Baby feeding constantly at night
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If you have a new baby who spends the entire evening or night attached to your breasts, never seeming satisfied no matter how many times you feed them, you’re probably wondering what’s going on. It's likely your baby is going through a period of cluster feeding...and it’s completely normal.
Cluster feeding is most common in younger babies and often presents itself in the evening and night hours. Here we’ll discuss more about what cluster feeding is, why your young infant requires so many feeds during a short time, and how to manage this exhausting time period with your hungry, little babe.What is cluster feeding?
Cluster feeding is when your breastfed baby nurses several times during a short window of time. With these back-to-back nursing sessions, it can feel like your baby is feeding non-stop. Formula-fed babies can cluster feed, too, but it is more common in breastfed babies.
There isn’t one reason that babies cluster feed, but it often signals the mother’s body to make more milk. If a baby isn’t getting as much breast milk as they need to get full, they will continue to nurse until they are able to get the nutrition that they need.
Growth spurts, as we write about here, are a time when a baby may be more apt to cluster feed. Typical ages during the infant stage that you may see these occur are 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks and 3-4 months. Older babies don’t generally cluster feed even when they are going through a growth spurt.
Are you looking for a better swaddle for your baby? Check out our weighted sleep swaddle as seen on Shark Tank.Why do babies cluster feed so much at night?
Cluster feeding can happen at any time, but it’s much more common in the evening and through the night. Probably not what you want to hear, right?! You can have a perfect day with your baby, where everything is following the “schedule” to a T, and all of a sudden 5 o’clock hits and your baby wants nothing else but to nurse.
Though it’s likely that your baby is cluster feeding due to a growth spurt or just requiring more milk from you to get full, it’s not always about nutrition. Babies also can be really tired in the evenings and nursing gives them comfort.
Though this isn’t true for all pairings, a baby may need to nurse from her mom more in the evening because she isn’t getting a full feeding from one session like she does at other times of days when the breasts are fuller. According to Lactiful, “A mother’s body typically produces more milk in the morning, and less as the day goes on. This is normal. Therefore, as evening nears it’s normal for baby to ask for more frequent feedings.”
Your baby’s need to cluster feed shouldn’t be a sign that you have a low milk supply. Instead nurse them as they need, and your body should respond by producing more milk over the course of the next several days.Benefits of Nightly Cluster Feeding
When you just fed your baby 30 minutes ago and they seem to be asking for the breast again, you may mistakenly think that hunger isn’t the issue. If your baby is upset and nursing calms them, then that’s your sign that they need to feed again. We know these back-to-back nursing sessions can be exhausting, but it’s important that you let them happen.
(If your baby still cries when you offer the breast, you may have a situation where your baby has colic. We recommend reading, “Helping a Baby With Colic: Identifying Symptoms and 10 Soothing Tips.”)
Encouraging cluster feeding when they need it will ensure your baby has enough milk. It will also allow your body to start producing the milk required to keep up with your baby’s nutritional needs going forward. Cluster feeding is temporary, so managing it in a way that keeps you both as relaxed through it as possible, the better.7 Tips to Manage the Nightly Cluster Feedings
Cluster feeding can run you ragged if you let it. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it, you’re not alone.
When you’re stuck in the phase where your baby is constantly latched to you it’s difficult to imagine a life beyond that where you have your body and more time back. But it is temporary - usually only lasting on and off for a month or two. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is accept that your baby will need to cluster feed and then focus on managing it in a way that allows you to stay relaxed through it as much as you can.
We’re not going to sit here and tell you to enjoy every moment, but we will tell you that setting realistic expectations for this time will set it up to be a much more positive experience.
1.) Expect It and Plan Ahead
Crossing your fingers and hoping this is the night that your baby decides to stop cluster feeding is only going to serve to let you down. It’s much better to go into your day expecting your baby to cluster feed as they have been and this will help you prepare for when that hour comes.
