Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cluster Feeding

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Tracy Hogg, author of the Baby Whisperer (Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior--Beyond the Basics from Infancy Through Toddlerhood)books, is an advocate for "cluster feeding" in the evenings. In short, cluster feeding is feeding baby every two hours in the evening to get the baby nice and full right before nighttime when you hope to get a longer stretch of sleep from the baby.

Your first feed in your cluster feed cycle is the evening feed. This is typically somewhere between 5 and 6 PM. So if it was at 5 PM, you would feed at 5, then 7, and would finish up with a dreamfeed (dreamfeed happens between 10-11 PM). 

Cluster feeding can start as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital. Hogg recommends stopping cluster feeding by 8 weeks old (Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, page 94). In Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Hogg suggests starting cluster feeding at six weeks old (page 208) and doesn't have an ending age. 

Hogg points out that some babies will only do one or the other, so if you cluster feed, your baby won't take a dreamfeed. Hogg puts the higher value on the dreamfeed, so if you have to choose one or the other, choose the dreamfeed. 

My Experiences
I never heard about the Baby Whisperer until I was pregnant with McKenna. Well, now that I know about her, I think I saw her on a television show when I was pregnant with Brayden, but I can't be sure. When I was pregnant with McKenna, I decided to read the book to learn more about her methods. 

When Brayden was a baby, despite not knowing about the Baby Whisperer, we did some "tanking up" in the evening, but he was older when we did it. He was more around 3/4 months old. He just obviously was more hungry in the evening so I fed him. 

It was a similar situation with Kaitlyn. We did the two hour interval in the evening hours.

With McKenna, I knew about the official term "cluster feeding." We did cluster feeding starting around 8 weeks old (if you want exact numbers, you can look at the "newborn summary" posts). 

Cluster feeding seemed to help and it definitely didn't hurt anything while we did it. If you find you are looking for ideas to help give baby that extra bit she needs to sleep through the night, cluster feeding just might be your answer!

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D & H said...

It is common for nursing mothers to have lower milk supply in the evening due to all the busy-ness during the day and nursing during the day, so cluster feeding is something that can help compensate for that lower milk supply and help baby get enough to eat before bed. Cluster feeding can also help keep milk production up if there are issues there. We cluster fed for several months.

Ashley said...

I just started reading your blog and am very encouraged by it!!

Question about cluster feeding... when you are cluster feeding in the evening, do you put the baby down for a nap in between feedings or just feed the baby keep baby awake and then feed again before the baby goes to sleep?

Thanks so much for your insight!

Penny said...

I did cluster feeding in the evenings for all three of my babies due to a combination of hunger and witching hour (refusal to sleep with lots of crying). Closer nursings soothed the baby and helped the time go quicker until official bedtime at 7.

Thanks for another great post!

Erica M said...

My little one always nursed from about 6-9p anyway. I think his included that wonderful 'witching hour' also. But he was sleeping 8-10hrs a night by 8-10 weeks :) I always felt like he was 'tanking' up for the night. So young mothers out there don't get discouraged. And if your newborn wants to nurse constantly at night let them! I promise it won't last long and you will think back on those days with very positive thoughts! :)

Plowmanators said...

Ashley, I would try to do a nap between, but some babies won't. For example, when McKenna had witching hour, she wouldn't sleep between the 6 and 8 feedings, but did sleep between 8 and 10.

Wendy Min said...

How early can you start to cluster feed a newborn? Our baby is just over a week old. She can sleep for LONG periods of time if we let her but I don't want to because she needs 8 feedings a day. I have noticed that she gets very fussy in the evenings right around 8-10 which makes me think this is Witching. But is it too early to make this sort of adjustment to her schedule? Right now she is on a 3 hr schedule and nursing is going great (over abundance of milk right now!).

Plowmanators said...

Wendy, the Baby Whisperer has two books that talk about it (that I have read) and they say different ages. I think you can try it at this point.

Stephanie said...

I'm wondering how cluster feeding in the evening doesn't make baby get used to eating every 2 hours? I want to try this but I'm a little nervous about it. My daughter is 3 weeks old. Also when cluster feeding, do you feed the same amount of time as regular feedings (for me, 15 mins a side)? Or would I cut it back to maybe 10 mins a side or even 15 mins on one side for the first cluster and then 15 on the other side the 2nd cluster??

