Breastfeeding Growth Spurts – A Lactation Consultant Answers Your Questions
Babies grow faster in their first year of life than at any other time (Source). While they are growing all the time, there are certain times of rapid growth. These are called growth spurts.
Every mom wants her baby to grow. However, growth spurts can cause a crisis in your confidence about whether you are making enough milk for your breastfeeding baby.
I’ll answer your questions about breastfeeding growth spurts, so you know when to expect them and how to survive them.
BREASTFEEDING GROWTH SPURTS
I remember my baby’s first growth spurt when I became a new mom. My little guy and I had a fairly easy start with breastfeeding. We had established an easy nursing routine in those first few weeks.
Then all of a sudden, he wanted to eat constantly.
I didn’t worry too much about his increased hunger. In nursing school, I had been taught that a mom would make as much milk as her baby needs. The old supply equals demand concept.
I know now that while it is true for most women, it isn’t the case for every mom. But when we experienced that first growth spurt, I had complete faith that I was making all the milk my little guy needed, and we sailed through that first growth spurt without too much worry.
That is not the case for many mamas. I get phone calls and questions from the moms in my Facebook group all the time about their breastfed baby growth spurts.
Growth spurts for breastfed babies are not really any different than a growth spurt in a formula-fed baby. At least as far as the baby is concerned. It may be a somewhat different experience for mom.
A formula-feeding mom might have someone else who can pitch in to help with the extra feedings. During a growth spurt, a breastfeeding mom should not pass off feedings to someone else.
The reason for that tidbit of advice is that a breastfed baby growth spurt helps build his mom’s milk supply in the early months of nursing. Giving a breastfed baby either formula or even a bottle of milk previously expressed during a growth spurt means mom’s breasts don’t get the message to make more milk.
The exception would be if she pumped during the growth spurt, and someone fed the baby the expressed milk. Doing that wouldn’t make a lot of sense unless a mom is exclusively pumping.
WHAT ARE GROWTH SPURTS?
A growth spurt is a period when a child experiences rapid growth in a short time span. Growth spurts are not just mom’s intuition or an old wive’s tale.
A research study published back in 1992 looked at how much infants grew over different periods. Some of the infants in the study had their length measured every day for four months. One child grew 5/8″ in 24 hours (Source).
When I heard about this study, I remembered as a child complaining that my legs hurt and my mother saying it was growing pains. This research seems to support that.
Moms often notice these growth spurts when they realize that they need to buy diapers in a larger size, or when an outfit no longer fits their little one.
DO ALL BABIES EXPERIENCE GROWTH SPURTS?
Baby feeding more often to fuel that rapid growth is just a normal part of being a baby. Growth spurts will continue throughout your child’s life until they complete puberty.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A GROWTH SPURT?
There are the physical changes that occur during a breastfeeding growth spurt that I have already mentioned.
There are also behavioral changes in her baby that a mother will notice.
Signs Baby Is Going Through A Growth Spurt
Your first clue that your baby is experiencing a growth spurt is the frequent feeding. You find yourself saying, “You want to eat again? But you just ate?”
Another clue that a growth spurt is happening is if you find yourself doubting that you are making enough milk for your baby.
I have answered many phone calls where moms describe that everything was going great, but suddenly, their baby is eating more often and just doesn’t seem satisfied. When I ask how old their baby is, the vast majority of the time, it is a typical age for a growth spurt to occur.
- More frequent feeding. Growth spurts are sometimes referred to as “high-frequency periods.”
- Baby may breastfeed for shorter periods.
- Baby may also feed for longer periods.
- Your baby may seem fussier than usual, or just generally unsettled.
HOW OFTEN WILL A BABY BREASTFEED DURING GROWTH SPURTS?
A newborn baby may want to eat as often as every hour, possibly even more frequently. As your baby gets older and starts to go longer between feedings, she may go from normally feeding every four hours to wanting to nurse every 2-3 hours.
CLUSTER FEEDING AND GROWTH SPURTS
The more frequent feeding is also called cluster feeding. But while cluster feeding inevitably occurs during a growth spurt, not all cluster feeding is due to a growth spurt.
Babies often have a time of day when they typically cluster feed. The cluster feeding typical of a growth spurt lasts for a more extended period of time than this daily cluster feeding.
WHAT AGES DO BABIES GO THROUGH GROWTH SPURTS?
I expect your next question will be, what ages do babies have growth spurts?
When growth spurts happen in babies is relatively predictable. That said, babies are unique little beings, and they may vary the exact age they go through a growth spurt.
Here is the typical infant growth spurts timeline:
- 7 to 10 days
- 3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 12 months
A baby may have some additional growth spurts to what is listed.
A growth spurt may not feel that different for mothers whose babies normally eat very frequently.
HOW LONG DO GROWTH SPURTS LAST?
The first growth spurts usually last about twenty-four hours. As a child gets older, their growth spurts can last longer.
