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What happens during a growth spurt?

During a growth spurt, your baby will gain weight, body length and head circumference faster than usual. It can also reach a development milestone or gain an ability it has been working on for a while.

For many mothers, the surest sign that your baby is experiencing a growth spurt is that the baby eats more. So pay attention to the times when your child seems to be particularly hungry. (ABM 2010, Gartner et al 2005, LLLI 2006, PSBC 2013, Wagner 2012).

Breastfeeding may take longer than usual when you breastfeed your baby. If your baby is fed on formula, it may still feel hungry at the end of feeding.

Some babies rush through such periods of growth without giving any signals. Then you may only notice when weighing that your baby's weight has jumped or that the new romper is suddenly too short at the toes!

With such a growth spurt, your baby may need more or less sleep than usual (Lampl and Johnson 2011). Some research also shows that babies are clinging and becoming restless and unbecoming in such particular stages of growth (van de Rijt and Plooij 2010). This could affect bedtime.

When do growth spurts happen and how long do they last?

Growth spurts can take place at any time. As a rule, they last a day or two for small babies (Hermanussen 1998). For older babies, they can last for up to a week (Wagner 2012).

Some experts believe that such special stages of growth occur at certain times during the first year of life of your baby. Namely:

  • after two weeks (Block 2013)
  • after three weeks (IHS nd, LLLI 2006)
  • after six weeks (Block 2013, IHS nd, LLLI 2006)
  • after three months (Block 2013, IHS nd, LLLI 2006)
  • After Six Months (IHS nd, LLLI 2006)

However, each baby's growth patterns are different, so do not worry if your baby does not go through a growth spurt at these times. If your baby likes to eat and gain weight, you can be sure that it will grow accordingly.

Are growth spurts the same as food bouts?

No, but there is a connection. Food spills are times when your baby seems hungrier than normal. This may be related to a growth spurt, but it does not have to be.

During a food spurt, your baby may eat or suck longer. Babies who are breast-fed may feel restless when put on, babies who receive the vial may still feel hungry after feeding (LLLI 2006, Wagner 2012).

You may also read or hear of so-called ""high-frequency days"", days when babies who are breast-fed want to be nursed more often, up to 18 times in 24 hours (Block 2013). Interestingly enough, there are not many studies linking food scores to accelerated growth. However, it seems logical that your baby will grow faster if it consumes more calories (NCT nd, Piwoz et al 2012).

Therefore, the terms ""growth spurt"" and ""food spike"" are often used for the same thing (LLLI 2006).

What are other signs of a growth spike other than increased food intake?

Sleep

Just before and during a growth spurt your baby will probably be sleepier than usual. It will wake up less often at night, sleep longer in the morning and maybe take more nap. All of these can be signs that your baby is growing his energy. However, a study that was not very comprehensive found that babies in a growth phase sleep more than two to four and a half hours longer (Lampl and Johnson 2011).

It's not clear why that is. However, it is known that a protein called HGH (human growth hormone) is formed during sleep. This hormone is important for growth, so sleep could provide your baby with the necessary ""fuel"" (Lampl and Johnson 2011). On the other hand, there are also babies who seem to need less sleep instead of more sleep when they are in a growth spurt. So your baby could wake up more often at night or take shorter naps.

These changes in your baby's habits can be tiring and confusing. If you feel overwhelmed, keep in mind that these growth spurts last only a few days. Not long and your baby is back to his old habits.

Behavior

During a growth phase, your baby is likely to be more restless and affectionate than usual.

Your baby wants to be carried all the time and cries when you lie down. You may also find that your baby is restless and whiny in situations where it is usually relaxed and calm.

It is not clear what triggers this change. It may be because your child feels tired and overwhelmed because it puts all his energy into eating and growing.

There is a theory that behavioral change signals that a developmental leap is imminent (van de Rijt and Plooij 2010). It can happen with a growth spurt or at another time. So, when your baby becomes restless or moody, it may soon be able to master a new ability, such as rolling or crawling!

What can I do during a growth spurt?

Watch your baby's signals and try to give him what he needs. This can be an extra meal, a nap in the morning or rest and physical closeness.

Breast-fed babies can act during growth spurts as if they were not getting enough milk. But do not worry, your breasts will produce enough milk for your baby's needs.

Still, it may take a day or two for your body to adapt to the new situation, so a baby's growth may feel stressful for you as well (LLLI 2006, NHS Choices 2014).

To support your milk production, you should breastfeed your baby as often and as long as it likes (LLLI 2006, NHS Choices 2014). Of course, this is easier said than done, so you should take care of yourself and eat regular meals, drink plenty of fluids, and be helped by family and friends in the household.

If you feed your baby with vials, it may still seem hungry after a meal. It is OK. then give him an extra vial. There is usually no reason to change to a more nutritious milk formula (BHNT nd). If you think about it anyway, talk to your midwife or pediatrician first.

Is it a growth spurt or is something wrong? Growth spurts can make your baby drowsy or confused, but they neither cause fever nor extreme irritability or listlessness. On the contrary, they can be signs that your baby is ill. Consult your doctor if your baby shows these symptoms.

If you breast-feed your child and think you do not get enough milk, you should also ask your doctor or midwife for advice and help.

Growth spurts are not the only explanation for moody and hungry babies. Holidays, teething, daily changes or minor illnesses can also affect your baby's intake, sleep and behavior.

For example, if your baby's routine changes and is restless, breastfeeding or feeding can be comforting. So, if your baby appears hungrier than normal, it may only need protective and comforting contact with you (Gartner et al 2005, NCT nd, NICE 2011).

If your baby's behavior, diet or sleeping habits suddenly change and you are worried, talk to your pediatrician or midwife.

Learn more about how your doctor measures your baby's growth.

Sources

ABM. 2010.

Breastfeeding twins.

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. Bridgwater, UK

BHNT. nd. Formula feeding: 6 weeks to a year. Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, UK

Block SL. 2013. Delayed Introduction of Solid Foods to Infants: Not so Fast! Pediatric Annals 42 (4): 143-147

Gartner LM, Morton J, Lawrence RA. et al. 2005. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 115 (2), 496-506

Hermanussen M. 1998. The analysis of short-term growth. Review. Horm Res 49: 53-64

IHS. nd. Breastfeeding - growth and development. Provider information. Indian Health Service

Lampl M, Johnson ML. 2011. Infant growth in length follows prolonged sleep and increased naps. SLEEP 34 (5): 641-650

LLLI. 2006. Why does my baby suddenly want to nurse constantly? La Leche League International

NCT. nd. Breastfeeding: my baby's feeding pattern has changed. National Childbirth Trust.

NHS Choices. 2014. Breastfeeding: the first few days. NHS Choices, Health A-Z.

NICE. 2011. Breastfeeding problems. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Clinical Knowledge Summaries.

Perinatal Services BC. 2013. Newborn Guideline 13. Newborn Nursing Care Pathway. Vancouver, Canada

Piwoz E, Sundberg S, Rooke J. 2012. Promoting healthy growth: what are the priorities for research and action? American Society for Nutrition. Adv Nutr 3: 234-241

van de Rijt H, Plooij F, 2010. The Wonder Weeks. Kiddy World Promotions BV. Arnhem, the Netherlands

Wagner CL. 2012. Counseling the Breastfeeding Mother. Medscape Reference

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