How To Use Cluster Feeding to Get Baby Sleeping All Night

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Read for great tips on how to get baby sleeping through the night using cluster feeding. Read for other great benefits of cluster feeding.

Newborn sleeping

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. 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

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 then 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.


Read all about Growth Spurts here.


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 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).

How to use cluster feeding for baby with a picture of a sleeping baby

Cluster Feeding Age

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. 

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. 

Benefits of Cluster Feeding

There are many benefits to cluster feeding. One is that it can help baby sleep longer stretches. 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.

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 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.

Another great benefit is that it can help you make sure you get enough feedings in each day. 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. 

Many people also find feeding a fussy baby more often when the baby is fussy in the evening can really help. 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 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.

How To Manage Baby’s Dreaded Witching Hour

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, 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 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

Conclusion

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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valplowman
valplowman

Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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23 Comments

  1. D & H
    June 16, 2011 / 4:15 PM

    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.

  2. Ashley
    June 16, 2011 / 8:31 PM

    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!

  3. Penny
    June 16, 2011 / 10:34 PM

    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!

  4. Erica M
    June 18, 2011 / 3:02 PM

    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! 🙂

  5. Plowmanators
    July 17, 2011 / 4:44 AM

    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.

  6. Wendy Min
    August 27, 2011 / 3:31 AM

    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!).

  7. Plowmanators
    September 15, 2011 / 4:13 AM

    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.

  8. Stephanie
    October 3, 2011 / 10:02 PM

    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??

  9. Plowmanators
    October 15, 2011 / 2:50 AM

    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.

  10. angie
    November 16, 2011 / 3:31 AM

    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?

  11. Plowmanators
    November 29, 2011 / 3:46 AM

    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?

  12. JPark
    May 5, 2012 / 7:55 AM

    Hi, 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 =) Thanks!

  13. Plowmanators
    October 20, 2012 / 8:58 PM

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

  14. MrsLissiJ
    November 14, 2012 / 8:40 AM

    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!

  15. Sarah
    January 8, 2014 / 3:46 AM

    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

  16. Jessica
    November 14, 2014 / 10:28 PM

    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
      November 17, 2014 / 2:10 PM

      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.

  17. Rachel Anne
    August 10, 2015 / 3:46 AM

    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.

  18. Rachel Anne
    August 10, 2015 / 3:49 AM

    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.

  19. Shona Archer
    November 30, 2016 / 12:28 AM

    Cluster feeding – a different definition? My 2-3 week old is regularly waking for the middle of night feed and then crying continuously pretty much for a solid 2 and 1/2 hours at least. He's healthy, fed 8 times in 24 hours. I wake him for all his daytime feeds. This is my fifth child on baby wise and my first to do this. He is not really hungry as I tested by giving him a bottle of expressed milk each night after his feed and then he's still crying and rooting.

  20. Shona Archer
    November 30, 2016 / 12:32 AM

    I just wanted to complete my comment – would love your wisdom on how to deal with this! I put him down for blocks of 20 minutes to cry then try rocking and try to stretching out to at least 2 hrs for next feed.

  21. Heather Schurr
    July 25, 2019 / 7:46 PM

    I have a 7 week old formula fed daughter who I started cluster feeding at 3 weeks to get through the witching hours. Worked great! She has been seeming far less fussy overall at that time. She is not sleeping through the night yet (still gets up between 1:45-3:30 every night), and also, she has started not drinking nearly enough during her 6PM cluster feed. She can do 4 oz no problem with every other feed, but she will fight me (gets cranky/fussy, turns away from the bottle like she’s not hungry yet) to do even 2 oz lately (but still not witching hours because she has some waketime before bedtime and she’s happy as a lark). Her 8PM bottle (after 7PM bedtime, so I treat it like another dream feed) she has been doing fine with still, at least 3 oz. Do I switch her back to doing a 7PM feed? It will eliminate one of her feedings and I don’t want her to wake up twice in the night again, or delay her STTN after Merge 2 that’s coming up shortly (hopefully!). Do I keep up the cluster (crappy though it is) to get Merge 2 to happen, or what would you suggest?

    • July 30, 2019 / 8:28 AM

      This is a situation where you might only really know by giving something a try. If things are working fine as they are with her taking what she takes, you might want to just leave it. However, you could also just give it a try to stop cluster feeding and see what happens. If things don’t work out that night, you can go back to cluster feeding the next night.

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