Breastfed babies...growth spurts?

(June 1, 2010)

Breastfed Baby Growth Spurts

All babies have growth spurts. These usually occur when they are 10 days old, and again when they are 3 weeks and 6 weeks, and again at 3 months and 4 months, followed by 6 months and 9 months. During this time, they may feed more and feel fussy. Even a baby who has been feeding at regular hours and sleeping most of the time, may have an altered schedule. This can be very confusing for a mother who is breastfeeding her baby. She may feel that her baby is not getting enough milk, and is fussy because of hunger. However, this is not so.

What are baby growth spurts? Growth spurts, also sometimes called ‘frequency days’, are a normal and essential part of a baby’s growth. These are the periods when babies reach certain developmental milestones in their physical maturation and growth. They are a temporary phenomenon, lasting only a few days. The baby’s body is working very hard during this period, growing up in certain ways, and this is what makes her/him so hungry and tired and fussy.

Breastfeeding immediately after birth: While some babies latch on and begin to breastfeed immediately after birth, many just nuzzle or lick the breast or nipple. They may take some time to get really started. But even this nuzzling is important as it helps to stimulate the mother’s milk glands. Sometimes, a baby may take longer to start breastfeeding a baby because they are still groggy or tired after the delivery. Sometimes, in a medicated delivery, they may be sleepy because of the medication given to the mother. However the baby begins to breastfeed actively after 24 to 48 hours after birth. See also baby growth percentile

After 10 days and again after 3 weeks, many babies have a growth spurt and may do a non-stop or ‘marathon’ breastfeeding for a couple of days. This settles down and again repeats itself at 6 weeks.

During a growth spurt, some babies resort to ‘cluster feeding’, that is, during the day they nurse at 2 to 3 hour intervals, but in the evening, they may want to nurse at hourly intervals. This is quite normal, because the baby is stocking up for the long stretch of nighttime sleep.

Many mothers become confused and think that either their milk supply is low, or it has gone bad and is not satisfying baby. Sometimes, the baby may feed for only as little as five minutes, making the mother feel that she is being used as a pacifier. A breastfeeding mother may also feel exhausted.

But all this is normal, growth spurts are normal, and if you are a breastfeeding mother, there is no need to worry. It will pass in a few days. Growth chart calculators for babies are important tools that help monitor the development and growth of babies and young children. Doctors, pediatricians, and parents find them to be useful when comparing an individual child’s growth with that of other children in the rest of the population. The Internet has several such calculators that are easily available, allowing parents to keep an eye on the progress made by their children. Baby growth spurt charts help to keep a track of the baby’s physical growth, measuring the length, the circumference of the head, and the weight of the baby from birth to three years of age. Plotted on a growth spurt chart for babies, it helps the attending pediatrician to compare the baby’s phases of growth with those of other babies or infants in the same age group. The percentile that the doctor quotes or the corresponding percentile you find when you plot your child’s weight and age on the chart, gives a clear idea of the growth of your child as compared to that of children of the same age. By studying the infant growth spurt chart over a period of time, you will be able to spot the periods in which there appears to be rapid growth. Similar charts plotting the child’s height at every age and a growth chart calculator including the baby’s BMI (body mass index) give an overall picture of the child’s development. 

Maintaining and studying a baby growth spurts chart also aids the pediatrician as well as the parents to spot any deviation in the growth pattern. For instance, if a child who stayed in the sixtieth percentile all through the first year is suddenly found to be in the thirtieth percentile, it would mean that the child is lagging behind in growth and underscores the need to investigate the causes for the change. Doctors look for a consistent growth pattern, taking into account the mode of infant feeding and the size of the parents of each child. A baby born two weeks premature is compared to babies who are two weeks younger, to obtain the appropriate growth pattern. A baby growth spurt chart can pinpoint the milestones in the path of the growing baby. Periods of weight loss may correspond to an increase in the length of the baby and the appearance of baby teeth. Parents may be able to correlate the time when the baby started sleeping through the night without a feed with the increased intake of milk or formula with every feeding with a spike in the weight chart.

A breastfed baby growth chart calculator takes into account the fact that different babies have different growth patterns and that the development and growth of a breastfed infant may vary from that of a baby fed on formula. Breastfed babies may be heavier than bottle-fed babies in the first few months, but by the end of the first year, it has been observed that they are leaner than formula fed infants. The average breastfed baby doubles its birth weight by the sixth month, though for some infants, this may happen sooner or later. Ultimately, how lean or heavy a baby is depends also on the genes inherited, and there is no cause for worry if the baby is either lean or heavy, provided that the baby’s path of growth is steady and the baby is healthy. 

Growth chart calculators serve as predictors by projecting the growth levels for the future months based on current data of the baby’s age, height, weight, and BMI. These can be used by parents to monitor their child’s progress and alert them to any deviations. Breastfed baby growth calculators are invaluable tools for parents whose babies receive only breast milk. Mothers are often unsure of how much milk the baby is able to suckle and worry if they get enough of it. During periods where there is spurt in the baby’s growth, the mother might notice that the baby suckles longer or demands to be fed more often. Other than that and the changes in weight, height, and head circumference that can be measured, there is no tangible evidence of an increase in food intake. After the age of six months, if need be, breast fed children may be weaned on baby foods to supplement breast milk. Mothers need to understand that breastfed children are capable of regulating their feed, they cannot be overfed. Even if the baby does drink a bit more than is needed, it is usually spit out when the baby is burped. By the age of one year, the typical breastfed baby weighs almost 3 times the weight at birth, is longer by at least 50%, and the circumference of the head is a third more.

Judging the growth and development of a baby should take a lot more factors into consideration apart from the data in baby growth chart calculators, since different races and ethnic groups with their own gene pools may influence the baby’s growth. In fact, food is another important factor that plays a vital role in a baby’s growth, and this may vary with each ethnic group. It is also true that earlier calculators were based on studies conducted on babies fed on formula milk or a combination of formula and breast milk, and hence may not be a reliable indicator of growth of children fed solely on breast milk. Infant growth rates are also largely influenced by the introduction of solid food, and earlier studies recommended that solid food be introduced by the age of four months against the current recommendation of six months. The CDC growth chart calculator’s reference population includes information on infants fed on formula as well as breast fed babies who also received formula, though it does not include babies fed exclusively on breast milk. It is important that parents do not get fixated on percentiles and worry about their child’s growth curve. What matters is that each child is an individual with its own unique set of genes that determine its body’s build and weight. The charts should be used as a general guide to check the consistent progress of the child’s growth curve.

Submitted by N on June 1, 2010 at 04:20

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