Right when you start to feel like you have your baby figured out, they have this way of changing things up. In the first year of life, it feels like this happens every few weeks. And it does. Your baby is changing and growing so quickly in the first year that there is often a major shift in behavior every few weeks demanding that you adjust accordingly.
These are periods of time when baby ramps up the length and frequency of breastfeeding for three to five days before returning to her more reasonable breastfeeding ways. Growth spurts are definitely one of those tough parenting times when you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.
So, this blog is meant to address these growth spurts, explain what is going on, and help you calm your worried mind.
If you haven’t yet, get The Wonder Weeks book and/or App. The Wonder Weeks is an overview of your baby’s cognitive development for the first 20 months of their life. The authors, a husband and wife team, are Anthropologists who dedicated their life’s work to studying the regressive periods of infant primates. Translation: they set out to find out why babies seem to go through periods of extreme fussiness and clinginess. What the couple discovered is that human babies go through very predictable changes in cognitive development. During this change, babies are rearranging their brains as they get ready to learn something brand new. While they are rearranging their brains, they regress, often becoming much more clingy and fussy than usual.
I cannot talk about growth spurts without talking about The Wonder Weeks because without The Wonder Weeks every period of fussiness and increased need to suck looks like a growth spurt.
The First Two Weeks
The first two weeks don’t count as a growth spurt. The first two weeks is a breastfeeding-free-for-all and you have no idea what you are doing. That’s totally normal. For the first two weeks, your job is to get your baby back to birth weight. Just feed the baby eight or more times per 24 hours, count diapers, and seek help if you have nipple pain that you would describe as any worse than “sore, tender or sensitive.”
Weeks Two to Three: A Real Growth Spurt
Make sure baby is back to birth weight by two weeks. If your baby isn’t back to birth weight by two weeks, you should be working with a good IBCLC. Chances are your pediatrician is watching to make sure your baby grows well, but they aren’t always watching to make sure your milk supply is being protected.
Once your baby is back to birth weight and you have allowed yourself to exhale and unclench your anxious jaw slightly, you may have a few days to a week before you encounter your baby’s first growth spurt.
But, I have to say, you may not notice this growth spurt or it may not happen at all. Mothers who have somewhat of an oversupply of milk at this stage may skip the growth spurt entirely. If you don’t notice a growth spurt in the two to three week period, that’s ok!
A lot of moms report that around baby’s second or third week of life, they start asking to nurse a lot more. Moms also describe feeling like the baby is nursing on “empty breasts.” Baby usually seems content to sit and nurse on an empty breast, but don’t you dare take baby off or hand them to anyone else. They will freak out until you put them back on the breast.
This is why it is really important that you have gotten any significant nipple pain taken care of in the first few weeks. If you are heading into the growth spurt with busted nipples, this challenging period can feel downright excruciating.
What is going on? Well, baby is upping the ante on what he needs your body to produce. This first growth spurt is really important for your milk supply. The messages that are sent during this time are super duper important for your overall production. So baby nurses, gets what he gets, then sits there and sucks and sucks and sucks to let your body know that he is growing and needs more. He is increasing demand.
But here is the catch: Your supply works on a two to five day lag from the demand. Meaning, baby is going to need to send the demand message for a few days before your body delivers the supply. THIS is the growth spurt period.
At the end of two to five days of this lovely growth spurt, your baby should once again seem satisfied at the breast after a reasonable nursing session. They may pop off when done with a sweet little milk drunk kind of face. You should see feedings space back to two to three hours apart. You may get your first blessed four hour chunk of sleep (hopefully at night and hopefully you are sleeping too).
If this doesn’t happen after five days of growth spurting, check your work. Get a weight check on your baby and see your IBCLC. One cannot endure more than about three days of growth spurt madness. Five is really hard. Do yourself a favor and find out what is going on.
Weeks Five to Seven: Maybe Not a Growth Spurt, but Rather a Leap
The first Wonder Week falls around five weeks from your baby’s due date. The App is super cool because it allows you to enter your baby’s due date and birth date and it adjusts itself accordingly. Some moms find using the due date is more accurate while others find using the birth date is more accurate. Play around with it and see how it works for you.
The first Wonder Week, “The World of Changing Sensations,” will be another challenge to your mothering and breastfeeding confidence. During this period, “new sensations bombard your baby inside and out, and he is usually bewildered by them. . . . it is not so much the sensations themselves that are changing, but rather the baby’s perception of them” (The Wonder Weeks, 2014). Baby tends to be clingier to mom. He not only wants to be with mom, he wants to be ON mom. Ideally breastfeeding, but he may accept a close second of laying on her chest. A big difference between a Wonder Week and a growth spurt is that during a Wonder Week baby seems to simply eat more, but not nurse you dry. It doesn’t seem as much like you don’t have enough, more like baby is just eating a lot.
Understanding that your baby is going through a Wonder Week helps you nurture a deep sense of empathy for your baby. Rather than seeing him as being “needy” or “too dependent” you can see him as learning something new. Rather than worrying that you aren’t making enough milk, you can realize that it helps baby to eat more and snuggle more while he is learning these new skills.
It is rumored that you may see growth spurts around six weeks and twelve weeks as well, but I encourage you to keep track of the Wonder Weeks to see if what you are observing is a growth spurt or just a developmental leap.
Don’t Confuse Growth Spurts and Leaps with Cluster Feeding
Cluster feeding is different than growth spurting. Cluster feeding is when baby closely spaces feedings for a few hours once or twice a day. For instance, if your baby typically eats every 2-3 hours during the day from 7 am- 5pm, but then eats every hour from 6pm-11pm, that is a cluster feed. This is a really common phenomenon for the first few months of baby’s life.