How to Manage Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings

November 6, 2012

[Updated June 28, 2017]

Decoding Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings

Breastfeeding creates an unmistakable bond between you and your baby. This bond brings emotional security and comfort to your baby, while providing the best nutrition possible. So, it’s no surprise babies are eager to nurse often and enjoy that special time with you.

But even if you love that special time with your baby, many moms question whether their little one’s behavior is typical and how to manage frequent nursing demands. That’s why we’ve tackled cluster feedings and why your baby tends to get fussy in the evenings – so you can rest easy knowing your baby’s behavior is completely normal.

Cluster Feeding

What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is when your baby has several feedings close together during a certain period of time – often in the late afternoon or evening. So even though you are feeding your little one every couple of hours most of the day, cluster feeding is characterized by your baby nursing for short periods, coming off your breast, nursing a little more, fussing, nursing more, hiccuping, and so on and so forth. Don’t worry – it’s completely normal and some babies may cluster feed every day. Cluster feeding is most common in very young babies, but can also happen with older babies who have a tummy ache or are going through a growth spurt.

Will I have enough milk when my baby is feeding this much?

A mother’s body is very in tune with her baby’s needs. For that reason, it’s always best to nurse whenever your little one wants to. Nursing or pumping often is the best way to maintain supply and ensure your baby is getting all the breast milk he or she needs. And while many moms find cluster feeding difficult to manage, know that over time, your baby will nurse less often and for less time, especially after introducing solids.

Fussy Evenings

You know the drill. Your baby is happy and content all day, and then dinner-time hits, and suddenly he or she is ornery, fussy, and seemingly inconsolable. This type of fussiness often goes hand-in-hand with cluster feeding. So, what gives? While it’s not totally clear what causes this common night-time ritual, researchers have some ideas:

  • Baby is Overtired. It’s hard being little! If your baby isn’t getting plenty of nap time during the day, it’s not unusual for them to get tired toward the end of the day and start to get fussy. And, unlike adults, babies aren’t able to calm down and just go to sleep – they rely on you to comfort them, snuggle them, nurse them, and help them relax so they can drift off to sleep.
  • Baby is Overstimulated. Many doctors believe evening fussiness is caused by your baby’s immature nervous system. Basically, what that means is that your little one isn’t used to all of the stresses of stimuli of everyday life, so he or she reacts to this overload by crying. Your best bet is to keep your baby close to you (or your partner!) by snuggling and carrying them, nurse them when they want to nurse, and reduce stimuli like bright lights, loud sounds and busy or cluttered rooms.

The good news is, many babies outgrow this fussy stage by 3 to 4 months old. In the meantime, be patient and know that every ounce of milk and love your little one gets is precious.

How can I soothe my baby?

What makes cluster feeding even more challenging is that it often happens during your baby’s fussiest time. Your little one might nurse for a few minutes, then fuss, then take a little more, and so on. If that sounds familiar, try some of these soothing techniques to help calm your baby:

  • Move around. Whether it’s rocking, swaying or walking, sometimes motion can help soothe your little one.
  • Sing, hum, talk, or listen to soft music or white noise.
  • Hold your baby or wrap them in a sling or baby carrier to help them feel close and secure.
  • Reduce stimulation by taking your little one into a quiet, dark room or try swaddling them.
  • Give yourself a break. Fussy babies and cluster feeding can be frustrating, so it’s important to take a moment to relax. Hand off your little one to your partner, or put them in their crib if they’ve finally dozed off, and go for a short walk, take a shower, or just sit by yourself for a few minutes.

Moms, how do you manage cluster feeding and fussy evenings? Share your tips in the comments below!

35 thoughts on “How to Manage Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings

  1. I ended up having an emergency cesarean (under full anesthesia) after laboring at an out of hospital birth center, so along with this came a heavy amount of recovery for me that first week home as well as weaning my daughter off of formula and subsequently a bottle after we figured out breastfeeding. Personally I couldn’t handle the comfort nursing as my blood pressure kept fluctuating as well, the 3 and 4 hour sessions of breastfeeding at night and then during the day were really hard on my body. I ended up figuring out when she started sleep fighting and nursing for comfort and gave her a pacifier. My daughter didn’t have issue with nipple confusion (since she started on a bottle anyways) and we were mindful of her feeding times/ cues signals with the pacifier. Since then we’ve established a little bit more of a schedule which works best for all of us, giving me a chance to recover more. I didn’t think I would go to giving her a pacifier at all before that but it sure helped keep my blood pressure low!

    • Hi Shannon – Thanks for taking the time to share your story with our community! We’re honored to be a part of your breastfeeding journey and so proud of all of your hard work.

    • Comfort nursing or feeding a baby to sleep is NOT the problem. It’s when a baby can’t go BACK to sleep during the night that it becomes troublesome. Babies wake anywhere from 2-6 times a night. This is completely normal. But it’s when they can’t go back to sleep without a comfort feeding that the comfort feeding becomes problematic. Every baby is different some can be fed to sleep and sleep great. While others are sensitive to props such as comfort feedings and wake throughout the night expecting them. I am a baby sleep consultant so I help parents with this dilemma all the time. Here’s my article about this

  2. Emily Brooks says:

    My little girl is 4 months old and she still gets this way at night. From 7pm until she falls asleep at 9-9:30 we call it her witching hour. She wants to nurse for 5 minutes, fuss, play, jabber, nurse again, and just repeat. She self weaned from a pacifier a few weeks ago, and will flip a lid if i try to offer one. She also gets rather ornery if she dozes off on the breast and i put it away. I just kind of let her call the shots at night. If she’s crabby all evening I can’t really complain because she has slept through the night since 9 weeks old. So if 2 hours of crabbiness and being used as her own personal snack bar, gets me 9 hours of sleep at night, I am fine with it.

  3. My daughter did this for 2 hours every night for a week. Eat for 5 minutes or so then nurse again in 15 or so minutes. It was difficult to deal with. I didn’t see this in your article anywhere but my lactation consultant, I had trouble with milk supply, said it can be extra feedings to prepare for longer periods of sleep. It can also be to increase milk supply for a growth spurt.

  4. Pingback: 7 Moms on the Worst Breastfeeding Advice They Ever Received | Medela Moments

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