When it comes to raising a newborn, seasoned parents will tell you to expect the unexpected—and they’re totally right. Just when you start to feel like you’ve got the feeding and sleeping routine down pat, baby can suddenly become a seeming insomniac who’s ravenous and irritable all the time. And then, just as quickly, she’ll bounce back to normal. Chances are, you can chalk up this roller-coaster ride to baby growth spurts.
Baby’s growth during the first year of life is fast and furious. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average baby grows one-half inch to one inch every month in the first six months and gains five to seven ounces every week in the first six months. He’ll double his birth weight by the five-month mark and triple in weight by the time his first birthday rolls around. (Newborn boys tend to weigh about a pound more than newborn girls and are longer by roughly half an inch.)
Growth spurts, however, are short periods of time when baby really packs on the pounds and puts on the inches—sometimes literally overnight. And as you can imagine, growing so quickly is hungry, tiring work. Read on to learn when babies typically experience these bursts and what growth spurt signs to look for.
When do babies have growth spurts?
While every baby is different, there’s a recognized growth spurt timeline that newborns tend to follow, says pediatrician and AAP spokeswoman Lisa M. Asta, MD. “The first spurt occurs around 7 to 10 days after birth, right around the time a breastfeeding mom’s milk supply is established and most babies are finally starting to put on weight,” she says. “The second happens between 3 and 6 weeks.” After that, baby might experience more spurts at 3, 6 and 9 months of age.
As for how long baby growth spurts last, each sprint happens fairly quickly—two to three days, start to finish. So fast, in fact, you may not even realize your infant is experiencing one. “They’re real, but they’re very manageable,” Asta says. “There’s nothing to fear. It’s a natural thing, and half the time you don’t even notice it.”
Signs your baby is having a growth spurt
These bursts may be over in the blink of an eye, but there are a few growth spurt signs you can watch for. Every baby is unique and may respond differently, but here are some signals you can count on to know when baby is growing up a storm:
Increased hunger Baby is suddenly insatiable, wanting to feed around the clock—whether she’s latching on to the breast at every opportunity or feeling dissatisfied even after a full bottle.
Bouts of fitful sleep Even if he was once a champion sleeper, baby is now waking at all hours of the night, restless and demanding food.
Fussiness Baby is particularly irritable during the day, likely because she isn’t getting a solid stretch of sleep (and let’s face it, who isn’t cranky when they’re hungry and tired?).
How to handle growth spurt symptoms
So you’ve recognized the signs of a baby growth spurt. Now what? Experts recommend resisting the urge to greet every sobfest with a meal: Asta says parents can be more liberal with feedings during the day (baby’s busy little body needs the extra fuel) but should hold off on an extra middle-of-the-night meal. Growth spurts can negatively affect babies’ sleep, and they need all the rest they can get.
Soothing with food can also lead to overfeeding. Before you brandish a bottle or breast, look for basic hunger cues, like rooting around for the breast or bottle, and respond accordingly, says Ian M. Paul, MD, head of general pediatrics at Penn State Children’s Hospital. “When babies turn their heads away from the breast or bottle, it means they’re done, yet some parents continue to try to get them to finish the bottle,” he says. “That’s not great behavior.”
Paul also suggests alternating soothing methods at bedtime. “If your baby is fussy at night, it’s been less than three to four hours since the last feeding, and he’s above birth weight, then you can try changing his diaper, re-swaddling him, putting on white noise or soft music, or shushing or singing to him,” he says. “You can do other things to try to get baby to settle down without necessarily feeding him.”
Equal doses of patience and perspective can come in handy when baby isn’t easily consoled. “If you had to double your weight in two months, think about how uncomfortable you’d be and how much you’d have to eat,” Asta says.
How to tell if baby’s growth is on track
While a nice stack of wet diapers and a weight that keeps inching upward are promising signs that baby is thriving, the truest barometer of her health and wellness is the growth chart, Asta says.
Your pediatrician will measure and track baby’s height and length during every checkup (there are plenty of them during the first 18 months) and look for patterns and trends. If baby’s growth veers sharply from her individual curve, that could be an indicator of a deeper issue, such as an illness or a disease.
But you don’t have to wait for a wellness visit to talk to your doctor about baby’s growth. If you have concerns about growth spurts or any aspect of child development, discuss them with your pediatrician. “In the end, trust your gut,” Asta says. “If it seems significant, it’s worth talking to someone.”