Infancy is a time of frequent adjustments for babies and their parents. Just when you feel your baby is finding their way into a pattern, everything changes. Some of these changes are helped by growth spurts. It has been my experience as a newborn care consultant that parents haven’t been prepared for these changes and need assistance determining a growth spurt and assurance that their baby is in fact healthy and ‘normal’.
Infants, on average, will experience approximately 5-7 growth spurts in a year. Most parents claim to notice changes when their babies are 7-10 days old, between 2-3 weeks old, between 4-8 weeks (6 being the most common), then again at 3 months, 6 months and 9 months. Signs of a growth spurt typically last 2-3 days, but in some instances could last for a week.
Signs of growth spurts:
Increased frequency or non-stop breastfeeding – an increase in size requires an increase in calories. During a growth spurt, it may seem like your baby is feeding non-stop or every hour or two. While this provides extra nutrients for the baby, it also helps increase your milk supply. Short and frequent breastfeeding sessions are more effective at increase milk supply versus longer and infrequent sessions. Your baby is preparing your body for the increase of breast milk that they will soon require. Supplementing your baby with expressed breast milk or artificial breast milk is not necessary and could decrease your milk volume as it interferes with the ‘supply and demand’ balance that determines your milk supply.
Cranky of difficult to calm infant – many parents say their calm baby has suddenly become cranky or difficult to soothe during a growth spurt. Some babies are also fussy at the breast, and tough to latch or unlatch. Many parents see this as a refusal of the breast or think that milk production has stopped or decreased. In reality, most babies are extra fussy because they are over tired. All those extra feeding sessions result in shorter naps or shorter nighttime sleeping patterns which make both the baby and the parent a little more irritable.
Extended sleep after non-stop feeding – as the growth spurt ends and the infant has stocked up on nutrients, many babies spend the next couple of days in long periods of sleep. The reason for this change is that the endocrine system that is responsible for releasing growth hormones is most effective when we are at rest. It is recommended that you do not wake your baby during this time. Infants can gain 1-3 oz and grow 1 cm in length in 24 hours – no wonder they sleep so much!
Tips for moms:
Take care – stay well-nourished and hydrated – while your baby is spending more time feeding, it is important that you take extra care of yourself so that you can keep up with your baby’s demands. Water bottles around the house (especially where you do most of your breastfeeding) and easy to grab healthy snacks will go a long way during this time.
Get household help – ask your partner, a family member or a friend to help with the house work, meal preparation, or help with your baby so you can get some much needed rest. Remember, stress has a huge impact on milk production and a happy, calm mom means a happy, calm baby.
If you are still concerned that you may not be producing enough milk or that the breastfeeding challenges are too much to cope with, seek help from a qualified Lactation Consultant. They can help you devise a breastfeeding plan, determine how much milk your baby is taking during a feeding session, and assist with a fussy baby during breastfeeding. I commend you for your dedication to breastfeeding. It isn’t always easy, but neither is parenting.