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Newborn Cluster Feeding: Why Does Babies Cluster Feed?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

I recently came across an amazing, informational blog post about this topic by Alicia McMahon, from Baby Bonding. She is a lactation and feeding consultant based in Melbourne. So here I am, sharing it with you, so it may benefit new moms.

What Is Cluster Feeding and Why Newborns Do It?

Human beings are born as one of the most helpless mammals alive. We can’t walk, talk, or defend ourselves. Our communication is limited to actions and crying. If we’re hungry, we have to rely on another person to move us to a food source. If we’re cold, we can only cry until a caregiver figures out that we’re cold and provides a blanket. As a result, a baby’s strongest instinct is for survival at all costs and we are born with several innate systems designed specifically to support this! Cluster feeding, particularly at night, is part of this survival instinct.

babies cluster feeding babies feeding all night

Like so many bodily functions, production of breastmilk is largely hormone based in the early weeks of breastfeeding. (See how milk supply works here). Prolactin is the main hormone involved in milk production. It kicks into overdrive after birth to switch mum’s body over from growing a baby to feeding a baby. Prolactin levels rise and fall over a 24 hour period and the level of prolactin is highest during the night. This means that if baby feeds more at night, they not only get more milk but they also make more milk!

level of prolactin in mother's feed for newborn babies

In the first few days of a baby’s life, they get by using their own fat stores for energy while they work on getting mum’s body to produce breastmilk. Colostrum is also available as an energy source for the first few days and this is usually enough to keep healthy babies going until the milk comes in.

However, fat stores and colostrum are like giving someone muesli bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sure they’ll tide you over, take the edge off. But only eating muesli bars for every meal will not be nearly as satisfying as eating proper meals. So a baby’s second strongest instinct when they’re born is to ensure they have a food source.

How do they do this? By cluster feeding! Frequent stimulation of the breast is essential for milk production. Babies know this. Colostrum and breastmilk are also very easily digested. Add to this the small size of baby’s tummy and you have a necessity for why newborn cluster feed.

size of newborn baby tummy how much feed the baby needs

Now babies aren’t born with their own hormone cycles to help them differentiate between day and night. They rely on mum's body and breastmilk to learn this over time. So your sweet faced, chubby cheeked angel has no idea what the difference between 3pm and 3am is.

However, they do know when mum’s body is ripe for milk production. And that’s at night. Call it whatever you like - pheromones, mother-baby bond, survival instincts or just plain magic. The point is babies are wired for survival and survival means feeding frequently when there is more milk available and when more milk can be produced – at night.

So find a comfortable position and feed your beautiful baby during the night. Enjoy the closeness and the cuddles and that sweet baby smell. Cherish the time that your baby fits in your arms. You got this Mama. This too, shall pass.

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