Surviving baby growth spurts (and sleep regressions!)

Most babies go through several growth spurts. These bursts may be instantaneous, last 2-3 days or, in some cases, continue for up to a week. Some babies object audibly whereas others cruise through with the greatest of ease! The Sleep Coach Cheryl Fingelson shares her advice for handling these times. 

Many people believe that that there are common times for growth spurts in children, but this belief is a generalization. Realistically, they can occur at any time.

Every baby is unique, but there are some signals to watch for:

  • Increased hunger. Baby is suddenly insatiable, nursing often or continuously and sometimes dissatisfied, even after a full feed
  • Stints of restless sleep. Even previously peaceful sleepers will wake frequently through the night, fretful and demanding food
  • Irritability, particularly during the day, highly likely because baby is not getting a solid stretch of sleep (most people would be grumpy if they were hungry and tired). Baby may also latch and unlatch, fussing in between

How best to manage growth spurt symptoms?

Many experts advocate resisting the urge to respond to every sign of distress with a meal. Feeding is more justifiable during the day when baby’s busy body needs extra fuel, but spasmodic night meals can negatively affect sleep cycles. Maximum rest is optimum during growth spurts. Restoring tranquility with food can also result in overfeeding so follow the child’s lead and look for basic hunger cues. When babies turn their heads away from the breast or bottle, it indicates that they are satiated and it is inadvisable to then continue feeding.

Methods of soothing can be alternated during the night. A healthy baby’s fussiness, less than 3-4 hours after the last feed, can probably be mitigated by changing the nappy, re-swaddling, singing or ‘shushing’. Putting on white noise or soft music are other ways of attempting to settle the baby.

A baby that is difficult to console requires patience and perspective, bearing in mind that an exponential weight increase in a short period of time, accompanied by high calorific demands causes discomfort.

A general guide to growth spurts;

Common growth spurt periods are:

  • During the first few days at home
  • 7-10 days
  • 2-3 weeks
  • 4-6 weeks
  • 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and 9 months

The above times are approximations. Each child is unique and babies don’t read calendars!

Often observed after a growth spurt:

  • The baby sleeps longer for a day or two
  • Mother’s breasts are slightly fuller
  • Baby is calmed by breastfeeding
  • A possible increase in wettings caused by extra drinking

Growth spurts or sleep regressions:

Growth spurts are far more numerous than sleep regressions, which have much more to do with mental and physical development as opposed to simple growth and weight gain. Waking up early from naps and during the night has a definite cause—the baby is hungry and needs to eat. Causes of sleep regression are far more difficult to detect. They are ‘invisible’ and customarily stem from developmental issues. In addition, growth spurts are usually short-lived whereas sleep regressions can be somewhat protracted, typically lasting for 2-6 weeks.

It should also be noted that there could be a significant overlap in the times of growth spurts and sleep regressions.

Although different in nature, it is likely that growth spurts impact sleep regression and that sleep regression impacts growth spurts.

Cheryl Fingleson is a paediatric sleep consultant. As a mother of two, she very well knows the feelings of agony and desperation when you have a child that struggles to settle and sleep. She doesn’t believe in leaving babies or children to cry it out, nor in the practices of controlled crying. Her approach is to empower parents with the right tools and techniques to teach their babies and children to go to sleep calmly, happily and independently. Cheryl is available for in home and Skype consultations at The Sleep Coach.

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