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Cluster feeding

Do you ever wonder why your baby just won't stop feeding in the evenings?

Mother feeding in evening

Cluster feeding is when your baby's feeds are very frequent or 'clustered' together. They seem to feed continuously over several hours, often in the evening or early hours of the morning and may not settle to sleep easily.  

Cluster feeding is normal and not usually linked to a low supply. But if you're concerned about your milk supply, there are ways you can tell if your baby is getting enough milk.

Why do babies cluster feed?

There are a few ideas as to why babies behave like this in the evening: 

  • Your baby may be hungrier in the evening and need to 'fill up' before sleeping for a longer period at night. This may make them feed more often or for longer at this time.  

  • Some babies also have a strong need to suck for comfort and will become unsettled soon after coming off the breast. 

  • Frequent feeding in the early evening may help to maintain your milk supply for the following day. 

  • Your baby may be more unsettled in the evening if they are tired. They can find it harder to cope with changes to their surroundings by the end of the day and need closeness to feel calm. 

  • Many mums feel their milk supply is lower in the late afternoon or evening. Your breasts can feel emptier than earlier in the day. Don't worry, there is still milk there. Your breasts are never totally empty. And the more drained your breasts are, the higher the concentration of fat and calories in your breastmilk.

Children of all ages are often tired and cranky by the end of the day. After all, they have spent the day learning, experiencing and growing at a much higher level than we adults! Unfortunately, in most Australian homes, this time coincides with when adults 'wind up' as we or our partners arrive home from work, make dinner, turn on the television news etc. Sometimes by the end of the day, tiredness and stress levels have risen and perhaps our babies can sense this. 

How can I prepare for times of cluster feeding?

  • Accept that the evenings may be busy and stressful and that it is 'baby/child' time. You will have some 'me' time once they are asleep. 

  • If you get your baby down for an afternoon nap, ditch the housework and have a cup of something and a rest instead, so you'll have more energy for later. 

  • Try to cook dinner earlier in the day so you have time to sit and feed. Cook double and freeze some dinners when able for easy, quick meals. 

  • Go 'incommunicado' while you do dinner, bath, bed. Turn phones to silent and don't check messages or social media so you can concentrate on getting baby settled.  

  • Hand the baby over to your partner or whoever is around when you need a break. Sometimes they need to be held by someone who is a bit calmer or even put in their pram and taken for a walk.   

What can I do to help?

  • Reduce stimulation in the home, turn off the television and dim the lights.  

  • Ask your partner to keep after-work playtime to quiet activities, reading stories etc.  

  • Give your baby a warm bath. 

  • If you need to get things done, your baby may be happier carried in a sling and kept close to you. Some mums also keep their pram or rocker in the living area at this time so they can rock/push baby while they work. 

  • Ask your partner or another adult to deal with older children, pets, phone calls or dinner.  

Following your baby's lead and feeding according to need can be the answer to coping with the witching hours. You may need to feed very frequently for a while, but will have a settled, sleepy baby at the end of it all. 

Babies and young children can be at their lowest in the early evening and this goes for us too! It can be reassuring to know that sometimes there is no solution other than to hold them, cuddle them, feed them, and wait for it to pass. 

Next time you're experiencing the cluster feeding periods, remember to be kind to yourself. You are not alone.  

If you are concerned 

Have your baby checked by your doctor to rule out any medical cause of your baby crying and being fussy.  


© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022