When you’re a new parent it can be tough to tell when your child is going through a growth spurt and figuring out how best to get through them can feel like walking a gauntlet. Growth spurts can be incredibly confusing and frustrating, just when you thought you had your little one’s schedule all figured out a growth spurt will hit that can send their whole routine spiraling out of control. Asher generally sleeps very well at night, but during a growth spurt, he may wake up as often as every hour or two requesting, nay demanding to be fed. Needless to say this is no fun for either of us.
Growth spurts are an important part of infant development and are usually accompanied by an increased appetite either followed or preceded by longer periods of sleep. Babies need sleep in order to grow. There is a strong relationship between sleep amount and growth spurts, which indicates that it is very important for infants to get high quality sleep (1).
Most babies will experience 5-7 major growth spurts in their first year, these occur at around 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months and 9 months. However every baby is different so this time frame should just be used as a rough guideline.
Most growth spurts last 2-4 days, but some can last up to a week or more.
How To Spot a Growth Spurt:
There are several signals that can tip you off that your little one is in fact experiencing a growth spurt.
Hunger: Your tiny tot will generally have a seemingly insatiable appetite and may want to eat seemingly around the clock, sometimes every hour. If you are exclusively breastfeeding resist the urge to supplement with formula or expressed milk during this time. The best way to increase your milk supply and support the higher caloric demands of your child is to put your baby to the breast as frequently as possible. Short but frequent feedings are better than long and infrequent feedings at signalling to your breasts to produce more milk. If you really want to try to speed things along, then you can consider pumping for 10 minutes after each feeding, just make sure to freeze the milk you pump for a rainy day rather than give it to your baby during the growth spurt.
Mood: Your little one may also be quite cranky or fussier than normal, which can sometimes be mistaken for colic. They may even complain while at the breast, pulling of and re-latching over and over. This mood swing is due in part from lack of sleep (eating all the time really interrupts catching some good quality shut eye) and in part due to the higher caloric demands (they want more milk NOW).
Disrupted Sleep: Your baby will likely wake up more often at night in order satisfy their increased appetite. Some parents find this one the hardest to identify. It can sometimes be hard to tell if your baby is going through a growth spurt or experiencing sleep regression. The best way to tell is if your baby is waking up at the same times every night, then it is probably sleep regression or habitual waking. However if the waking times are sporadic and hold no pattern then you are likely dealing with a growth spurt, in which case it’s best to feed your baby promptly. I have definitely been guilty of mistaking a growth spurt for sleep regression and let me tell you, doing so just prolongs the whole process and makes it that much more painful for you both.
Increased Sleep: As I mentioned earlier, either preceding or following a period of increased feeding your baby will exhibit periods of extended sleep. Don’t wake up the baby to feed during this time because sleep is essential for their growth. In fact babies generally do most of their growing while they are asleep (2) and can gain 1-3 ounces and grow up to 1 cm in length over the course of a day (3). I suggest reveling in this respite and catching up on some sleep yourself.
When to Be Concerned:
If your little one is still experiencing the signs of a growth spurt for longer than two weeks or doesn’t seem to be gaining weight you should talk to your child’s pediatrician to rule out any other problems. In fact if you’re worried about whether or not your baby is getting enough food in general then I suggest going to a lactation consultant and weighing your baby on their high tech scale before and after a feeding. That way they will be able to tell how many ounces your baby is consuming, which is pretty neat!
How Best to Survive a Growth Spurt:
The best thing you can do during a growth spurt is to hunker down and ride it out. Feed on demand. You may feel like you’re nursing non-stop, and that’s probably because you are. Just remember there is an end in sight and the less you resist the process, the easier it will be. In the meantime take extra care of yourself. Drink lots and lots of water and make sure you eat sufficiently to help support your increasing milk supply. All the late night feedings may leave you feeling extra exhausted and strung out so make sure to cut yourself some slack and enlist help to tackle all the non-growth spurt related tasks. When Asher is going through a growth spurt, I like to curl up with him and nurse whenever he wants it, which is constantly. Don’t expect to get much else done.
(3). Kirton, B. (2012, Novemeber 6). Everything you need to know about infant growth spurts. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from Life Stages Feeding: http://www.lifestagesfeeding.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-infant-growth-spurts/