Baby has arrived and naturally, it is time to give him a feed. Mothers who breastfeed their babies have all noticed that at certain times, the little one is much more greedy and demands more feedings. This phenomenon is called cluster feeding and should not cause any concern.
Baby is hungry!
As you know, nowadays, we prefer to feed when baby wants to. There are no more fixed times, which do not necessarily correspond to the real needs of the child. When we observe the typical signals (reflex movements), we give the baby a feed. For some, this may be a few times a day, for others many. It can also vary depending on the time of day. Some babies will be more eager for milk in the evening than in the morning. They will then ask for several feedings almost in a row. Then they’ll go back to sleep between feeds, only to wake up again and ask for the breast again. In short, they will be hungry and have trouble getting full!
There are several reasons for this cluster feeding. The child’s needs are at the heart of the problem. If baby wants to eat, it is because he feels the need first. It’s not a whim. He doesn’t want to bother you. He’s just hungry, because his body wants it.
It may also be a matter of the baby’s sucking ability. Some are very good at swallowing a large amount of milk in a few sucks. Others, on the contrary, are less efficient. They will then need to ask for more feedings to get enough milk. It may also be a question of the “capacity” or milk storage capacity of the mother’s breasts.
Grouped feeds in detail
The first thing to know is that cluster feeds are normal. There is nothing to worry about. A healthy full-term baby will have a Gaussian or bell-shaped feeding pattern. There are different times. In the morning, baby will ask for spaced out feedings (between 2 and 5 hours) generally and abundant. The rhythm will vary over time. Baby can be more demanding and ask for many feeds between 2pm and the evening and even more at night. Scientists have noticed that night feeds contain more prolactin, a hormone that plays an important role in milk production. This production will then be more important to be able to meet the needs of baby who can suckle for a long time from 2 to 4 hours with a small intake of milk each time, but many times. Baby will ask for very close feedings. He is a “victim” (and so are you!) of cluster feeds.
The group feedings are very often present at the end of the day (for many between 5 and 6 p.m.), the milk being at this time more fatty and baby more demanding. But this presence of fat can lead to baby not sucking large quantities, but rather many small ones.
It can even seem as if he is asking for the breast continuously. He will then alternate between the two breasts for several hours.
The grouped feeds will therefore be observed more in the evening. And this rhythm, which can be totally different from the one observed in the morning, can be worrying.
Does your baby have clustered feeds?
We often hear everything and anything about cluster feeds. If your baby asks for successive feedings, it’s because he’s not getting enough food or the milk is not rich enough to meet his needs. It may also be that the mother is not producing enough milk.
It is normal for the baby to ask for short, but very frequent feedings. The amount that mom produces is normal, her milk is rich enough. This may simply mean that baby is growing and has more needs. Nothing else. So you don’t need to worry. By asking for many feeds, baby will also participate in the production of milk and thus “anticipate” his needs.
This is simply a natural physiological phenomenon. Breastfeeding experts are well aware of this phenomenon and have noted that it occurs at specific times in the baby’s life: at 3, 6 and 9 weeks and at 6 months. These are important peaks in his growth. However, babies can also request successive feedings without being in the growth phase.
The baby may also ask for more feeds for reasons unrelated to growth. A baby who asks for more feeds may need more contact with his mother to be reassured. He may be suffering from particularly painful teething and need to be close to his mother. He will then seek contact with his mother to reassure himself. It has also been observed that a baby may ask for more feedings when he learns a new skill. Has he mastered the smile? He will want to suck more, probably, a form of reward that he asks for and gives himself.
It is therefore very important for young mothers to understand that group feedings are, above all, normal. Even if these successive feeds take a lot of time and can complicate the daily life of mothers. But these feeds must be respected. It is a normal phase. And it is also a transitional phase. You should not try to space out these feeds, because baby needs them both physiologically and psychologically. Spacing them out will have an effect on night feeds, which may then be more numerous. Therefore, it has no interest, because mom will have to get up more often.
Managing group feedings is important and for this you can learn to sleep when baby sleeps. These little naps will help you keep up with your baby. If you are too worried about this, you can discuss it with your doctor. He or she can check that everything is normal. In some very rare cases, group feedings can be a sign of stress for your baby. They can indeed correspond to a need of the infant to be carried and reassured by mom.