Breastfeeding During a Baby's Growth Spurt

Breastfeeding During A Growth Spurt
Is it a growth spurt or a low supply of breast milk?. Jamie Grill Photography/Getty Images

Growth Spurts And Your Breastfed Baby

Growth spurts are an essential part of your baby's physical maturation, and they're developmental milestones. Also called "frequency days," growth spurts happen to every baby. Still, breastfeeding mothers often worry that they have a low breast milk supply during these times. It can be very confusing when a child who has been breastfeeding and sleeping well all of a sudden becomes fussy and starts breastfeeding all day long.

But, how can you tell the difference between a growth spurt and a decrease in your breast milk supply? Before you start to worry, it's important to learn what is truly normal at this stage in your child's life.

What You Can Generally Expect During A Growth Spurt

During a growth spurt, your baby will suddenly begin to breastfeed more often, perhaps for longer periods of time than she had been and, she may be very fussy. Her sleep patterns may also become very unusual and inconsistent. She may be sleeping much more or not sleeping at all. Generally, the major growth spurts occur at 2, 3, and 6 weeks, then 3 and 6 months. Of course, there will be other times where you might notice frequency days, and this will actually continue into the teenage years.

Is It A Growth Spurt Or Something Else?

Many mothers question whether their babies are breastfeeding more because they're hungry or simply because they find it comforting to breastfeed.

If you feel that your baby has had an excellent feeding (you can hear gulping, your breast is much softer after having begun with a very full breast, and your baby seems generally relaxed), here's what you can do:

  • Put her back to the breast, preferably the same one you just breastfed from. She might have nodded off before being she completely finished nursing. (Sometimes it only takes another 5 minutes of breastfeeding for a baby to be fully satisfied.)
  • Take a stroll. If you feel confident that the feeding was sufficient, try a walk around the block. Sometimes babies have a hard time settling in and when they start to become fussy, most mothers think they're still hungry. The best test is to see what happens when you put her in the stroller or in a sling and go outside. If she falls asleep immediately (most babies do once they get out into the fresh air), she isn't really hungry. If she screams her way around the block, she is.

Common Issues For Moms During A Baby's Growth Spurt 

Quite often, moms feel anxious that their babies are fussy and breastfeeding so often. They think they have a low supply of breast milk. You can tell the difference between a true growth spurt and an issue with your breast milk supply by how long this stage lasts. Growth spurts are temporary, often ending as fast as they began. However, a low breast milk supply will stick around until you take measures to increase it.

Follow your baby's lead and go with your baby's cues.

Nurse frequently. If your breasts feel softer and not as full as they typically do, this is normal. Soft breasts do not automatically mean you lost your breast milk. If your baby is breastfeeding constantly, he is just telling your body to make more milk. Your body will respond accordingly. But, if your supply remains low and does not seem to go up in a few days, you should take measures to increase it immediately.

Common Issues For Babies During A Growth Spurt 

Fussiness is the most noticeable problem seen in babies during a growth spurt. When a baby is fussy, a mom's gut response is to breastfeed because she knows that will have the most soothing effect. If the baby is fed frequently during this stage, the fussiness may subside. In addition, if sleep patterns are disrupted, the baby may be harder to relax or settle because she's overtired. It may seem like an endless cycle at a certain point, but stay calm and focused on giving your baby what she needs during this stage.

What If Your Baby Is Sleepy During A Growth Spurt? 

Your baby may sleep a lot during the growth spurt, and this is normal. Waking a sleeping baby to breastfeed during this time is not recommended. Her little body is working very hard -- if she's sleeping, you can let her sleep for a while. But, keep in mind that newborns and small infants should breastfeed at least every 3 hours. The older your child is, the longer you can let her sleep between feedings as long as she's growing well and doesn't usually have any trouble nursing.  

Growth spurts can be frustrating and exhausting, but keep in mind that they are temporary and essential.

Source:

American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding. 10 Steps to Support Parents Choice to Breastfeed Their Baby. 1999.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Edited by Donna Murray

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