cluster feeding vs colic

Cluster Feeding vs Colic: What Every New Parent Should Know

Are you a new parent who is struggling to understand the difference between cluster feeding and colic? You’re not alone. Many new parents find these terms confusing, and it can be challenging to tell the difference between the two.

Cluster feeding vs colic: both are common in newborns, but they are not the same thing.

Cluster feeding vs Colic

Cluster feeding (also called bunch feeding) is frequent feeding more than usual over a period of a few hours. This can happen at any time of day but is most common in the evening (the ‘witching hour’). Parents can worry that cluster feeding means the mom has a low milk supply, but this is not necessarily the case. Cluster feeding is part of a baby’s normal development and a way for your baby to get the extra nutrition they need to grow, especially during a growth spurt.

On the other hand, colic is a condition that causes a baby to cry for long periods, usually in the evening, and can be difficult to soothe.

While cluster feeding and colic can both be exhausting for parents, it’s important to understand the difference between the two and how to manage them.

What Is Cluster Feeding?

Cluster feeding, common in new babies, involves baby feeding in frequent, clustered feedings over short periods, often in evenings.

It’s a natural part of growth spurts and developmental stages, typically signaling the need for more milk production to meet growing nutritional demands, and it helps to establish a healthy supply and demand system.

While this can lead to parental fatigue, it’s crucial for baby’s weight gain and development. Signs include fussiness, frequent feedings, and healthy weight gain.

What Is Colic?

Colic is a temporary condition where a baby cries for more than three hours a day, three days a week, for more than three weeks usually starting when a baby is a few weeks old and can last until they are three to four months old.

Colic can be caused by a variety of factors, including gas, reflux, or an allergy to formula or breast milk. If your baby is crying excessively and you’re concerned, it’s always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician.

The exact cause of colic is not known, but there are several theories. One theory is that colic is caused by gastrointestinal issues, such as gas or an immature digestive system. Another theory is that colic is caused by a baby’s diet, especially if they are formula-fed. Some experts believe that colic is caused by a baby’s routine or environment, such as being overstimulated or having an inconsistent sleep schedule.

Key Differences Between Cluster Feeding and Colic

If you’re a new parent, you may be wondering what the difference is between cluster feeding and colic.

Cluster FeedingColic
May feed every hour or even more frequentlyMay cry for long periods of time, often in the evening
May feed for shorter periods of timeMay have a hard time feeding
May seem more fussy or irritable than usualMay have difficulty sleeping
Will be soothed during nursing sessionsMay seem inconsolable and difficult to soothe

If you’re unsure whether your baby is experiencing cluster feeding or colic, it’s always best to consult with your pediatrician.

Similarities Between Cluster Feeding and Colic

When your baby is fussy and seems to be crying more than usual, it can be difficult to determine whether they are experiencing cluster feeding or colic. Here are some similarities between the two:

  • Both cluster feeding and colic can come on suddenly: Cluster feeding involves your baby wanting to eat more frequently and for longer periods of time, while colic causes your baby to cry for hours at a time, often in the evening. These experiences can be stressful for parents.

  • Both may be soothed by feeding: If your baby is cluster feeding, they may want to nurse or take a bottle more frequently. If your baby has colic, although not very common, they may be soothed by the act of feeding, even if they don’t actually consume much milk or formula.

  • Both can be caused by a variety of factors: These can include hunger, overstimulation, and gastrointestinal issues. It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of your baby’s fussiness, but paying attention to their cues and patterns can help you identify what might be causing their discomfort.

How to Manage Cluster Feeding

Cluster feeding can be overwhelming and exhausting, but there are ways to handle it that can help make it more manageable. Here are some tips to help you soothe your fussy baby and plan ahead for cluster feeding:

  • Understand newborn behavior: Newborns have different feeding patterns than older babies. They may need to nurse more frequently and for longer periods of time. This is because their stomachs are smaller and they need to eat more often to get the nutrients they need. Understanding this can help you prepare for cluster feeding and make it less stressful.

  • Soothe a fussy baby: When your baby is cluster feeding, they may be fussy and difficult to soothe. Try different positions and techniques when you feed your baby to help calm them down. Some babies may prefer to be held upright, while others may prefer to be swaddled or rocked. Experiment with different methods until you find what works best for your baby.

  • Plan ahead: Cluster feeding can be unpredictable, but you can plan ahead to make it easier. Make sure you have everything you need within reach, such as water, snacks, and a comfortable place to nurse. You may also want to consider pumping milk ahead of time so that you have a supply ready for when your baby is hungry.

  • Take care of yourself: Cluster feeding can be exhausting, so it’s important to take care of yourself too. Make sure you’re eating well and staying hydrated. Take breaks when you need to and ask for help from family or friends if you need it.

How to Soothe a Colicky Baby

Check for Gas

One of the most common causes of colic is gas. If your baby is crying and seems fussy, try gently massaging their tummy to help release any trapped gas. You can also try using a warm compress on their tummy to help soothe any discomfort.

Adjust Their Diet

If your baby is formula-fed, you may want to consider switching to a different formula to see if that helps. Some babies have trouble digesting certain types of formulas, so it may take some trial and error to find the right one. If you are breastfeeding, you may want to try eliminating certain foods from your diet to see if that helps. Some babies are sensitive to foods like dairy, so cutting those out may help ease their symptoms.

Establish a Routine

Babies thrive on routine, so establishing a consistent schedule can help soothe a fussy baby. Try to stick to a regular feeding and sleeping schedule, and make sure your baby is getting enough sleep. A well-rested baby is a happy baby!

