Is It a Growth Spurt?

AKA: Why has my baby stopped sleeping and started nursing for multiple hours at a time?

Whenever a baby becomes particularly fussy after a period of seemingly normal behavior, people usually jump to two conclusions: teeth or growth spurt. But what is a growth spurt really and what does it mean for your nursing relationship?

The first thing to understand about a growth spurt is that there are two types of growth that might affect baby’s milk intake: physical and developmental.

During a growth spurt, babies might exhibit increased nursing (as often as every hour…or more if baby was already nursing every hour!) and more frequent wakings, even if strong sleep habits were already established.

According to KellyMom (a fabulous, evidence-based resource authored by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) physical growth spurts happen at the following ages:

  • first days of life
  • 7-10 days of life
  • 2-3 weeks
  • 4-6 weeks
  • 3 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 9 months (this one was the WORST for me! It was awful to go back to sleep depravation when we were doing well.)
  • every few months during the toddler phase

On top of this, babies go through a developmental growth spurt (with associated bursts of increased eating and interrupted sleep) when they learn new skills, like how to focus their eyes or roll over or sign for milk or crawl or sit.

You might think that looks like a lot of growth spurts, and that is because babies experience a lot of growth spurts.

Think about it–in the first year, your baby is transforming from a roughly-8-pound lump to a roughly-20-pound toddler. Imagine how hungry and cranky and restless you’d be if you were more than doubling in size! In fact, you probably were extremely fussy when you did do it as a baby, even if your mother insists you were perfect and didn’t even cry.

Baby is also transforming from an immobile lump to a crawling, yabbering, functional person. There is so much brain development going on. No wonder your baby is hungry and seeking comfort!

A common fear when baby starts to nurse more frequently is that baby is starving and there is not enough milk supply. Really, your baby probably is hungry, and your body is adjusting your milk supply to meet this increased need! Your breasts will create more milk as they are stimulated by more suckling.

KellyMom tells us, “It is not necessary (or advised) to supplement your baby with formula or expressed milk during a growth spurt. Supplementing (and/or scheduling feeds) interferes with the natural supply and demand of milk production and will prevent your body from getting the message to make more milk during the growth spurt.”

The best thing to do during a growth spurt (even though it’s very challenging for mama) is to follow baby’s cues for hunger and nurse on demand. The spurt can last anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks, which can become a real challenge for an exclusively breastfeeding mother. You will very likely feel more hungry and thirsty yourself as your body responds and ramps up milk production. Your breasts will probably feel full more often until things start to settle down again. And, of course, you will feel tired because your sleep gets disrupted.

You might feel like a zombie and cringe at the sight of your crumb-laden dining room table as you sit on piles of unfolded laundry to nurse the baby…again. Try to ask for specific help, especially if you are also taking care of older children. Can your partner make you a sandwich and put it on a plate in the fridge before leaving for work? Instead of holding the baby, can a visitor wipe down your table and load your dishwasher for you? Your primary job as a mom nursing a wee baby is producing and delivering food for that growing, developing body.

Just know that you will make it through this rough and unpredictable patch. Most likely, just in time for the next growth spurt to settle into place. You are doing everything your baby needs to support this physical and mental development. This, too, shall pass.

What did you notice about your baby during growth spurts? Leave us a comment to share your tips to navigating through these stages.

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