As many of you know, a growth spurt, or sometimes also called a breastfeeding crisis, is a response to a clear increase in milk demand from the baby, who asks to breastfeed at all times and may be nervous, irritable and seemingly insatiable. Coincidentally, these increases in demand occur around the same time to all babies. This shows that it is a common, biological and necessary behaviour, that most of us go through. Some mothers may not notice it, but most do, and it can be a quite stressful experience. The three-month growth spurt is known as the most significant one and few mothers are spared some very tiring weeks. The good news is, that these days will pass!
The 3-month growth spurt is probably the most complicated of all of them, because it involves changes in the baby and changes in milk production. This is the breastfeeding crisis that leads to most cases of mothers quitting to breastfeed. If you don’t not know exactly why this happens, it is very easy to doubt your own ability to produce milk. You then start offering top ups of formula to your baby, which will therefore soon not want to feed at the breast anymore.
It takes a lot of patience and positivity to overcome this stage! And it is very helpful to know in advance what can happen:
Why do you call it a breastfeeding crisis? This is a dreadful name.
Surely it’s a wording that doesn’t help at all, that’s why some prefer to call these stages by other names: growth spurts or growth phases. At Lactapp we use the term breastfeeding crisis, because it describes a little bit what us mothers feel during this stage. We usually don’t understand what happens to our babies and this leads us to think the most terrible things: “she refuses my breast”, “she refuses me”, “she doesn’t want to breastfeed”, “she doesn’t like my milk” or “I’ve run out of milk”.
This is a moment of crisis, because if we do not have accurate information to understand what is happening, we may end up quitting breastfeeding altogether.
My baby is not three months old yet, but could she already be going thru it?
Yes, it’s possible that your baby is already experiencing the growth spurt weeks before it is three months old. Babies start walking or talking during a range of age and we don’t expect them to start to do that on an exact day. The same way growth spurts happen during a range of age. We call it the three-month breastfeeding crisis, because most babies tend to experience it around this age range, but we have to be flexible with this as well as with other growth spurts and understand that they can happen before or after a certain age.
My breast feels so empty and deflated!
This is a completely normal feeling at this stage. From about three months onwards, your body really gets the hang out of making milk and it perfectly adjusts production to your baby’s needs. It stops to make milk for no reason and only starts to produce, when your baby asks for it and starts to breastfeed. This means that your breasts will feel deflated and empty, which can create a false sense of lack of milk supply. If you go several hours without breastfeeding, you will probably notice a sensation of a little more fullness, but in general, it is normal for your breasts to feel again similarly full (or empty) as before pregnancy.
So, if I really have all the milk supply my baby needs, why does she behave this way?
At three months of age babies are real experts at getting their milk out of their mother’s breast. Now it is very easy for them to make the right sucking motions, but they must learn to wait about two minutes, which is how long it takes for the mammary gland to send and receive the signal, that will make the coming out of the milk possible. They are not used to this waiting time, do not like it at all and are struggling with it. But now they are experts and so efficient at it, that when the milk finally starts to come out, they feed in only two or three minutes and then don’t want to stay at the breast any longer. Because now there are many other things to discover in this world!
I tried to offer my baby the second breast, but she doesn’t want to feed any more. Can it really feed in only two minutes?
Yes, of course they can feed in a few minutes! They feed very quickly and all they need in one session from one single breast. When you then try to offer them your other breast, they get upset and don’t want to know anything about it, because they have already finished their meal. To give you an idea, it’s the same as making a cake with a hand whisk or a mixer, your baby is now certainly as efficient as a mixer and can have one feed in the blink of an eye.
And on top of that, my baby gets distracted!
Your baby’s brain is growing at a fast pace and now a new world opens up for her and she stops seeing only one face, her mother’s, to discover the world around her. And this world is wonderful and every little thing is an exciting discovery. This makes your baby often paying attention to the world around her more, than to concentrate on feeding. It can be very annoying for you as the mother, but it’s part of growing up.
Will my baby lose weight during this phase?
No, your baby shouldn’t lose weight. Breastfeeding might now seem chaotic and your baby seems to be nursing much less, but her growth should not be affected in any way. If your baby loses weight or doesn’t gain weight, it is very important, that a health care professional assesses her first. Once you know everything is fine, if you wish so, don’t hesitate to seek advice of a breastfeeding expert, who can assess what has happened.