It’s much better to set realistic expectations for the situation so you don’t end up overwhelmed and frustrated. That way, instead of eyeing the clock and anxiously holding your breath, you can instead plan that time according to your baby’s needs. For example, if you know that your baby typically cluster feeds between 6 and 8, plan to set up shop on the couch during that time. Reframe this time as when you’re not able to get anything accomplished to a time you can just relax and provide comfort to your baby.
2.) Vary Your Breastfeeding Positions
Because your baby latches on so many times during a cluster feed, your nipples can take a beating. Not only do you want to be taking care of your breasts by using lanolin and nursing pads, but changing up the position you feed your baby in can help, too.
Changing nursing positions switches up the angle that your baby is taking your breast, meaning there’s less likelihood of a lot of irritation building in one spot. If you do find the pain to be unbearable, however, it’s important to reach out to a lactation consultant.
Side-lying breastfeeding is a great option. This allows you to lay in your bed to nurse, helping you to relax during these times when your baby won’t let you do anything else but nurse them.
3.) Keep Up with Baby's Bedtime Routine
The last thing we want is for you to feel guilty if you miss any steps of your bedtime routine. But it is important to do as much as you can between your baby’s feeds. This will continue to signal to your baby that nighttime is for sleeping, ensuring that when your baby’s cluster feeding period is over they’ll move right back into their old routine.
On top of that, your baby has come to expect their bedtime routine and it’s calming for them. Sticking with your baby’s bedtime routine is a great way to get them relaxed and ready for bed as you give them those last feeds of the day...which can extend the time before they’ll wake up to feed again.
To calm your baby at night we recommend:
- Swaddling in a Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle (or a Weighted Sack if your baby is already rolling over) - the all-over quilted weight of this unique sleep sack will induce feelings of calm for a baby as they top off their milk for the night and prepare for sleep
- Turning out the lights - the stimulation of light may keep your baby up and feeding, which is why we recommend doing later evening cluster feeds in your baby’s dark room
- Singing or using white noise - Utilizing music is a great way to calm your baby as we discuss in this article
Use a Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle or Sack to calm your baby during cluster feeds so they'll fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
4.) Try Baby Wearing
Your baby’s need to cluster feed isn’t always about getting more calories. Sometimes they just want to be close to you or have become overstimulated from the day. (It may even be that they need to be laid down for a catnap.)
If you’ve attempted cluster feeding but your baby still seems unhappy, you may want to try wearing your baby through the evening hours. If you utilize a carrier that positions your baby in a way that they can still breastfeed (the Baby K’Tan is great for this), this allows them to cluster feed at their leisure or pull off when they’re no longer hungry. Wearing your baby can get you through some tough evenings - it keeps your baby happy and you’re able to accomplish what you need to get done.
5.) Prep Dinner in the Morning
Your baby may be one of the many who insists on being at the breast starting in the early evening all the way until bedtime. This can make getting dinner ready difficult if that task falls on you. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have dinner ready ahead of time.
Making Crock-pot meals in the morning that are ready to spoon out will make this time of day much less stressful - especially if you have other little mouths in the house to feed. At the very least, having everything chopped and ready to go will cut down your dinner making time, meaning you’ll have more time to be with your baby. This will help ensure you get fed, too - because if you’re not taking care of you first, it’s very hard to give the best care you can to your little one.
6.) Utilize a Dream Feed
If you have a baby who is frequently waking up at night to feed, utilizing cluster feeding sessions in the evening alongside a dream feed before you head to bed is a great way to help your baby sleep longer stretches at night.
Essentially, you'll feed your baby one last time right before you go to bed. This will likely mean getting them out of their crib and getting them to stir just enough that they'll take a full feed. That's the gist, but we have an entire post about how to dream feed here.
A dream feed will help top your baby off one last time before bed and will reduce the number of times they'll need to feed in the middle of the night.
