A lot happens in your baby's first year, including the most growth he’ll ever experience in his lifetime. In fact, most babies will triple their birth weight by their first birthday. During that time, you’ll likely notice days where it seems your baby is experiencing sudden growth alongside some obvious sleeping or eating changes. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you - your baby is going through a growth spurt.
Growth spurts can affect your baby's sleep, feeding schedule, and mood.
We as parents tend to freak out a bit (I know it’s not just me!) when our babies do something outside the norm and we don’t know what’s going on. So let’s discuss those growth spurts your baby will experience (there will be many) and how these bursts of growth can affect your baby...along with tips to keep you as calm as possible through it all.
What exactly is a growth spurt?
People love to toss this term around when they see a baby or child eating more or suddenly not fitting into their clothing. But we know that kids are always growing, so what makes a growth spurt different than a steady period of growth?
Let’s go over what a growth spurt is and why they happen.
The truth is that no child grows at a steady rate through childhood and according to Kids Health, periods of slow growth alternate with shorter “growth spurts” which is growth that occurs at a faster rate.
Growth during these bouts happens fast, hence the name. You may think you’re going crazy if you can barely snap the onesie that seemed to fit your baby just fine a few days prior, but you’re not! Today’s Parent quotes Dr. Michelle Lampl of Emory University as saying “babies can measurably gain weight and length in just 24 hours.”
So why do babies go through rapid growth changes? That’s just the way the human body works. The changes we go through aren’t always linear, even though you might expect that. That goes for both physical and cognitive growth. Growth spurts are normal and your baby will go through several in their first year.
When do growth spurts occur in your baby’s first year?
In a minute we’ll talk about how growth spurts can affect your baby and how, well, it could make things a bit dicey for a few days. Because of that, you’ll likely want to have an idea of when they might be coming.
Before we do that, here’s our standard reminder that all babies are different! So just keep in mind that the following ages are when we typically see babies go through growth spurts, but this does not mean your little guy or gal will fall right in line with this.
You may see growth spurts during the following ages:
- 7 - 10 days old
- 3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3 - 4 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
Use these ages as a starting point. Could your baby have a growth spurt at 5 months instead? Yes! If all the signs your baby is showing point to a growth spurt, your mama (or daddy) instinct probably isn't wrong.
Knowing how growth spurts affect your baby will help you give them the care they need during this period of change.
How a Growth Spurt Affects Your Baby and Signs to Look For
Growth spurts only last for a few days (or sometimes up to a week), but in this short timeframe they can have an affect on the way your baby sleeps and eats and you may seem some mood changes as well.
It can be unsettling when your baby is turning her entire routine upside down, so it’s helpful to know that these changes are temporary. By being able to attribute the following changes to a growth spurt will allow you to take a deep breath and get through this short, but challenging, time as best you can.
How Growth Spurts Affect Your Baby’s Sleep
A lot of parents ask us if babies sleep more during growth spurts. And the answer is yes...but also maybe no.
What we do know is that growth spurts often affect a baby’s sleep, and generally they require more during a growth spurt. Not only will you likely see your baby sleep more than the recommended amount for their age, but they also may need an additional catnap for a few days. But according to this study, the extra sleep doesn’t actually occur during the growth in length, but instead, you’ll see it in the 2-3 days prior to the growth spurt your baby is about to have.
So if your baby is suddenly needing extra sleep, and it’s near one of the age ranges listed above (give or take), she’s likely about to do some extra growing.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a peaceful extra hour added onto your day.
In fact, your baby’s sleep patterns may be disrupted by the oncoming growth and some babies may not deal well with the overtiredness which causes them to sleep less.
This may depend a lot on how you deal with your baby’s extra sleepiness. Being able to pinpoint it as part of a growth spurt will help you prevent your baby from getting overtired which in our article, “How to Get an Overtired Baby to Sleep,” we share why babies have a hard time falling asleep if they are put down too late.
