Updated: Jan 12, 2020
by Alissa Pemberton – Midwife & International Board Certified Lactation Consultant| www.suffolkbreastfeeding.com
Almost every breastfeeding mum has found themselves in this situation. It’s early evening, you’re tired, perhaps you’re dealing with your toddler at the end of a long day, and your baby just won’t stop breastfeeding! They’ll feed for a few minutes, then come off, just when you think they’re settled - there they go again! Just when you think you may never get them full and satisfied they finally fall asleep. You hear that term again - oh, cluster feeding - that’s normal.
But is it?
The example I’ve given above is a very common situation where mums will see their babies cluster feeding. In most cases - this is normal. Sometimes, however, what is mistaken for cluster feeding is actually your baby’s way of telling you their not getting enough. So how do you tell the difference?
First, lets think about how our milk supply works. Over the course of a day, the hormone prolactin which plays a very important role in your milk supply, decreases. Levels of prolactin are highest in the early hours of the morning, and by early evening are at their lowest. Many mums will have noticed their breasts are much fuller in the morning, and by evening can often feel like there’s not much there. This makes the morning’s a great time to store milk if you need to pump!
The fat content in milk also tends to increase later in the day, and when your breasts are emptier.
So emptier breast = higher fat content = smaller volumes & more frequent feeds. This frequent feeding for a period of a few hours during the day is quite normal.
What if my baby is cluster feeding multiple times through the day/all day?
If your baby is regularly having short feeds before falling asleep (or not settling and continuing to demand feeds), only to wake within 10-30 minutes and demand another feed and continues to follow this same pattern for significant portions of the day, this could be a sign that they’re not getting enough. If your baby follows this pattern this is a great time to seek some support from a lactation consultant, midwife or breastfeeding support specialist. There are a number of factors which could impact how your baby is transferring milk including their latch, potential oral restrictions (tongue ties), your milk supply, your letdown speed, jaundice etc.
What is a normal feeding pattern?
As your baby grows their feeding patterns will change quickly (almost as soon as you think you’re getting into a good rhythm, they love to up and change things again!). How often or how long your baby feeds will vary very much between babies, there is no right length for a feed. The key is to look at: - is your baby latching well & staying attached to the breast?
- can you hear your baby swallowing? Are they following a suck, swallow pattern or are they doing small rapid sucks throughout the feed? - do your breasts feel softer, lighter and deflated are the feed? - is your baby taking a feed (one or both breasts - always offer both when they’re little), then settling content (either awake or asleep) and lasting 2-3+ hours between feeds? - are they regularly having heavy wet nappies and regular yellow poos (until solids start)?
Please remember it’s common for feeding patterns to change as your babies grows, and for them to have one off occasions of more frequent feeding, such as on a particularly hot summer day when your baby will be extra thirsty or if they are unwell or going through a growth spurt.
If you are concerned about any aspect of your baby’s feeding, speak to a lactation consultant, midwife or breastfeeding specialist.