- 3 week old baby growth spurt will last about 24 hours
- 6 week old baby growth spurt will last 24-48 hours
- 3 month old baby growth spurt will last 2-3 days
- 4 month old baby growth spurt will last 2-4 days
- 6 month old baby growth spurt will last 3-5 days
- 9 month old baby growth spurt may last as long as a week
- 12 month old baby growth spurt may also last as long as a week
If a growth spurt lasts longer than what is stated, I recommend you talk to a lactation consultant. She can help you determine if something else is going on.
HOW LONG DO FEEDING SESSIONS LAST DURING A BREASTFED BABY GROWTH SPURT?
This question is hard to answer because there is so much variation in how long any baby’s feedings last.
Let your baby be your guide. If she wants to feed for a long time, go ahead and let her. If she wants to breastfeed for very frequent but shorter lengths of time, that is okay as well.
GROWTH SPURTS AND MILK SUPPLY
Growth spurts in the early weeks of breastfeeding help you establish a good milk supply.
Most moms will make the amount of milk that their baby is demanding.
After your milk supply is established, you may notice your supply increases after your baby’s growth spurts. When the increased feeding ends, your supply will probably go back to what it was before.
It generally takes about 24-48 hours for your breasts to adjust to the new information that your baby has given them.
DO BABIES SLEEP MORE WHEN HAVING A GROWTH SPURT?
Some moms report that their little one was sleepier than usual during a growth spurt. Other mamas felt their baby was awake more.
A baby who has been sleeping through the night might temporarily want to have some nighttime feedings during a growth spurt.
It’s possible that because of all that extra breastfeeding, a mom’s overriding memory of a growth spurt is the frequent feeding as opposed to the naps that occur between her baby’s meals.
HOW TO DEAL WITH BABY GROWTH SPURTS
Growth spurts in breastfeeding babies is a normal and healthy phenomenon. However, all that breastfeeding during growth spurts can feel overwhelming for a nursing mama.
Important things to remember about breastfeeding growth spurts:
- Frequent feeding during a growth spurt is normal, healthy behavior.
- The first few growth spurts help you establish an abundant milk supply
- The increased feeding tells your body to make more milk. This may result in your breasts feeling fuller for a day or two after a growth spurt.
- Your increased milk supply may result in more leaking. If you didn’t leak a lot before, this increased leaking will probably be temporary.
- If your breasts feel uncomfortably full, try doing some hand expression.
- If you decide that you need to pump, only pump off enough milk to feel more comfortable. Repeatedly pumping until empty can result in an oversupply issue.
- Embrace the reality that you are not going to get much done during your baby’s growth spurts.
- If you feel overwhelmed by all that feeding, try to remember that this is a temporary phase.
- You may feel thirstier and hungrier as a result of the extra milk your breasts are making.
GROWTH SPURTS AND THE WORKING MOM
The breastfeeding mom who is working will probably see her freezer stash decrease during a growth spurt. If you can sneak in some extra pumping sessions you will be able to replace that milk over time.
BREASTFEEDING GROWTH SPURT BONUSES
There are some great things about a breastfed baby growth spurt.
Of course, the best thing is that it’s always good when your baby grows. There are also some awesome side effects of growth spurts.
- Making more milk means you are burning more calories.
- There is a good chance that your baby’s sleep pattern and duration will improve after a growth spurt.
- Newborns usually have their days and nights mixed up in the early weeks. After the 3 week old baby growth spurt, there is a good chance your baby will stop being awake as much during the night. You can look forward to him being awake and alert during the more civilized daytime hours.
- Babies often will start sleeping for longer stretches after a growth spurt.
- Growth spurts can be a good time to binge-watch that series you have heard is not to be missed.
MAKE A BREASTFED BABY GROWTH SPURT SURVIVAL KIT
I already mentioned that you shouldn’t expect to get much else done other than breastfeeding during a growth spurt. This is especially true of the early growth spurts. Knowing this ahead of time allows you to create a survival kit for those days when you are spending most of your time sitting in a chair and nursing your little one.
Helpful items to include in your survival kit are similar to what I recommend for your breastfeeding baskets.
- A water bottle, because, remember, you might feel extra thirsty.
- Maybe a jug of water so you can easily refill your water bottle.
- Gel pads and lanolin for sore nipples because all that extra feeding may make your nipples tender. This is more likely to happen in the early weeks of breastfeeding.
- • All your diaper changing supplies.
- Diaper cream
- Hand sanitizer
- • Snacks for you because you will probably feel hungrier while your body makes all that awesome extra milk.
- Hand lotion
- Lip balm
- Something to keep you occupied. Think iPad, Kindle, Soduko Puzzle Book. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that breastfeeding growth spurts and Candy Crush go hand in hand?
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT BREASTFEEDING GROWTH SPURTS
Your baby will experience growth spurts. Whether you sail through them or feel overwhelmed, they are temporary. Breastfeeding is not a linear journey. You will experience times when you feel confident and, well, like a rock star. You will also experience times when you feel unsure and exhausted.
I hope that this blog post has helped prepare and reassure you so that when your breastfeeding growth spurts happen you can say, “I’ve got this!”