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Cluster feeding - is it normal?

To all my tired parents out there, let's talk about Cluster Feeding—a term that often triggers a whirlwind of emotions: exhaustion, confusion, and frustration. As the day draws to a close, it's like our little ones hit the hunger switch, demanding feed after feed in quick succession. It's exhausting, right? But could this cluster feeding marathon actually be helping your baby sleep better? Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, and whether you've got a newborn or an older baby, let's dive into what cluster feeding is all about, when it could be a problem, and how best to cope with cluster feeding.


Cluster feeding is a common phenomenon most parents have experienced at some point in their feeding journey. Whether its bottle or breast, cluster feeding describes a time when baby feeds more frequently and closer together than usual. It's especially common in the late afternoon or evening—just when you're dreaming of a bit of downtime after a long day. Your cling on baby has other ideas, making a problem for any mum, but particularly those with other children.

DISPELLING MYTHS: Is Low Supply to Blame for Cluster Feeding?

Now, let's bust a myth that keeps many tired mums up at night: the fear of low milk supply. I've seen it all in my years as a midwife—mums worrying that their breasts are empty and their milk supply has run out. You may be surprised to learn that your breasts are never completely empty. The body is amazing 💫 Cluster feeding usually happens at a time when milk production is slower (evening) so baby has to work harder to get the volume of milk they want and they get cranky at us for that! Add into that frustration babies are often fussier, over stimulated and more tired in the evening. I know that's not an easy mix to deal with.


Let's get one thing straight: cluster feeding is totally normal! If it's working for you and your little milk machine, stick with it. You know your baby best. But here's the golden rule: if your baby settles into a long, uninterrupted sleep after their cluster feeding session, then it's likely your baby was just "tanking up" before their big sleep.


Now, let's take a closer took at cluster feeding, and when it might not be such a positive thing. Many clients come to me exhausted and struggling with a cranky, baby who just won't stop feeding. Sometimes, those frequent feeds aren't about "tanking" up—they could be a sign that something's not quite right.

  • IS IT HUNGER? Although our baby shows hunger signs, it's not always about hunger. Sometimes, it's about overstimulation, discomfort, or even tiredness. A baby who takes a feed at this point could over feed and end up with increased wind pain, digestive pain or worsening reflux symptoms. The solution? Try to offer a full, effective feed and then use calming settling techniques like skin to skin in a dimly lit room. That lower stimulation could help calm baby and get you out of that never ending loop of feeding and fussiness.

  • IS IT LOW SUPPLY? Frequent feeding can signal an issue with your milk supply but it is usually associated with other signs like a baby who is struggling to gain weight, one who is not having regular wet or dirty nappies or a baby who rarely settles after a feed (day or night) and just always seems hungry. If this is the case, it's important to discuss this with your healthcare team.

HOW TO COPE WITH CLUSTER FEEDS: Practical Tips For Tired Parents

Cluster feeding is hard, let's not beat around the bush? Those fussy evenings can feel endless and can leave even the most seasoned parents feeling drained. I'm here to share a few tips from my experience as a midwife to help you through:

  • Cluster feeding is a normal feeding pattern, especially in newborns. It may be easier to accept this is a phase baby needs to work through, rather than fighting against it.

  • Try to set up a comfortable feeding space with something to eat, drink and entertain you

  • Try to rest somewhere earlier in the day to help you manage the challenging evening ahead

  • Eat well and stay hydrated in the day, milk supply is directly impacted by hydration and nutrition

  • Prepare dinner ahead of time (or recruit a friend to help with this)

  • Ask for support if you need it - it really does takes a village to raise a baby. Asking for help is no reflection on your ability to cope as a mum.

  • If bottle feeding, pace the feed to allow baby to digest as they eat. You will see less digestive discomfort and hopefully see baby complete a full feed.

HOW TO REDUCE CLUSTER FEEDS: Practical Strategies For Parents

Firstly I want you to remember that cluster feeding is very normal and most babies go through this phase at some point in their feeding journey. It's not something you are doing wrong, and it isn't always a signal of supply issues.

  1. Stay Hydrated and Eat Well : Remember, cluster feeding is normal, but could be intensified if you haven't eaten or drunk enough in the day. Breastfeeding mothers should aim for 2-3 litres of water daily to maintain milk quality.

  2. Review Daytime Feeding: Your baby should feed every 2-4 hours with full, active feeds. Encourage longer feeds by gently stimulating baby with a face stroke or a cold face washer or change their nappy as they start to nod off. Short daytime feeds could leave your baby hungry or your milk supply not meeting baby's needs.

  3. Reduce Stimulation: Especially for newborns, limit stimulation by creating a dark, quiet environment especially in the late afternoon/early evening. Skin-to-skin contact is amazing at helping to calm your baby.

  4. Prevent Over-tiredness: An over tired baby may struggle with intense cluster feeding episodes. Following age appropriate sleep advice can help - get your guide here -- download your FREE wake window guide here -- Understanding wake windows and over tiredness leaving you even more confused!? Let me help - (Read the blog here)

  5. Ask for Support: Don't hesitate to ask for help. Parenting is tough, especially with a cluster feeding baby. Lean on friends, family, and healthcare professionals for support and guidance. You aren't meant to do this all alone.

As a midwife and feeding expert with years of experience supporting families through the ups and downs of parenthood, I understand the challenges of cluster feeding firsthand. If you're struggling to cope with cluster feeding or need help with your sleep, don't hesitate to reach out. I'm here to help.

Sydney sleep consultant, Tessa Gow, enhance sleep, cluster feeding

Sleep deprivation is torture. Tessa Gow is a midwife and certified sleep consultant working with families across the globe. She offers nurturing methods with lasting results. Let her be the support and guidance you need to get through this. On the other side of a consultation with Enhance Sleep is rested, functioning families. Take the first step towards healthy sleep by contacting me today.


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