7.) Take a Break
Even for the most flexible, easygoing moms, cluster feeding can be a lot. It's exhausting feeling like you're doing everything you can to satisfy your baby and they're still hungry. Remind yourself that it's temporary helps, but in the moment it feels like it will never end.
It's important that you give yourself a break, even if it's short. Pass your little one off to your partner and take a bath or go for a walk. You'll want to avoid giving a bottle simply because in order for your milk supply to increase as your baby requires, you'll need that breast stimulation from the cluster feeds. But try to utilize any spare time between feeds to let chores go and give yourself a little "me time" or take a little nap. This will go along way with staying positive even when your baby needs to feed multiple times in the evening or overnight.
How long does cluster feeding last?
Cluster feeding is normal behavior for newborns and typically happens during growth spurts. So while your baby used to feel satisfied in a more predictable pattern (around every 2-3 hours throughout the day), expect more back to back feedings at around 3 weeks old, 6 weeks old, 3 months and 6 months. Keep in mind that every baby is different, so these dates are not one size fits all. But as growth spurts occur, it means that their little brains and bodies are developing, and that extra feeding helps.
In terms of how long a cluster feed might last, well… you may start to feel like a feeding machine. It could be as much as every half hour and/or for longer periods of time, more frequently. But the more your baby eats, the more your milk supply will increase and eventually, things will feel more “normal” again.
What ages do babies cluster feed?
Babies usually cluster feed when they are experiencing a growth spurt. While every baby is different and reaches milestones in their own time, it’s likely that growth spurts happen at around 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. Growth spurts really can happen at any time and will usually last a few days each time.
How often do newborns cluster feed?
In those early days and weeks of parenting, it may seem like all you’re doing with your newborn is watching her sleep, poop, and eat… and that may actually be the case. A newborn eats at least every 2 hours or so, and spends a good 10-15 on each breast. This averages out to around 20-30 minutes per meal (this includes if you’re bottle feeding). So while not necessarily considered a cluster feed, your newborn will eat a LOT in the beginning as they grow, develop, and get used to life outside of the womb.
Why do babies cluster feed at night?
Some babies cluster feed at night not because they’re hungry, but because it’s comforting. Since feeding is also frequently a part of the nighttime routine, the combination of skin-on-skin contact, eating, and snuggling can be soothing to them which can help them fall asleep for a longer period of time.
Some parents feel that their milk isn’t coming in during evening hours as much as it did during the day, so babies may take longer to nurse. Don’t let this worry you! The more you nurse, the more your milk supply will increase so baby will get the extra milk they need.
Do babies sleep longer after cluster feeding?
Some babies may sleep longer after cluster feeding because they’re going through a growth spurt. This can feel exhausting – to both mom and baby! So a little extra zzz’s due to cluster feeding is a good thing.
When do you stop cluster feeding?
By the time your little one reaches the 6-month mark, chances are they’re done with cluster feeding. Remember, every baby is different and develops at their own pace, so don’t worry if she wants to keep cluster feeding for a few more weeks. Of course, if you’re concerned at all about how much, how little or how frequent she’s eating, please discuss with your pediatrician.
How do you break cluster feeding?
It’s important to remember that there’s a reason your baby is cluster feeding in the first place. It’s because the growth spurt they’re experiencing requires more food to help baby develop and grow. This can be stressful as you may start to feel like a feeding machine. Remember to give yourself a break, rely on your partner or friends/family for support, and practice self-care when you can. Cluster feeding typically doesn’t last past 6-months as older babies don’t generally cluster feed when they are going through a growth spurt.See our other favorite posts for further reading:
- Weighted Sleep Sack Safety and How It Will Help Your Baby Sleep
- How To Stop Startle & Moro Reflex Without Swaddling
- The Best Wearable Blankets
- How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Without Nursing
- Best Swaddle for Newborns
- Signs It’s Time to Stop Swaddling Your Baby
- Are Sleep Sacks Safe for Babies Who Can Roll Over?
