demands, it’s perfectly normal behavior among babies.
Will Every Infant Cluster?
Many babies will experience cluster feeding at some point or another. However, if your little one doesn’t, that doesn’t mean there’s a problem.
While newborn clustering is common, only some babies will go through the process. Sometimes, they don’t go through this behavior at all. Other times, they’ll do something similar for reasons beyond cluster feeding.
If you’re wondering what’s happening with your infant‘s insatiable appetite, check the top ten signs of cluster feeding below.
10 Common Signs Your Baby is Cluster Feeding
Witching hour or cluster feeding? Teething or gas? Identifying your baby’s cluster can be challenging to do when they can’t just open their tiny mouth and TELL YOU (wouldn’t that be nice??).
Don’t stress, though–the list below contains ten reliable signs that your family is in the midst of a newborn cluster.
1. They’re the Right Age for a Growth Spurt
Did you know that most babies will be almost triple their birth weight by the time they turn one? They will also grow nearly ten inches longer than they were at delivery!
Much of that growth occurs during growth spurts that usually happen around three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months.
Due to baby’s growth during these periods, they’ll want to feed almost constantly to keep up with the changes happening in their bodies. Enter cluster feeding.
2. Their Feeding Schedule Has Changed
Breastfed babies and formula-fed babies have something in common: they all want to eat around every two to three hours. For many parents, this is a feeding schedule we can nearly set our clocks by.
During newborn cluster feeding, however, they won’t want to wait this long for their next meal. My daughter, for instance, would start showing signs of hunger and fussing only 20-30 minutes after eating (this demand is pretty standard among cluster feeders).
If you suddenly notice your little one is interested in eating more than usual, there’s a good chance a cluster is to blame.
3. They’re Acting Extra Fussy
I don’t care how good you think your baby is; they’re all bound to fuss at some point or another.
However, irritability can get intense during baby’s growth spurts and clusters. The strong desire for more feeding sessions can make your baby fuss more than usual.
4. They Have a Cold or Are Teething
Have you ever wondered why we give babies pacifiers to help them call down? It’s because the sucking reflex most babies discover while in the womb provides comfort and calm during stressful situations.
If your little one doesn’t feel well, say from teething or a cold, they likely don’t understand what’s going on in their tiny bodies.
All they know is they’re searching for comfort wherever they can find it. Enter your boob or the bottle!
Whether your baby nurses or you have a bottle-fed baby, the sucking motion they use to eat can offer that calming sensation. This is a significant reason why some infants might start clustering when they’re under the weather.
5. They Want to Eat More in the Afternoon or Evening
One of the most common signs of cluster feeding in newborn babies is when they suddenly want to eat more in the late afternoon or early evening.
A baby cluster can happen during any time of day, but many experts agree that the latter part of the day is the preferred time for clustering.
6. They’re Sleeping for Longer Periods of Time After Eating
Okay, so why do most babies cluster during the evening hours? Simple–many are trying to fill their bellies up before bed!
As little ones start transitioning into sleeping through the night, they’ll need to fill up, so there’s no strong desire to wake up every few hours to eat. So, if your baby suddenly stretches their nighttime sleeping hours, you might have cluster feeding to thank!
7. You Notice Normal Signs of Proper Milk Intake
Let me say this loud for the people in the back: cluster feeding has NOTHING to do with low milk supply!
Trust me; I’m just as guilty as the next person for thinking my little ones were clustering because I wasn’t producing enough milk. I assumed my body couldn’t meet their demands, and they were desperately trying to squeeze as much breast milk from my body as possible.
I was wrong.
As a general rule, most cluster feeding sessions aren’t related to milk production. If you’re still worried, though, look for signs that your baby is getting enough breast milk, such as:
- The correct number of dirty diapers
- Acting content after eating
- Meeting growth and developmental milestones
- Differences in how your breasts feel before and after feeding sessions
Also, pay attention to what they’re doing during nursing sessions. Are they swallowing? Is their latch okay? Do their lips look moist after they finish?
These indicators will help you determine whether your baby is getting enough to eat.
8. Their Feeds Don’t Last as Long as Normal
While newborns are still trying to perfect their nursing “technique,” feeding can often take around 20 minutes per breast. If your little one is only eating for a few minutes at a time, though, it could be a sign of a cluster period.
9. The Cluster “Period” Only Lasts for 2-3 Hours at a Time
When a baby struggles with colic conditions, there’s a good chance they’ll experience discomfort throughout the day. In fact, one of the tell-tale signs of colic is crying that lasts longer than three hours a day, at least three days a week.
While cluster feeds can cause increased fussiness, babies don’t usually cry that long.
Often, babies will cluster for two to three hours a day and will stop the behavior after just a couple of days.
10. Your Pediatrician Says Everything Else is Fine
One of the best ways to confirm your baby is in the middle of a cluster and not struggling with a more severe condition is to take them to their pediatrician.
I believed something was wrong the first time my daughter exhibited cluster-type behavior. After getting her checked out by the doctor and discovering everything looked fine, they confidently told me she was experiencing typical signs of cluster feeding.
It’s easy for someone else to tell you that your baby is probably fine and there’s nothing wrong.
Use your instincts, though, Mama. If you’re concerned and want more concrete information, don’t hesitate to make an appointment.
Making the Most of Your Newborn’s Cluster Feed
After you’ve read through this list of cluster feeding signs, hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable figuring out what’s going on with your baby. If you believe a cluster is at play, the best thing you can do is make the most of the temporary situation.
Feeling “stuck” to your baby for hours can be frustrating. Try to find ways to take care of yourself and reduce your parenting anxiety while it’s happening.
Whether it’s letting your partner take over a bottle feed or setting up a comfortable nursing station in your home, little steps can make your newborn’s cluster feeds more manageable. And remember, it should be over in just a couple of days anyways!
Did you notice any of these signs of cluster feeding with your baby?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.