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Cluster Feedings and Fussy Evenings

Written by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC   
Saturday, 01 December 2007 00:00
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“My baby nurses and fusses all evening! What’s wrong?”

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.

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, etc.).

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; 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 or drink and fetch things you need (book, remote, phone, etc.) while you nurse and hold baby.