What if I give my baby formula? I don’t want her to go hungry and have to wait for milk.
Of course, it’s your decision and you should do what makes you feel calm and comfortable. But that said, you may offer a bottle of formula and the baby finishes it all, which can certainly reinforce your idea that your milk was not enough in the first place. It’s important to know, that the first bottle you offer can be accepted by your baby with enthusiasm, but that can be for two reasons: firstly, because it’s something new and secondly, because they don’t know yet how to show when they are full, which is something they learn at about 6 months of age. Therefore, if your baby finishes a bottle of formula, it doesn’t necessarily mean your baby was hungry.
Please feel free to make your own decision, but we recommend to think about it carefully before you do so and to evaluate, if mixed feeding really meets your personal expectations. If you are in doubt or don’t know what to do, please do seek advice from a breastfeeding expert, so that she can assess your situation. You can also find more personalised information in our mobile app, Lactapp.
If I express milk with a breast pump, can I help my baby?
You could help your baby, as you could bring forward the release of your milk and help your baby to find a volume of milk that she likes immediately when starting to feed. All mothers want to prevent their baby from “suffering” and having a bad time. This makes complete sense and is only natural, but how can you prevent your baby from falling over when she starts walking? Well, the same thing happens with growth spurts and just as you have no doubt that your baby will learn how to walk, you can be sure, that you both will manage to overcome the three-month growth spurt.
I thought my baby will start to breastfeed less, but she is asking to feed with the same frequency, is that normal?
When we read about growth spurts (or breastfeeding crises) and from what some people tell us, we think that a baby will do less nursing, then the surprise comes when your baby asks for the same frequency of feeds. Babies still do a lot of breastfeeding sessions at 3 months of age, usually at least 8 feeds a day. And even when babies are going thru a growth spurt and breastfeeding sessions are chaotic, they will still demand the breast frequently.
But why does my baby breastfeed so well when she is asleep?
Because when she is asleep, she doesn’t get distracted and she concentrates on her sucking motions. That doesn’t mean you have to do all feeds in the dark and without any noise, not at all! Although it may seem impossible, by breastfeeding for a little time during each session, your baby gets all the milk she needs and will keep gaining weight.
You may be tempted to choose to breastfeed always in the dark and in a very quiet place, but you should know that this might compromise the future of your breastfeeding journey, so we do not recommend to put yourself permanently into these restrictions.
My baby is already 4 months old and I haven’t noticed the 3 month growth spurt, is that possible?
Yes, it is possible that you haven’t noticed it. There are several possible explanations: one is that your baby has had the growth spurt, but you have not noticed it. You might have thought this behaviour was normal, so you didn’t think what she was doing was strange. The second possibility is that she has always been an active baby and her behaviour has not surprised you. And it may also be, that she hasn’t experienced this phase just yet and she will do so at around 4 months. It’s not unusual to find babies who get through the 3-month and 4-month growth spurt (breastfeeding crisis) at the same time.
When will this breastfeeding crisis be over?
Well, this is one of the longest breastfeeding crises both of you will experience. Babies usually take a month or so to learn how the breast works. But the crisis is more for us mothers than for our babies, so be brave and have confidence. It will pass.
Is there anything I can do to make it easier?
It’s normal for you as a mother to want to do something to help your baby deal with this growth spurt and make the whole process easier for both of you. The first thing you can do is to stay calm; we know this is easy to say, but so difficult to do. How you get through this stage will depend on how you approach it and how you live it. If you approach it as a normal stage during the breastfeeding journey, that all of us have to go through and which is actually something positive, perhaps you will see it differently.
Positive? Yes, of course, every growth spurt, each and every one of them represents a milestone in your baby’s growth. They imply, that you are both growing in your breastfeeding journey and that months are going by. If we experience this breastfeeding hurdle as a normal developmental stage, that you will overcome, you may see things a little differently.
Alba Padró is Head Expert Lactation Consultant/IBCLC at LactApp, translated by LactApp UK team. For more information download the LactApp app and get personalised answers to your breastfeeding questions.