Is your baby having a growth spurt?
How to recognise the signs and help your baby through new phases
Around the time of a growth spurt, you see milestones, such as sitting up or taking first steps.
Ever had the feeling your baby has grown overnight? And that the sleeping bag you’re sure fitted her perfectly at bedtime yesterday evening is now straining at the seams? Well, you’d be right! According to growth researcher and director at the Emory University’s Centre for the Study of Human Health, Dr Michelle Lampl, your youngster can grow as much as nine millimetres in length in just 24 hours. “Babies go to sleep and they wake up longer,” she explains.
While the line you carefully plot on the centile growth charts in your baby’s health book might make it look like she’s putting on weight consistently, growth actually happens in fits and starts. And a growth spurt means that there’s a rapid increase in length or height and weight. “It’s a biological event that occurs within 24 hours,” explains Michelle.
Your baby grows most rapidly in her first year: she’s likely to double her birth weight between four and six months, and triple it by the time she is one. By her first birthday, she’s likely to be about one-and-a-half times as long as she was when she was born. Her head is likely to grow in circumference from about 60mm to almost 130mm a month.
As you child gets older, the frequency of growth spurts slows down to a few months, or longer, apart. Between the ages of one and two, she is likely to gain around 2.3kg and grow just over six centimetres. And between the ages of two and three, she’s likely to gain 1.8kg to 2.7kg and grow five centimetres to more than seven centimetres. “Every child is different,” says Michelle. “But there are some generalisations that we can make about when growth spurts occur. Growing somewhere between five millimetres and seven millimetres each growth spurt is the average.”
And with such a significant change happening, it’s no wonder that your youngster is likely to be a little out of sorts during a growth spurt. “The associated behaviour changes only last a couple of days, but they are a clear signal that she’s about to have, or is having, a growth spurt,” says Michelle. “So if your baby or child is behaving out of character – one day she is happy and the next she’s suddenly grumpy – have a moment of reflection. Step back and consider whether all the signs are pointing to her having a growth spurt.” No matter what her age, the signs will be the same, and there are simple, effective steps you can take to minimise the disruption.”
One of the first signs of a growth spurt is your baby or toddler suddenly having a massive appetite. And rather than being satisfied with her normal amount of milk or food, she wants more. And more! “In the lead up to a growth spurt, a child can get crazy hungry,” says Michelle. “That’s a tell-tale sign of growth.
If she has not yet started on solids, she may want 100 per cent more milk than usual. And while this may feel really draining if you’re breastfeeding, it’s only a short-term event, lasting for a day or two before her growth spurt and then maybe a day afterwards.” She’s likely to want to eat much more frequently than usual, too. “Watch your child and her hunger signals,” advises Michelle. “No matter how old she is, she’ll tell you when she is extra hungry!”
Don’t panic if your youngster, who was sleeping perfectly well, is suddenly waking repeatedly at night or refusing to nap during the day: that’s another sign of an imminent growth spurt. She may be waking because of her increased hunger, or she may be struggling to sleep because she feels out of sorts.
She’ll make up for all that lost sleep very soon, though, as after all this disruption, she’s likely to want more sleep when the growth actually happens. “Research shows there is a definite link between growth and sleep,” explains Michelle. “It’s known that the secretion of growth hormone increases during sleep, and longer sleep periods correspond with greater growth in body length.” So your youngster might very well sleep an extra four-and-a-half hours a day for two days during a growth spurt. The number of naps she has might increase by up to three extra naps for a couple of days.