Use Calming Techniques

Some babies respond well to gentle rocking or bouncing, while others may prefer white noise or a pacifier. You can also try swaddling your baby to help them feel more secure and comfortable.

Seek Help

If you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure of how to soothe your colicky baby, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for advice and support. Remember, you are not alone, and there are many resources available to help you and your baby through this difficult time.

When to Seek Medical Advice

  • Consult your pediatrician for concerns about feeding patterns or underlying issues.

  • Newborns with jaundice may need formula supplementation to flush out excess bilirubin.

  • If low milk supply or inadequate weight gain is observed, formula supplementation could be necessary.

  • If your baby appears in pain during feedings, it could indicate colic. Seek pediatric advice.

  • Improving weight gain may require increasing nursing frequency or changing breastfeeding positions.

  • Ensure adequate feeding by observing hunger cues, burping after feeds, and checking diaper output.

Misconceptions About Cluster Feeding and Colic

#1: Cluster feeding and colic are the same things

Cluster feeding and colic are not the same. Cluster feeding is when a baby feeds frequently and for shorter periods of time, usually in the evening. It is normal behavior that helps increase milk production and can happen during growth spurts. Colic, on the other hand, is defined as excessive crying for no apparent reason for at least three hours a day, three days a week, for at least three weeks.

#2: Cluster feeding is a sign of low milk supply

Cluster feeding is not always a sign of low milk supply. It is normal behavior that can happen during growth spurts or when a baby is going through a developmental milestone.

#3: Colic is caused by something the mother eats

There is no evidence that colic is caused by something the mother eats. While some babies may be sensitive to certain foods in the mother’s diet, there is no specific food that has been proven to cause colic.

#4: Cluster feeding and colic can be cured

There is no cure for cluster feeding or colic. Cluster feeding is a normal behavior that helps increase milk production, while colic is a temporary condition that usually resolves on its own by the time the baby is three to four months old.

Impact on Parent’s

Cluster feeding and colic can be incredibly stressful for parents. The constant feeding and fussiness can leave you feeling exhausted, helpless, and overwhelmed. It’s important to remember that these are normal phases that most babies go through, and they will eventually pass.

Here are some ways that cluster feeding and colic can impact parents:

  • Increased stress levels: Dealing with a fussy baby can be incredibly stressful, especially if you’re a first-time parent. The constant crying and feeding can leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

  • Lack of sleep: Cluster feeding and colic often occur at night, which can leave parents feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived.

  • Feelings of guilt: Some parents may feel guilty if they can’t soothe their baby or if they feel like they’re not doing enough. It’s important to remember that cluster feeding and colic are normal phases that most babies go through, and it’s not your fault.

  • Impact on mental health: Dealing with a fussy baby can take a toll on your mental health. It’s important to seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or if you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression.

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How Cluster Feeding and Colic Can Affect Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be a beautiful bonding experience for you and your baby, but it can also be challenging, especially when dealing with cluster feeding and colic.

Cluster feeding

Cluster feeding in breastfed babies can affect your milk supply, as it signals your body to produce more milk to meet your baby’s demands. However, it can also lead to soreness and pain in breastfeeding mothers, especially if your baby is not latching correctly.

Breastfeeding positions can help alleviate soreness and pain, and you can try different positions to find what works best for you and your baby.

If you are formula-feeding, cluster feeding can still occur, but it may not affect your milk supply. However, it can still be challenging to keep up with your baby’s demands, especially if they are going through a developmental stage or experiencing nighttime fussiness.


Colic can also affect breastfeeding, as it can make it difficult for your baby to feed properly due to pain or discomfort. It can also be emotionally challenging for you as a parent, as you may feel helpless and frustrated.

It is crucial to pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues and hunger signs, as this can help prevent cluster feeding and colic. Wet and dirty diapers are also an excellent indicator that your baby is getting enough milk and is on track for healthy weight gain. A baby carrier can be a valuable tool for parents with older children, providing comfort and closeness during cluster feeding and colic episodes.


Cluster feeding and colic are normal parts of the early months of newborn babies’ lives. Both can lead to frequent feeding and the illusion that your baby isn’t getting enough milk.

Cluster feeding, often called bunch feeding, means that babies cluster feed, demanding milk volume on a supply and demand basis, sometimes around the witching hour. Breastfeeding moms can manage cluster feeding by holding their baby in different feeding positions to soothe them.

In contrast, colic may cause your baby to eat constantly but stop crying only with soothing sounds and a gentle voice.

Despite the challenges, remember these periods will pass eventually. Keep a close eye on wet and dirty nappies, and ensure the baby is gaining weight. These are completely normal phases that many babies go through!

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions? I Have Answers.

It is ok to explore other ways of feeding your baby if cluster feeding is becoming exhausting or painful. Giving a bottle or formula or expressed milk during cluster feeding can help give your breasts a break and allow your partner or other family member to help with feeding.

There are a few signs that your baby is cluster feeding. Your baby may want to feed more frequently than usual, may seem fussy or irritable, and may not be satisfied after a feeding. You may also notice that your baby is not sleeping as much as usual.

Cluster feeding can make your baby gassy, but it’s not always the case. When your baby is feeding frequently, they may be taking in more air than usual, which can lead to gas. However, if your baby is properly latched and breastfeeding effectively, they should not be swallowing a lot of air.

Every baby is different, and babies may cluster feed for a few days to a few weeks. It’s most common during growth spurts, which usually occurs in the first few weeks at around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months. Remember that it is normal for a newborn baby to feed between 8 and 12 times in the a 24 hour period.

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