- How to Get an Overtired Baby to Sleep
- How to Wash & Clean Your Dreamland Baby Sleep Sack
- How to Stop the 45-Minute Intruder During Your Baby's Naps
- How To Swaddle Your Dreamland Baby
- Baby Napping Close to Bedtime and How to Do It Right
- Know the Facts: What's Safe and What's Not for Baby's Tummy Sleep
- How Should A Sleep Sack Fit?
16 of the Best Christmas Gifts for New Parents
6 Reasons Why Your Baby May Be Sleeping More and Eating Less
Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings • KellyMom.com
By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC
It is very common for babies to be fussy and nurse very often in the evenings, particularly in the early months.
My daughter had a fussy time every evening for a couple of months (yes, it does go away!). I spent weeks camped out on the end of the sofa with a constantly nursing and/or fussy baby every evening from about 6 to 10 PM.
With my son, we didn’t have the luxury of being able to sit down. Alex was unhappy and crying unless he was upright and being walked around at this time of day (and sometimes this only helped him to be less unhappy). He would occasionally have a very fussy time during the day, too. Nursing rarely helped to calm his fussiness (unlike with my daughter), so I usually didn’t have that tool to work with (though I always tried). His fussiness was such that I looked into other causes (such as food sensitivity), but we never determined any reason for it and he was all smiles the rest of the time. The fussiness gradually went away between 3 and 4 months, as is the norm, but the first few months were hard. Nowadays, the typical comment that I hear about him is “Is he always this happy?” So remember: this, too, will pass…
Cluster feeding, also called bunch feeding, is when babies space feeding closer together at certain times of the day and go longer between feedings at other times. This is very common, and often occurs in the evenings. It’s often -but not always- followed by a longer sleep period than usual: baby may be “tanking up” before a long sleep. For example, your baby may nurse every hour (or even constantly) between 6 and 10 PM, then have a longish stretch of sleep at night – baby may even sleep all night.
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Cluster feeding often coincides with your baby’s fussy time. Baby will nurse a few minutes, pull off, fuss/cry, nurse a few minutes, pull off, fuss/cry… on and on… for hours. This can be VERY frustrating, and mom starts wondering if baby is getting enough milk, if something she is eating is bothering baby, if EVERYTHING she is doing is bothering baby… It can really ruin your confidence, particularly if there is someone else around asking the same questions (your mother, your husband, your mother-in-law).
This behavior is NORMAL! It has nothing to do with your breastmilk or your mothering. If baby is happy the rest of the day, and baby doesn’t seem to be in pain (as with colic) during the fussy time – just keep trying to soothe your baby and don’t beat yourself up about the cause. Let baby nurse as long and as often as he will. Recruit dad (or another helper) to bring you food/drink and fetch things (book/remote/phone/etc.) while you are nursing and holding baby.
Does this mean that baby needs more milk than I can provide?
No. Don’t give baby a bottle — supplementation will only tell your body that you need LESS milk at this time, and that will not help matters. Also, keep in mind that formula fed babies experience fussy periods in the evening, too — fussy evenings are common for all young babies, no matter how they are fed. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine spells this out in their supplementary feeding guidelines:
There are common clinical situations where evaluation and breastfeeding management may be necessary, but supplementation is NOT INDICATED including… The infant who is fussy at night or constantly feeding for several hours.
Why do babies fuss in the evening?
One frequently-heard explanation for baby’s fussiness in the evenings is that milk volume tends to be lower in the evening due to the natural cycling of hormones throughout the day. However, Dr. Peter Hartmann, a breastfeeding researcher, has said that in the women he has studied, milk volume is not low at this time of day. Even if milk volume is lower in the evening, fat content is typically higher in the evening (particularly if baby is allowed to control this via cue feeding), so the amount of calories that baby is getting should not be significantly different. Milk flow can be slower in the evening, which may be frustrating for some babies.
