Oh, the bittersweet reality of baby growth spurts. One day she’s full of gummy smiles, the next day she’s breaking her first tooth. One day she’s exclusively breastfeeding, the next day she’s eating solids like a champ.
But sometimes, your little one can go through a concentrated and intense progression in something called baby growth spurts. While they can be exhausting and disorienting for both baby and parents, mercifully, they’re usually short in duration. The key is to know what to expect so you aren’t caught off guard! In this post, we’ll unpack baby growth spurts so you and baby can handle with relative grace and ease.
What are baby growth spurts?
In the first year of life, your baby will gain, on average, three times her birth weight and between eight and ten inches in length.
These changes are both steady and intermittent, with leaps in brain and body development packed into days or weeks throughout the first year.
You may notice that these days of rapid growth and development are preceded by fussiness and disruptions in your baby’s sleeping and eating routines. Don’t worry if your baby suddenly needs more milk or sleep after finally settling into an established routine during the weeks before. It is likely a positive sign that a growth spurt is underway (source).
When do baby growth spurts happen?
Babies don’t abide by clocks and calendars, so your personal experience with baby growth spurts might be different from the standard that’s outlined here. (I remember frantically looking for info on baby growth spurts and feeling disheartened that my kids never lined up with the “normal” timetables. It doesn’t mean that your child isn’t going through one!)
In general, baby growth spurts occur around the following times:
- Day 2: Newborn growth spurts during the first few days—usually night 2—which is more of a “protest” of leaving your womb, rather than an actual growth spurt. It’s a gassy period for newborns, as their gut flora becomes established in anticipation of the end of colostrum and the arrival of mature breast milk.
- 2-3 weeks
- 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 12 months
As your little one grows from toddlerhood to childhood and all the way into the teenage years, her growth spurts will continue. They become longer and more spaced out over time, but in many ways, they still follow the pattern of their first infant growth spurts—arriving with temporary bursts of hunger, crankiness, some aches and pains, and the need for more sleep.
Recognizing baby growth spurts
Wondering if your baby is in the midst of a growth spurt? Here are some key signs to look out for:
- Increased appetite: Your baby wants to nurse more often, sometimes every 20 minutes (so don’t freak out or worry that you have low milk supply)! It might feel like she’s constantly cluster feeding, especially at night. Conversely, she might have lost her appetite but is demanding a lot of comfort nursing or suckling (source). After a day or so of being on and off the breast without eating much, she’ll likely make up for her low appetite by eating lots. Since breast milk production is based on a supply and demand cycle, all feedings will help boost your breast milk supply to accommodate your larger baby.
- Crankiness: Your baby may be irritable and need some extra comforting and soothing during a growth spurt. She might seem more clingy and in need of close physical contact with her caregivers. Some parents may wonder if their baby is colic or has baby reflux but then notice that her mood regulates in a few days.
- Sleep changes: Your baby is taking extended and frequent naps, but she’s up for more feeds in the night—just when you thought she was finally hitting a routine! Studies have shown that hormones responsible for bone growth are created during sleep, so a few days of increased napping might lead to a measurable difference in size (so it really is true that children can grow an inch overnight!) but it could also disrupt nighttime sleep in the following days (source).
- Personality changes: Your once curious and playful baby does not want to leave your side. She’s more hesitant and fearful of others, which you may interpret as a sign of developmental regression or an attachment issue. (It’s not!)
Overall, bursts of fussiness, hunger and clinginess, along with overall changes in sleep routines often accompany bone growth and brain development. Note that when these behaviors arrive as the result of an infant growth spurt, they usually last 2-3 days (source).
How to handle baby growth spurts
Clear your schedule
Because baby will be “high needs”, it’s best to minimize running errands, visiting with friends, or increasing baby’s stimulation. If you can, clear your schedule, stay in your PJ’s and keep your day’s schedule as simple as possible. For moms who work full-time outside of the home, this is usually not possible, but see if you can rearrange meetings or work a more flexible schedule during baby growth spurts.
As your baby craves more closeness, you can also practice more babywearing to get through these tough times. Baby can easily sleep or nurse snuggled close to your body and you can also be hands-free so you can get some things done around the house. You can both go shirtless during this time so that you get a nice oxytocin boost from the skin-to-skin contact, helping to boost both of your moods (not to mention mom’s breast milk supply!)
