Understanding baby growth spurts

woman holding growing baby that is taller and heavier

by Stephanie Anthony |

Did you know your tot can grow almost a centimetre bigger overnight? Here’s how to deal with the disruption that inevitably brings…

Yes, it’s true: your youngster can grow as much as nine millimetres in length in just 24 hours. "Babies go to sleep, and they wake up longer!" explains expert in human growth and development, Dr Michelle Lampl. While the line you carefully plot on the centile growth charts in your youngster’s red book might make it look like they're putting on weight consistently, growth actually happens in fits and starts, with rapid increases in length or height and weight.

Your baby grows most rapidly in their first year, and they're likely to double their birth weight between four and six months and triple it by the time they are one. By their first birthday, they're likely to be about one and a half times as long as they were when they were born – and that’s a lot of growth spurts! As they get older, the frequency of growth spurts slows down to a few months, or longer, apart.

But between the age of one and two, they're still likely to gain around five pounds and grow around six centimetres. And between the age of two and three, they're likely to gain five to six pounds and grow a further five to eight centimetres.

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 behavioural changes only last a couple of days, but they are a clear signal that she’s about to have, or is having, a spurt," says Michelle.

"So if your child is behaving out of character – one day they are perfectly happy and the next they're suddenly grumpy – step back and consider whether all the signs are pointing to them having a growth spurt,’ suggests Michelle. And no matter what their age, the signs will be the same.

When do babies have growth spurts?

Babies are constantly growing and developing and growth spurts can happen at any time and of course, every baby is different. Some experts suggest growth spurts will occur around:

Two weeks

Three weeks

Six weeks

Three months

Six months

As each child's growth patterns vary, do not worry if you do not notice your baby having growth spurts at these stages. Boys tend to be a little heavier and taller, and their growth pattern is slightly different to girls. Some children may have more or fewer spurts than the suggested points. If you do think your child is going through a growth spurt, check out the signs to look out for (see below).

It is not necessary for you to weigh your baby regularly or worry about their growth. The NHS recommends "After the first two weeks, your baby should be weighed:

• No more than once a month up to six months of age

• No more than once every two months from 6-12 months of age

• No more than once every three months over the age of one".

Your baby's weight and progression will be checked by health professionals throughout their early years. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and UK-WHO release growth charts that you can use as a rough guideline.

Baby growth charts:

Are baby growth spurts painful?

There is no evidence to suggest baby growth spurts cause your little one any pain. Sometimes your baby might seem unsettled or more grumpy than usual but this is completely normal. Growth spurts can make your baby seem out of sorts or irritable but they do not cause fever, extreme irritability or listlessness. If your baby does exhibit more extreme symptoms or they seem to continue for more than a few days to a week then it is a good idea to get the baby checked at the doctor or by a health visitor.

Other explanations for increased appetite, sleep changes, and bad moods can be minor illnesses, teething or changes to their routine.

Baby growth spurt signs

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1) Weight gain

This one is pretty obvious as if your baby is growing, they will be increasing in weight. Their weight is likely to be more noticeable than the actual growth changes as they may just start to feel a little heavier when you pick them up or hold them. You don't need to worry about weighing them too often, once every couple of months is perfect for a baby over six months.

9 ways to make a growth spurt easier to manage:

1) Relax the routine

Your youngster’s sleep is likely to be disrupted in the days before their growth spurt so they may sleep for longer at some point. If they have an extended nap, let them snooze. And, if you can, take this time to catch up on your missed sleep, too. Wait until they've finished the spurt before you get their sleep routine back on track.

2) Be led by their appetite

Your child is likely to want to eat lots more during a growth spurt. Let their appetite lead you during this period, and practise on-demand feeding, so they eat or drink whenever they're hungry. They'll naturally go back to their normal appetite – and normal feeding routine – within a couple of days.

3) Fuel up

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need to eat more to cope with the extra demand of your baby’s increased feeding. Snack regularly with nutritional mini-meals of crackers and cream cheese, or a tub of mixed seeds and nuts, rather than waiting until you’re ravenous and reaching for the biscuits. Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, too.

4) Up their bottles

If you’re bottle-feeding, give your baby a second bottle rather than switching to a hungry baby formula, which could upset their tummy if they're not used to it. You can return to their normal amount once the spurt is over.

5) Rope in family and friends

Your baby is likely to want to feed round the clock during a growth spurt, and may also be pretty cranky and not want to be put down. And that’s hard work for you, mama! Ask family and friends to help with anything and everything from getting the shopping to simply making you a cup of tea.

6) Buy a carrier

If you haven’t already invested in a sling or baby carrier, get one now! Being close to you will comfort your baby, and you’ll still be able to get everything you need to do. And if they're struggling to settle, then the cosy, rhythmical feeling of going for a stroll in a carrier can work like magic.

7) Restore yourself

Growth spurts can be emotionally exhausting for you, too. Build in some moments of much-needed time out, even if it’s just going for a walk around the block while your partner looks after your baby. You’ll be better able to help them deal with their emotions if you’re feeling calm yourself.

8) Soothe growing pains

When your baby or toddler is having a growth spurt, massage will help soothe them as well as ease growing pains. Add a two-minute massage to every day-time nappy change, and a longer post-bath rub if they're happy.

9) Don’t stress about night feeds

Your baby is likely to wake up and need night feeds during a growth spurt, even if they're previously been sleeping through for a while. And they will go back to sleeping through, don’t worry. Once they've finished growing, but they carry on waking from habit, try giving them a drink of water instead of milk.

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