Plowmanators said...

Stephanie, I don't know exactly why it doesn't, but I haven't ever heard complaint of it becoming an all day habit. I would feed as long as usual so long as the baby wants to eat that long.

angie said...

So my daughter is 7 1/2 months old...and has started cluster feeding in the evening again! At least that's what I call it. She is soooo fussy from 5:30 on till her 7:00 bottle.
She has her 3rd feeding between 4:00 and 5:00, then solids. Then she'll have some snacks in between but is not satisfied or happy until she gets her bottle at 7. So tonight she had a bottle at 4:00, then I gave her another at 5:30, and now at 7:30. Isn't she too old for that???? She doesn't act like this at ANY other time of the day. And she's a peach after her last feeding!
any suggestions?

Plowmanators said...

Angie, I would wonder if it is a growth spurt. Go with it for now and see if she stops doing it. Have you tried increasing her solid intake or milk amount at 4?

JPark said...


My 6.5 week old (> 11lb) bottle fed baby is getting up to feed every 3-4 hours through the night despite adding both cluster feeding (4/6/8) and a dream feed (10-11). We added the clusterfeeding at 5 weeks of age and normally her middle of the night feedings are dreamfeeds also. I have tried just giving the pacifier at night time awakenings, which gives an extra 30 minutes, but then she is awake giving even stronger hunger cues. I know she is getting enough calories as she is drinking approx 30 oz daily. Any advice to cut at least one of the middle of the night feedings out would be VERY appreciated =)


Plowmanators said...

Shea your comment isn't showing up here but I read it in my email. Lol at his awesome chubbiness. I love it!

MrsLissiJ said...

Hello, are cluster feedings supposed to be full feedings? We just started cluster feeding tonight to help with the witching hour but I wasn't sure if they should be full feedings. My little one is a formula fed 7 week old. Thanks so much!!! Love your blog!

Sarah said...

My baby is 1 1/2 weeks old and seems to be wanting to cluster feed in the evenings. He feed at 4pm and then again at 6pm (rather than his scheduled 7pm) He slept until 10pm. Is it okay to let him sleep 4 hours or should I feed him every 2 hours (4pm, 6pm, and 10pm) to get him back on his schedule

Jessica said...

I have a 3 week old and I am starting to implement a schedule for him. My question is some nights he wants to cluster feed and other nights he doesn't (he will sleep the whole nap time 5-7pm. At this age do you wake to cluster feed to keep consistent every day or do you follow their lead and if they wake cluster feed and if not let them sleep until three hour regular feed time then follow up with dreamfeed in the 10pm hour?

Valerie Plowman said...

In cluster feeding, you would wake baby up to feed. However, I don't see a problem with following the baby's lead on this for cluster feeding. Cluster feedig is low on the list of priorities, and disrupting sleep can interfere with night sleep. I would be fine with following the lead for cluster feeding if the baby sleeps well after no cluster feeding.

Rachel Anne said...

Hi! I have an 11 week old boy that is on a 3 hour schedule (but it often ends up being a mixed 2.5/3 hour schedule). Most of our feedings are set at 7am, 930/10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm. Sometimes there's even one additional feed in there. After 7pm things get super wonky. He'll eat, have a bath and we'll do his bedtime routine, but then he'll get super fussy and will "cluster feed" every 15-30 minutes until around 9pm (meaning he'll eat, fall asleep, then wake up 15-20 minutes later and eat again). Then he'll usually sleep 6-7 hours, and will wake for a middle of the night feed around 3ish. We've tried doing a dream feed but he just ends up waking up earlier (like 1 or 2am), so we dropped it. We also tried letting him CIO until 10pm, but it just pushed back the cluster feeding until then, which means I'm up until 1230am (bleh). Any help would be appreciated! We would love to get a babysitter to look after him one night so that we can go out but it seems every time we do it turns out horribly because of these cluster feedings.

Rachel Anne said...

I should also mention I'm breastfeeding, and that we've even tried giving him bottles of expressed milk at night (becuase I was thinking it might be a supply issue), but he still insists on doing this crazy cluster feed. Even after a bottle! Sheesh.


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