by Meg Charendoff
What is a growth spurt and how do you know that your baby is going through one? When a baby suddenly wants to nurse more often it is called a “growth spurt” or “frequency day.” Some mothers describe it as wanting to nurse “all the time”. If your baby’s increased desire to nurse seems sudden and there are no other reasons for it – baby is not sick or teething, for example, — it is likely to be a growth spurt. Although every baby is different, growth spurts often happen at fairly predictable ages – around two to three weeks, six weeks and three months. Some experts think a growth spurt has two purposes — to provide the baby with additional calories needed to grow and to adjust the mother’s milk supply to meet the increased demands of a larger baby. It is also reasonable to think that babies, like older children and adults, may simply feel a greater need to eat on some days than on others.What to do during a growth spurt? Nurse, nurse and nurse some more! Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis. The more frequently a baby nurses, the more milk the mother’s body will make. During growth spurts it is especially important that babies be nursed as often as they want. In fact, more frequent, shorter nursings build a mother’s milk supply more effectively than infrequent, but longer nursings. Younger babies generally nurse more frequently than older babies because their stomachs are smaller. Nursing as often as twelve times a day is quite normal for the first few weeks.
You may have seen an article in a national “parenting” magazine with advice from a medical doctor on identifying and handling growth spurts. Unfortunately, some of the information about growth spurts and about breastfeeding in general was just plain wrong. The article correctly stated that a baby who suddenly wants to nurse more frequently may be going through a growth spurt and should be nursed more often. However, the doctor incorrectly cautioned against nursing more than every hour and a half because nursing more frequently would result in poor nutrition for the baby, and cracked and sore nipples for the mother.
Research has proven that nursing as often as baby wants will not result in poor nutrition for baby or cracked and sore nipples for mother. As long as a baby is allowed to nurse until satisfied on one breast before the other breast is offered, she will get the nourishment she needs. Frequent nursing does not cause sore nipples; poor latch-on and improper positioning do.
The doctor also advised that babies who want to nurse more frequently could be using their mothers as “pacifiers” and should be broken of this “cycle” of nursing for comfort. Babies who nurse frequently may need comfort, and their instinctive way of seeking it is through sucking. However, it has not been proven that this comfort sucking at the breast does not have some physiological purpose as well. Once breastfeeding is well established, how a baby’s need for comfort sucking is met — breast, thumb sucking, pacifier, or any combination thereof — is a decision that belongs solely to the nursing pair. The concept of a baby using mom as a pacifier turns nature on its head — breasts have been around a lot longer than pacifiers. (Why do you think pacifiers are shaped like nipples anyway?) The advice of this doctor that nursing for comfort is a “cycle” that needs to be broken is a value judgment masquerading as medical advice.
Growth spurts generally last no more that a few days, so if you can, sit back, relax and enjoy the nursing time with your little one. It is good for both of you!