Practice self care
If you’re breastfeeding, be sure you are eating extra nutrient-dense meals and drinking plenty of fluids during baby growth spurts. This is critical as you’re in a “growth spurt” right along with baby.
Recruit some extra support from family and friends during this crucial time so that you can care for yourself. Don’t hesitate to ask for help with housework, childcare, and meal prep when you need the extra rest. If you work full-time outside the home, see if you can take a day off or work from home during an infant growth spurt to help take some of the pressure off.
Feed on demand
Breastfed babies will nurse more frequently during a growth spurt (Remember: a growing baby is a hungry baby!). Follow your baby’s cues for feeding, offering the breast when she shows early signs of hunger. Give more frequent feeds rather than fewer feeds that last longer, so that your milk supply can respond naturally to any increased demand. If your baby goes through a day without an appetite leading up to a growth spurt, try comfort nursing or giving her more skin-to-skin contact with a family member for comfort.
Take care of your breasts (for breastfeeding moms)
Because more frequent nursing (especially for nighttime feeds) can cause a sudden increase in your milk supply, infant growth spurts can sometimes bring on uncomfortable engorgement for nursing moms. If this happens, treat full breasts by nursing or hand expressing. Keep your milk moving so that you can stay comfortable. Massage your breasts to keep your breast tissue soft (a warm shower or bath might help, too). Soothe inflammation and discomfort with cold packs or cabbage leaves. More frequent feeding can also bring on sore nipples, so wear loose-fitting tops and use lanolin on nipples (where to buy) or use this DIY nipple cream between feeds (source).
Let go of expectations
Baby growth spurts could challenge the whole family to give up their attachment to certain routines. As sleep and feeding habits temporarily shift, keep an open mind, and remember that this phase won’t last forever.
It may be hard to recognize in the moment, but increased fussiness and hunger is a positive sign that your baby is growing and developing well. Challenge yourself to appreciate these growing pains just as much as the amazing developmental milestones that they bring. On the bright side, a fussy few days usually indicates that you will have some happier, more settled weeks to come as your baby (and the whole family) relaxes into this next stage of development.
Tips for formula fed babies during baby growth spurts
If your child drinks baby formula, you may need to increase the amount of feeds, but do so gradually. Stick to the recommended number of bottles for your baby’s weight, and if you add an extra feeding, do so only for a few days.
Know that if your baby spits up after a feeding, it probably means she’s getting too much formula (source).
If you work full-time outside the home, be sure to leave extra formula with daycare or childcare provider, just in case.
What if it’s not baby growth spurts?
If you’re noticing these baby growth spurt signs in your child but they persist beyond a few days to a week, it could be an indication that other issues are to blame. Babies can show increased fussiness and clinginess along with disrupted feeding and sleeping routines when they are getting sick or in response to stress.
Has there been changes in the home? Are you particularly stressed? Has there been job, lifestyle or home disruptions? These could be culprits.
If you think your baby is sick, consult with your pediatrician. In addition to following their advice, you can still comfort a sick or stressed out baby with some of the tips outlined here.
Other natural mamas’ experiences with growth spurts
I asked the moms on my Facebook page about their experiences with infant growth spurts. Here are some of their responses:
- Lots of sleep! Extra long naps during the day and sleeping all the way through the night when normally waking 1-2 times to nurse. Usually last a couple of days. – Sage L.
- My little girl gets CRANKY!!! Meltdowns at the drop of a hat and eats nonstop. Frankly, with all the extra nursing, I usually realize it’s a growth spurt when my boobs ache from matching my production to her appetite. – Sarah F.
- My daughter had growth spurts around 4 months and 6 months. She always stops sleeping as well throughout the night, frequently waking to nurse. She still hasn’t recovered from her recent spurt! Also she is cranky and can’t be soothed during the day. – Tabitha B.
- All 4 of mine ate constantly for a few days, didn’t poop for a day or 2, then slept for a day lol. – Kendra R.
- My lo will just nurse and sleep all day long! It happens about once a month or sometimes a little bit longer and usually lasts 1-2 days. – Kenz C.
How about you? What is your experience with baby growth spurts?
What challenges did baby growth spurts bring in terms of sleeping, feeding, and family routines? What tips would you add to the ones we’ve discussed here? We’d love to know! Please share in the comments below.