Read for great tips on how to get baby sleeping through the night using cluster feeding. Read for other great benefits of cluster feeding.
There are many simple things you can do to help your little one sleep through the night or at least sleep more in the night.
Cluster feeding is one of those great tools. If you want baby to sleep through the night, consider the cluster feed.
While it is excellent for night sleep, there are also other benefits.
Keep reading to see what exactly cluster feeding is, find a typical cluster feeding schedule, know good ages for cluster feeding, and learn the benefits of cluster feeding.
Cluster Feeding Defined
What is cluster feeding? In short, cluster feeding is feeding baby every two hours.
When you are cluster feeding in order to get longer night stretches of sleep, you would aim for this to be in the evening. You do this in an attempt to get the baby nice and full right before nighttime when you hope to get a longer stretch of sleep from the baby.
Cluster feeding can also happen without the parent driving the cluster feeding. Cluster feeding can happen when baby is having a growth spurt or if there is low milk supply and baby is trying to build it back up. Baby will want to nurse more often in these situations.
If baby’s cluster feeding is due to low milk supply, then baby will want to eat more often until there is enough milk. If baby is eating more often because of growth spurt, then baby will need to do so until the growth spurt is over.
>>>Read all about Growth Spurts here.
In this post, I am talking about when you use cluster feeding intentionally.
Cluster Feeding Schedule
If you are cluster feeding your baby intentionally, then you will be working on a 2.5-3 hour feeding schedule during the day and will then switch to a 2 hour feeding schedule in the evening hours as you approach the night.
You will have two, two-hour feeding cycles. For example, you could do 6 PM, 8 PM, and 10 PM.
Your two hour feeding intervals would be between 6-8 and 8-10. You might have a third two hour feeding interval if you last fed at 4 PM.
Your first feed of your cluster feeds in your cluster feed cycle is the evening feed. This is typically somewhere between 5 and 6 PM. So baby nurses at this time (or bottle feeds) and you go two more hours.
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. Read all about the basics of a Dreamfeed here).
Cluster Feeding Ages
Cluster feeding can start as soon as you bring baby home from the hospital. You can also start anytime between a few days old and a 2 months old. So yes, you can cluster feed your four day old.
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” your newborn in the evenings.
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.
Always go with what you feel is best for your little one.
Any age of newborn baby is appropriate for cluster feeding. Newborn months are the appropriate period of time for using this routine strategy.
In short, start as soon as you feel it is best for baby and start to consider ending at 8 weeks old. Continue longer if you feel your baby still needs it beyond 8 weeks old.
>>>Read: Ultimate Guide to Stopping Baby Poop at Night
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
There are many benefits to cluster feeding.
Longer Night Stretches
One is that it can help baby sleep longer stretches at night. The idea is you are “tanking up” your baby for some nice nighttime sleep stretches. Read up on my tips to get baby to sleep through the night here. Another great tool along with cluster feeding is the dreamfeed.
Cluster feeding and dream feeding can work really well in conjunction with each other to get baby sleeping through the night.
The Baby Whisperer 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.
Increases Milk Supply
Another benefit of cluster feeding is it can help keep your milk supply up if you are concerned about it or can help boost your supply and increase milk production if it is dipping for any reason.
If you are breastfeeding, cluster feeding can be a good way to help you have enough breast milk for your baby.
Please note, however, that if your baby does not need to cluster feed and it disrupts your baby but you need milk supply help, you do not need to force cluster feeding.
You can use a breast pump to pump and get some stimulation that way. Do not worry that a pump is not a suitable method for increasing supply.
Always respect baby’s needs.
Enables Enough Feedings in a Day
Another great benefit is that it can help you make sure you get enough feedings in each day. When doing a baby schedule or routine, you want to be mindful that you are getting enough feedings in a 24-hour period.
It can be hard to fit in 8-10 feedings in a 24 hours as Babywise recommends for a newborn without having a bunch in the night when you also really need to be sleeping. Cluster feeding helps you sneak some extra feedings in the daytime.
Always remember to watch diaper output and make sure baby is getting enough wet diapers and dirty diapers each day for her age. You always want to pay attention to hunger cues and monitor baby’s development.
>>>Read: Hunger Cues: How To Know if Baby Is Hungry
Helps with Fussiness
Many people also find feeding a fussy baby more often when the baby is fussy in the evening can really help.
Fussy evenings are normal with infants, but some babies take it beyond fussiness and it turns to witching hour. If your baby has witching hour, cluster feeding can sometimes help.
Be sure, however, you are not over-feeding your baby and causing tummy issues. You might think you are offering cluster feeding for comfort and it is actually causing more fussiness. You also do not need to turn mom into a pacifier.
Read my post on how to help your baby through the witching hour for lots of great ideas.
Provides More Calories When Needed
Cluster feeding can also add more calories to the day if your baby is struggling with weight gain. Adding another feeding in the early evening can help ensure baby is getting enough calories each day.
My Cluster Feeding Experiences
I never heard about the Baby Whisperer until I was pregnant with McKenna. Well, once I had learned about her, I thought I might have seen 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 and we were new parents, despite not knowing about the Baby Whisperer, we did some “tanking up” and fed every couple of hours 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 more often.
It was a similar situation with Kaitlyn. We did the two hour interval in the evening hours when she was a newborn. It just made sense with the schedule.
With McKenna, I knew about the official term “cluster feeding.” We did cluster feeding starting around 8 weeks old. You can read about our experience in this McKenna newborn summary and you can read about when we ended cluster feeding in this McKenna newborn summary.
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!
- How To Solve Your Baby’s Nighttime Sleep Issues
- How To Tell if Baby is Getting a Full Feeding
- How To Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night
- Is Baby’s Night Waking from Hunger?
This post originally appeared on this blog in June 2019