Doctors often attribute evening fussiness to baby’s immature nervous system (and the fussiness does end as baby gets older, usually by 3-4 months). However, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler (who does research on breastfeeding in traditional societies) states that babies in Mali, West Africa and other traditional societies don’t have colic or late afternoon/evening fussiness. These babies are carried all day and usually nurse several times each hour.
So perhaps none of these explanations is a complete answer to baby’s evening fussiness. For many babies, the fussy time seems to be characterized by a need to have small quantities of milk at frequent intervals, combined with lots of holding, cuddling and movement. Babies who are offered as much expressed milk or formula as they will take by bottle [note: this practice will decrease your milk supply!] often behave in exactly the same way in the evenings. Baby takes a small amount and dozes (and fusses), then a little more, and so on. Perhaps babies “remember” mom being very active during her pregnancy at these times, and want to be held, rocked, and nurtured constantly again.
Perhaps babies simply need to nurse more often at this time — rather than consume more milk.
Soothing techniques for the fussy times
- Wear baby in a sling or baby carrier. This will free one or both hands for other tasks (fixing dinner, caring for other children) while you hold, soothe and nurse your baby.
- Change of pace. Let dad have some “baby time” while mom takes a shower or simply gets some time to herself to relax and regroup after a long day.
- Go outside. Relax baby (and mom too) with a walk, or just sit and enjoy the outdoors. Try this a little before baby’s regular fussy time.
- Soothe with sound. Sing, hum, talk, murmur shhhh, listen to music, or use ‘white noise.’ Try different types of sound, different styles of music and singers with different types of voices.
- Soothe with rhythmic motion. Walk, sway, bounce, dance, swing, or even try a car ride.
- Soothe with touch. Hold or bathe baby, try baby massage.
- Reduce stimulation. Dim lights, reduce noise, swaddle baby.
- Vary nursing positions. Try side lying, lying on your back to nurse with baby tummy to tummy, etc.
- Nurse in motion (while rocking, swaying, walking, etc.).
- Combine rhythmic motion with soothing sounds.
- Avoid scheduling, even more so in the fussy evening hours.
- More soothing techniques.
More resources for fussy babies@ KellyMom
- My baby is fussy! Is something wrong? What is normal, reasons for fussing, and comfort measures for baby.
- My baby is gassy. Is this caused by something in my diet?
- The Distractible Baby
- Is your baby nursing all the time?
- Fussy babies – is it the arsenic hour? from the Australian Breastfeeding Association
- Cluster Feeding by Lisa Hassan Scott, from the September 2014 Breastfeeding Today
- Infant fussiness from Mother-2-Mother.com
- The Pitfalls of Supplementing a Breastfed Baby by Cheryl Taylor White
- Fussy periods and wonder weeks from the Australian Breastfeeding Association
The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer
by Harvey Karp, MD
The Fussy Baby Book: Parenting Your High-Need Child From Birth to Age Five
by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN, IBCLC
Up to what age to feed the baby at night and how to replace formula
Baby formula is only a forced measure to replace mother's milk in the absence of sufficient lactation or underweight in the baby. In all other respects, the infant formula feeding algorithm remains the same as with breastfeeding. The baby also needs nightly feedings about every 3-4 hours. This is due to scientifically proven facts. Babies up to a year old have an accelerated metabolism, food is digested faster, and naturally, they experience hunger at night. Also, any anxiety of the baby at night forces him to demand his mother's participation, and of course - food as a sedative. There is even a theory that children are genetically woken up to eat to avoid "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome" in their sleep.
But also can't it continue indefinitely? The child grows, develops actively, from the age of 6 months receives a variety of complementary foods, and over time should form a normal daily routine. And for this you need to figure out: how to wean a child at night to eat the mixture in the most gentle ways.
