Growth spurts are one of those unpredictable things that happen with your baby - often just as you think you've got some feeding patterns sorted.
During a growth spurt, your baby may suddenly be extremely hungry, drinking more milk than usual and more often. She may also sleep longer - or less! There are no hard and fast rules with growth spurts, except that your baby's likely to have them.
When do growth spurts normally happen?
“There are often around 4-5 growth spurts in your baby's first year – but not always,” explains Health Visitor Dawn Kelly. Dawn suggests these tend to occur at approximately:
- 1-3 weeks
- 4-6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 9 months
However, you'll find that different experts will predict growth spurts at slightly different times. If your baby seems to have a different pattern of growth spurts, don't worry. Every baby is unique and this is very normal.
So what are the signs that your baby is having a growth spurt?
The first sign to look out for, says Dawn, is your baby will be much hungrier than normal. “She may be more difficult to satisfy for around 3-4 days or maybe even a week,” she says. This can be an exhausting time, both trying to keep your ravenous baby satisfied and having to get up more often in the night.
One MFMer writes on our forum about her baby’s first growth spurt: “My baby boy will be 3 weeks old tomorrow. He always seems to be hungry and it is preventing him from sleeping, as he constantly wants to be fed. This morning he woke up at 7.30 and breastfed for 1 hour. I winded him and he immediately starting crying, turning his head to my breast and sucking his hands. I made up a bottle of formula (5oz), which he drank in one go. He then kept crying and has wanted to be fed right up until 13.30.” Lesley-anne Williams
2. Night waking
“Another telltale sign is that your baby wakes through the night more frequently and feeds vigorously. When your baby is having a growth-spurt, babies who have been sleeping through the night may start waking and will readily feed, taking a good amount of food,” says Dawn.
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On our sister site, BabyExpert, one mum says: “Dylan has taken to feeding constantly through the night. He is 11 days old and I know babies have a growth spurt around this age. I am now on my 2nd night without sleep as he has been feeding constantly. Beforehand, he was going for 2 to 3 hours between feeds and would sleep in his Moses basket.” MrsTH
Of course, growth spurts aren't the only reason your baby may start waking again at night. “Having a small amount of milk, snacking or not being that interested in feeding is more likely due to a sleep disturbance than genuine hunger or a growth spurt,” Dawn says.
How much extra milk will your baby need during a growth spurt?
Again, there are no hard and fast rules. If your baby is hungrier, simply give her more milk. Listen to your baby - she'll let you know if she needs feeding more often, even if she's normally settled into a set feeding routine.
Remember, it's a phase, and it will last only a few days. It can be exhausting though, so take care of yourself. If you can, you may want to head to bed earlier or postpone an activity that you have planned for the day. Growth spurts can affect you, just as much as your baby.
Will you produce enough breast milk during a growth spurt?
This is the clever bit - if your baby wants more milk, your body will work hard to produce it. You may find your baby is wanting to suck more and for longer and many mums worry that they're not producing enough milk. But it doesn't mean you've run out. It's actually nature's way of telling your body to make more milk.
Of course, all that extra milk making means you need to eat well yourself. Find out the best food to eat when you're breastfeeding.
Be prepared to change your normal breastfeeding routine. “You may need to offer both sides if she's normally satisfied after just one side," recommends Dawn. "If she usually empties both sides you may need to allow her to suck for an extra few minutes (to stimulate your breasts to supply an increased amount) as well as feeding more often through the day.”
Even if you've worked hard to establish a routine, let yourself be more flexible during a growth spurt.
Should you top up a hungry breastfed baby with formula?
Many experts are divided on this subject, so the advice you receive is likely to depend on who you ask. Try to trust your own instincts - ultimately, the best thing is to do what feels right for you and works best for your baby.
Health Visitor Dawn Kelly says that topping up with formula will discourage your body from extra milk production. “If you top up with formula then your breasts are not stimulated to produce more milk.”
Try this: Dawn suggests getting prepared for your baby’s next growth spurt by expressing some milk and freezing it ready for when you feel your baby needs extra.
MFMer Erica says: “Babies increase feeding as a way to increase your supply. My little man did it lots, and then he would have odd days where he would have less, and I would be full and sore. If he is gaining weight you are giving him everything he needs. It does eventually settle as they get into a routine.” Erica B
Other health visitors and even breastfeeding experts may advise topping up with formula milk, as one MFMer explains: “Your health visitor might suggest breastfeeding first and then topping him up with hungry baby formula, or expressing between feeds and topping him up with that after - so you will be constantly attached to either your son or a breast pump.” Lianne Head
One MFMer who used expressed breastmilk to meet her baby’s extra demand for milk during a growth spurt says: “My son went through a growth spurt at 11 weeks so he needed to be fed more often. I would express milk while giving him his morning feed so that someone else could give him a bottle and take him off my hands for a couple of hours.” Scampbeast
Bottlefeeding during a growth spurt
Bottlefed babies will simply need slightly more at each feed, and may demand more regular feeds. “You may need to increase the amount by 30ml (1 floz) or so at most feeds and/or feed more frequently,” says Dawn. “Ideally, do this during daylight hours so you can try to limit night time waking.”
Could it mean my baby needs to start solid food?
The extra appetite you see during growth spurts does not mean you need to start weaning onto solid food. The Department of Health guidelines advise waiting until 6 months before you introduce solids and never to start before 17 weeks. It's about giving extra milk at this age.
Growth spurts in older babies and toddlers
If your baby is 6 months or older, she will be having solid food as well as milk. This means growth spurts can be less obvious. “Growth spurts that occur after 6 months are rarely noticed as most babies vary what they eat in terms of solids on a daily basis,” says Dawn.
So again be led by your baby, and do the same as you did with a younger baby. If she seems particularly hungry, let her have more food. “Offer your baby or toddler a little extra food (not milk) if she still seems to be hungry. But be careful you top up with nutritional food. We all know that toddlers will happily have extra portions of sweet puddings and cakes.”
When to seek help
Growth spurts are a natural part of your baby's development, and, as Dawn says, “Growth spurts can’t do your baby any harm – just go with the flow.” However, if a growth spurt seems to last for more than a few days and your baby seems continually hungry, isn’t satisfied by her feeds, or is crying much more than usual, do talk to your health visitor or GP.
How MFMers cope with growth spurts
“At around 7 weeks babies have a growth spurt; some babies are hungrier than others. Don't feed by the clock – let them guide you.” Nicolamumto3
“Grace is 6 weeks old tomorrow. Last week she was doing really well - feeding every 4 hours and then sleeping through to 4.30/5am. She did this for a week but then on Sunday she woke us up at 1am for a feed and has been waking up between 2.30 and 3.30am for a feed all of this week. She has seemed hungrier during the day too, sometimes getting really upset after 2.5 to 3 hours. She's already having 5oz bottles, and I've even given her 6oz a few times, as I thought she could be having a growth spurt.” SarahP
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