You and your newborn seem to have your nursing schedule down pat, and then out of the blue, your baby decides to change things up. All they want to do now is nurse every hour, and maybe even all night long. No need to worry, you are likely going through a normal phase of breastfeeding called cluster feeding, but what is cluster feeding? (And OMG, when will it end?)
In an interview with Romper, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Rachel O'Brien says that cluster feeding is a span of days, usually two to five, when babies nurse seemingly around the clock.
"These feedings tend to align with periods when the baby is having a lot of growth, and they need to increase milk production or output to get more calories," she says. O'Brien adds that cluster feeding can also happen when a baby is sick, or in times of transition in the family, but she notes that moms shouldn't worry when babies begin cluster feeding.
"Cluster feeding is very normal and by itself isn't a reason to worry about your milk supply or that baby isn't getting enough — as long as baby is pooping and peeing often and is gaining weight well," O'Brien says.
IBCLC Kristin Gourley from Lactation Link tells Romper that many babies cluster feed in the evening hours, so moms sometimes assume that their supply is low, but that it is normal, too. "Supply is usually at its lowest point of the day during the evening hours, but that's just due to how hormones are released," Gourley says. "Also, many young babies are overstimulated at this point in the day because of all the lights, activity, and noise all day long, and feeding often helps them relax and collect themselves."
She also adds that cluster feeding during these hours can keep moms supply up, calm babies during this "witching hour," and can help baby build up for a longer stretch of sleep at night.
According to La Lache League International (LLLI), the changes in frequency of feedings is normal and restricting the time between feedings or decreasing the duration of feedings can reduce the mother's milk supply, along with the fat content of her milk.
Don't worry, cluster feeding won't last forever. LLLI also noted that as babies grow, they will begin to develop more routined feeding patterns with longer times between feedings, aside from the occasional, short-lived growth spurts. In the meantime, feed your baby whenever they need it, knowing you will go back to a normal routine soon. (Try and get some sleep, too.)