What is Cluster Feeding?

Eating, Eating, All the Time

Caring for a newborn can be one of the most exciting, yet stressful parts of parenting. Suddenly, you have a new little person in your home, and it's amazing how much that tiny bundle of coos and giggles can turn your life upside-down. Just when you feel as if you and your baby might be forming a routine, your baby decides to change everything. During that first month, your baby's favorite trick might be doing what is called newborn "cluster feeding," or wanting to eat very frequently at certain times of the day. Although it may make you feel like a 24-hour buffet or chief bottle mixer, cluster feeding is a normal stage of development.

Eating and Growing

Breastfeeding, Mother feeding baby with milk bottle

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Most babies triple their birth weight in the first 12 months of life, so your little one is going to do a lot of growing in a relatively short period of time. Often, babies will have stages during which they grow slowly; other times, they grow more quickly. When that sleeper you put on last night seems tighter in the morning, it isn't your imagination. Your baby just had a growth spurt. All that growing takes food and energy. Feeding every two to three hours around the clock is typical for the first month or two and sometimes beyond. During a growth spurt, you might notice your newborn being fussier than normal and wanting to eat as often as every 45 minutes. This cluster feeding will often happen around the same time of day for a few days in a row. It doesn't necessarily mean your baby isn't getting enough to eat; it just means she's growing quickly, and it's making her hungry.

Surviving the Clusters

Both formula and breastfed babies can cluster feed right before or during a growth spurt. The key to surviving cluster feeding is to put away the clocks, schedules and timetables. Watch your baby for hunger cues, such as rooting, sticking out his tongue or making sucking sounds with his mouth, and then feed him until he turns away, falls asleep or acts like he is finished eating. Most babies can empty a breast or get enough from a bottle in 10 to 20 minutes. If you are bottle-feeding, let your baby eat until she seems satisfied, and only a little bit is left in the bottle. This tells you that she ate as much as she wanted.

While it can feel as if your baby wants to eat all the time, remind yourself that most newborns will only cluster feed for a few days or a week before a growth spurt. Try to look at the longer feedings as a time to rest, cuddle your baby or catch up on some reading. If you have a tough time just sitting and feeding, don't feel guilty for taking a peek at your phone or catching up on a favorite program.

Talk to Your Pediatrician

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Your pediatrician will help track your baby's growth and development. Weighing and measuring are part of every well check, and the doctor will let you know if your baby is growing steadily. If your baby has trouble during feedings, such as vomiting up an entire feed, wetting fewer than four diapers per day or taking longer than 30 minutes to feed, tell your pediatrician.