Pro Tip for an Extra Sleepy Baby: Pay attention to your baby’s sleepiness cues which include: eye rubs, fussiness, sudden hyperactivity, and clinginess. When you see these signs, it’s time to get your baby down. Still stick to your routine, but you want to get them calm and relaxed as soon as you can. The Dreamland Baby weighted sack is a great tool to you have as part of your sleep routine as it will give your baby the soothing comfort she needs for the growth that’s ahead.
Even though this impending growth spurt can cause your baby to need more sleep, your baby may wake more often to get in enough feeds.
How Growth Spurts Affect Your Baby’s Appetite
We all need food to grow, so it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together. An extra hungry baby usually means a growth spurt is near.
Knowing that these short periods of more frequent eating are coming can be really helpful. After all the work you’ve done to sleep train your baby and you’ve gotten into a groove with their eating needs, it can be frustrating and confusing when your baby turns that entire schedule upside down. But understanding that it’s just a short phase will likely help you to relax and go with the flow, knowing your baby will be back to his normal self in no time.
So what do we suggest for feeding during these bursts of growth?
It’s as simple as following your baby’s lead. You never want to ignore a baby’s hunger cues, or make them hold off for an hour because that’s what the “clock” dictates. Doing this will likely turn weepy tears into inconsolable crying. One way or another, your baby will get the calories he needs, whether it’s a marathon cluster feed in the evening or during frequent wake ups at night.
Pro Tip for Breastfeeding Mamas: A baby who seems unsatisfied after feeding and is suddenly wanting to eat more might make you worry that something is wrong with your milk supply. Though milk supply issues can happen, this probably isn’t the case here. All that extra time at the breast will cue your body to produce more milk which is exactly what you want! So just keep feeding your baby on demand and be sure you’re drinking and eating enough, too.
Going with the flow and being flexible is the best thing you can do. Remind yourself that you are an amazing mama doing all the right things, and that your baby’s longer stretches between feeds are just around the corner.
How Growth Spurts Affect Your Baby’s Mood
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you may have a baby who stays as happy as can be as they move through a growth spurt. But it’s also not uncommon to end up with a little grouch on your hands. Who can blame them? You’d be cranky, too, if you were hangry and tired, too.
Bottom line, the overtiredness and hunger pangs are what are driving your baby’s mood swings. In our article, “A Useful Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep Cycles,” we discuss why helping your baby get in their full sleep cycles and connecting them together is important for growth and development. So when hunger causes your baby to wake when they’d normally be sleeping, it’s natural that they’re going to wake up more groggy the following day.
Again, this won’t last long and the very best thing you can do is allow your baby to get the extra nap or two they need to offset the lack of overnight sleep. Also be sure their tummy stays full.
Pro Tip for Keeping Baby Happy During a growth spurt: When it comes to sleep training, we always recommend a eat, wake, sleep cycle to break the habit of feeding a baby to sleep. But this important growth period is a time to let that go temporarily. If it’s clear your baby needs more sleep and can hardly stay awake after a feed, it’s ok to let them. Do try to get them that full feed however, so that a good stretch of sleep will hopefully follow.
Are babies uncomfortable during growth spurts?
It’s a valid question considering the term “growing pains” that we know children and adolescents experience during periods of physical growth. But according to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, growing pains don’t start until at least the toddler years and they’re not even due to a child’s growth anyway. It's nice to know that you can't attribute your baby's fussiness to any pain - phew!
Moving On From the Growth Spurt
If you’re experiencing one of your baby’s first growth spurts, you know now that there are more to come. The good thing is now you know what to expect. And if this one was a bit of a doozy, you likely learned something along the way (or from this article) that you’ll know how to deal with better next time.
Staying cool, calm and collected even when you know it’s best isn't always easy, so just know you’re doing great! The most important thing is that your baby is healthy and thriving, and that growth spurt they just went through? It's the perfect sign that they’re doing just that.