Up to what age to give the mixture at night
Experts differ on this issue, but the average age when you can do without night feedings is nevertheless deduced. Infants with normal development can sleep peacefully at night without formula 10-12 hours from 9-12 months. Of course, if parents do not consider it necessary to restrict their child in nutrition, they can safely continue to feed their child at night and beyond. But they must be aware that, firstly, over time, these periods of eating become just a habit for the baby. And secondly, mothers should also think about their own well-being after sleepless nights. So, the approximate age of weaning a child from night feedings has been determined, it remains to find out how to replace the mixture for the night after a year for the first time of the transition to a new regimen.
Night formula alternative
Formula feeding formula is extremely nutritious and delicious for your baby. Therefore, the nightly replacement should be unequal, so that the baby subsequently feels that he does not need to wake up for such food. For these reasons, many mothers, thinking about how to replace the mixture for the night, use not the best products. It is strongly not recommended to use compotes or juices, because the ultimate goal is a complete and painless rejection of night food. In addition, fruit drinking can cause flatulence and abdominal pain - not the most favorable factors for restful sleep.
It is better to replace the traditional food at first with a well-diluted mixture, and then with pure water. At the same time, you need to try to slightly shift the period of falling asleep and provide the child with peace and a hearty dinner before going to bed. During the gradual transition to a new way of life, it is not necessary to immediately offer a diluted mixture to the awakened baby at night, it is better to try to calm him down in a different way - caress, rock him. And since night meals a priori will cease to be delicious food, the child himself will gradually forget about it, but the wise human body will be rebuilt anyway.
QUESTION TO THE LASTFEEDING EXPERT: What to do about frequent night feedings?
Question: My son is 1 month old and has been breastfed since birth. Tell me, what is the norm of night feedings for a child under one year old? My son eats literally every hour at night. It's very difficult, I can't sleep. What to do with such behavior?
Tatiana from Donetsk.
Answered by Ksenia Solovey , Head of the National Movement in Support of Breastfeeding “Milk Rivers of Ukraine”, UNICEF partner in the Breastfeeding Support Program in Crisis Situations:
- First of all, the main thing to remember is that it is perfectly natural for a child to wake up several times during the night. The child often wakes up as soon as something starts to bother him - for example, the absence of his mother nearby. And the simplest and surest way to calm the baby is, of course, breastfeeding.
There is no quantitative norm in applying to the breast. All children are completely different and why one breastfeeds at night 2 times, and the other every hour - for sure, no breastfeeding specialist knows. For an infant, attachment to the breast is an opportunity to feel safe, and he does not always suckle the breast because of hunger and the desire to eat. Although this is also important.
The reasons for too frequent nighttime attachments can be:
1. Lack of attention during the day on the part of the mother, who works or devotes a lot of time to housework and everyday life. As a result, during the day the child is rarely in the arms of the mother, rarely applied to the breast. To fill this gap during the day - the child "parts" at night.
Solution: Get help from your loved ones with laundry, dishwashing, cooking and cleaning. If there are no assistants, think about whether you really need a sparkling clean house now when you have a baby and your constant presence is important for him?
2. The child does not eat during the day. He sucks the nipple all the time, doesn't attach properly to the breast, and doesn't have the ability to suck out a good portion of milk. Therefore, he uses the night for this.
Solution: remove the pacifier permanently. Start breastfeeding your baby more often. Learn to apply properly. During attachment, you need to make sure that the baby opens his mouth wide, and put not only the nipple, but also most of the areola into it. It is important that the lower lip of the child is turned outward, the chin rests on the chest. In the process of sucking, the mouth should be wide open, that is, the angle between the upper and lower lip will be blunt. More.
3. For physiological reasons.
Solution: take the child to the doctor. Check if the child has gained enough weight in the 1st month? Normally, the increase should be about 500 grams of weight with a slight loss on 3-4 days after birth.
Remember that frequent nighttime feedings are not a whim of a child, but an important need that helps him cope with something that you and I may simply not know about.