What happens during a growth spurt?
During a growth spurt your baby will put on weight, length and head circumference more quickly than usual. She may also hit a developmental milestone, or master a skill she’s been working on for a while.
Many mums find that the most noticeable sign of a growth spurt is their baby feeding more, so look out for times when your little one seems particularly hungry.
Some babies sail through growth spurts without showing any obvious signs. You may take your baby to be weighed and see that her weight’s jumped to a higher percentile, or notice that her new onesie is suddenly tight at the toes!
When your baby’s having a growth spurt, she may need more or less sleep than usual. There’s some research to show that babies going through growth spurts become clingy, fussy and unsettled, and this can disrupt naptimes and night-times.
When do growth spurts happen, and how long do they last?
Growth spurts can happen at any time. In young babies, they usually last for one day or two days. In older babies, they can last up to a week.
Some experts believe that growth spurts are more likely at certain points in your baby’s first year. These are:
- at two weeks
- at three weeks
- at six weeks
- at three months
- at six months
Each baby’s growth pattern is different, so try not to worry if your baby doesn’t seem to be having growth spurts at these times. She may have more spurts than this, or fewer, and you might not even notice any particular spurts at all. It’s all normal.
Are growth spurts the same as feeding spurts?
No, but they are related. Feeding spurts are times when your baby seems hungrier than usual. They may or may not be linked to a growth spurt.
During a feeding spurt, your baby may feed for longer. If she’s breastfed, she may be fussy at the breast, and if she’s formula-fed, she may seem hungry after feeds.
You may also hear or read about “frequency days”, which are days when breastfed babies feed more often, up to 18 times in 24 hours.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of research linking feeding spurts to increased growth. But it makes sense that when your baby’s taking in more calories, she’ll grow more quickly.
Because of this, some people use the terms “growth spurt” and “feeding spurt” to mean the same thing.
Apart from feeding more, what are the other signs of a growth spurt?
Just before and during a growth spurt, your baby may seem sleepier than usual. Waking up less at night, having a lie-in, or taking more naps may be signs that she’s channelling her energy into growing. One small study suggested that during a growth spurt, babies may sleep up to four and half hours more than usual over one or two days.
It’s not clear exactly why this happens, but a protein called human growth hormone (HGH) is produced in the brain during sleep. HGH is crucial for growth, so sleep may provide the fuel that your baby needs to grow.
Some babies seem to need less sleep during growth spurts, so you may also notice your baby waking up more frequently at night, or taking shorter naps.
You may find these changes in your baby’s routine tiring or confusing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that a growth spurt only lasts for a few days. Before too long, your baby’s routine will be back to normal.
During a growth spurt, your baby may be more restless and clingy than usual.
You may find that she wants to be held all the time, and cries when you try to put her down. Or you may notice that she’s unsettled and weepy at times when she’s usually laid-back and calm.
It’s not known exactly what causes these changes in behaviour. They may be down to your baby feeling tired or overwhelmed as she devotes her energy to feeding and growing.
There’s also a theory that behavioural changes may be a sign that a developmental leap is coming. This may happen alongside a growth spurt, or at a different time. So if your baby seems fussy or cranky, she may be getting ready to unveil a new skill, such as rolling over or crawling!
What should I do during a growth spurt?
Respond to your baby’s cues and try to give her what she needs, whether it’s extra feeds, a morning nap, or quiet time and cuddles.
Breastfed babies can seem as if they’re not getting enough milk during a growth spurt. Don’t worry, your breasts will produce plenty of milk for your baby’s needs.
However, if she is hungrier than usual, it may take a day or two for your body to catch up, so a growth spurt can feel a little overwhelming at first.
Help your milk production along by letting your baby feed as often and for as long as she wants, which is easier said than done! Take care of yourself by eating regular meals, drinking lots of fluids, and letting family and friends help out with chores.
If your baby is formula-fed, she may seem hungry after a feed. It’s fine to give her an extra bottle if she wants one. There’s usually no need to switch to “hungry” milk, but if you’re considering it, talk to your health visitor first.
Is it a growth spurt, or is something wrong?
Growth spurts can make babies sleepy and out-of-sorts, but they don’t cause fevers, extreme irritability, or listlessness. These can be signs that your baby is unwell. Contact your GP if your baby shows any of these symptoms.
If you breastfeed and you’re worried that your baby is not getting enough milk, ask your doctor or health visitor for advice and extra support.
Growth spurts aren’t the only explanation for a cranky, hungry baby. Holidays, teething, changes in routine and minor illnesses can also affect your baby’s feeding, sleep and behaviour.
If your baby’s routine has changed and she’s feeling unsettled, she may find feeding comforting. So if she seems more hungry than usual, she may just want the reassurance of contact with you.