Cluster Feeding: Why Babies Suddenly Want to Nurse Nonstop

breastfeeding mom baby

Breastfeeding may already feel like a full-time job ... so when babies ramp up the frequency even more -- say, they want to nurse every hour, or every half hour, or even non-stop for hours on end -- it can be hard. It might also make you worry that something's wrong -- like your milk supply is low or your baby is hungry or sick. But experts insist that this so-called cluster feeding, also called "bunch feeding," is entirely normal, annoying though it may be to have this baby barnacle on your boob.


The likely culprit? A growth spurt, which requires more milk. "Think of cluster feeding as a baby placing his order for milk," says Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an ob/gyn and lactation consultant at Bundoo, where parents can consult with doctors online. "When babies are going through a growth spurt, they require more milk. In order to communicate this to their mother, they cluster feed. This tells the breasts that more milk is needed, and within a few days, voila: production increases and baby gets exactly what he asked for!"

And don't worry -- your baby is not starving. "When cluster feeding happens, the worst thing a mother can do is assume that she isn't making enough milk and her baby is hungry," Dr. Lincoln warns. "This can lead to unnecessary formula supplementation, which keeps that milk supply from increasing -- which was the whole point of cluster feeding!"

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If you want to be doubly sure your baby is getting enough breast milk, count the number of dirty diapers. "Younger babies should have four to five very wet diapers and three to five poopie diapers a day," says Leigh Anne O'Connor, a lactation consultant and blogger at mamamilkandme. "In an older baby you should continue to see plenty of wet diapers, but the stooling may slow down to even going a few days without."

Also rest assured that cluster feeding rarely lasts long. "Usually growth spurts last just one or two days," says Margie Kay, a lactation consultant at Mercy Medical Center. Some babies also cluster feed in the late afternoon or evening in response to circadian rhythms. But there is an upside here too: Baby may be trying to "tank up" for a long sleep (ahhh).

Bottom line: Cluster feeding is nothing to worry about, and parents should trust that their baby knows what he/she needs. "Babies are smart and are good at regulating their intake if they are listened to," says O'Connor. So try to take the nonstop nursing in stride. Or as Dr. Lincoln suggests, "consider cluster feeds a perfect time to start that new book or speed through a TV series!"

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