A growth spurt, also sometimes called a breastfeeding crisis, is a response by the baby to a clear increase in milk demand. Your baby will now ask to breastfeed at all times and may be nervous, irritable, and seemingly insatiable. Coincidentally, these demand increases occur around the same time for all babies. This shows that it is a common, biological, and necessary behavior that most of us go through. Some mothers may not notice it, but most do, and it can be quite a stressful experience. The three-month growth spurt is also the most significant, and few mothers are spared those tiring weeks. But the good news is that these days will pass!
The 3-month growth spurt is probably the most complicated of them all because it involves changes in the baby and changes in your milk supply. This is the breastfeeding crisis that leads to most cases of mothers quitting breastfeeding. If you don’t know exactly why this happens, it is very easy to doubt your ability to produce milk. You then start offering supplemental formula to your baby, who will 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?
Surely, the wording doesn’t help at all; that’s why some prefer to call these stages by other names: growth spurts, growth phase, or high-frequency days. At LactApp, we use the term breastfeeding crisis because it describes a little bit of what mothers feel during this stage. Mothers usually don’t understand what suddenly happens to their babies, and this leads them to think the most terrible things: “My baby refuses my breast,” “My baby refuses me,” “My baby doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore,” “my baby doesn’t like my milk” or “I’ve run out of milk.”
This is a moment of crisis because if you don’t have the right information to understand what is happening, you may end up quitting breastfeeding altogether.
My baby is not three months old yet, but could she already be going through it?
Yes, it’s possible that babies are already experiencing the growth spurt weeks before they are three months old. Babies start walking or talking within a range of ages and are not expected to meet their milestones on an exact day. In the same way, growth spurts happen during a range of ages. We call it the three-month breastfeeding crisis because most babies tend to experience it around this age range, but this is flexible, just as with any other growth spurt, as they can happen before or after a certain age.
My breasts feel so empty!
It is completely normal that your breasts feel soft now. After three months, your body now gets the hang of making milk and adjusts milk production to your baby’s needs. This does not mean that you have no more milk, just that your milk supply will adjust and respond better to your baby’s demands. But you may notice that your breasts are softer, feel empty, and are not “engorged” anymore, which can create a false sense of a lack of milk supply. It is possible that if you go many hours without breastfeeding, you may notice a little more fullness, but in general, it is normal that your breasts return to a volume and feel similar to that before pregnancy.
If I have enough milk supply, why does my baby behave this way?
At three months of age, babies are experts at getting their milk out of their mother’s breasts. Now it is very easy for them to make the right sucking motions, but they must learn to wait those about two minutes, which is how long it takes for your 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 so efficient 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 other breast, but she didn’t want to feed anymore. Can she really feed in only two minutes?
Yes, of course, babies can now feed in a few minutes! They breastfeed very quickly, and all they need in one session and from one single breast side. When you 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 fast, 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 pay attention to the world around her more than concentrate on breastfeeding. This can be very annoying for you as a 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 your baby’s growth should not be affected in any way. If your baby loses weight or doesn’t gain weight, it is very important that a healthcare professional assesses her first. Once you know everything is fine, if you wish, make sure you seek advice from a breastfeeding expert (such as an IBCLC), who can assess what is happening.
What if I give my baby formula? I don’t want her to be 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. The first bottle you offer can be taken 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: they only learn this at about 6 months of age. Therefore, if your baby finishes a bottle of formula, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby is hungry.
Please feel free to make your own decision, but we recommend thinking about it carefully before you do so and considering if mixed feeding really meets your personal expectations. If you are in doubt or don’t know what to do, please seek advice from a breastfeeding expert (such as an IBCLC) to support you in this situation. You can also find more personalized information in our mobile app, LactApp (see links below).
If I express milk with a breast pump, can I help my baby?
You could help your baby by bringing forward the release of your breast milk and helping your baby find a volume of milk that they like when they start to feed. All mothers want to prevent their babies 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 they start walking? Well, the same thing happens with growth spurts, and just as you wonder how your baby will learn how to walk, you can be sure that you both will overcome the three-month growth spurt.
I thought my baby would start to breastfeed less, but she is asking to feed as much as before. Is that normal?
When reading about growth spurts (or breastfeeding crises) and from what some people tell you, you might think that babies will do less nursing, but then the surprise comes when your baby asks just as often to breastfeed. Babies still do a lot of breastfeeding sessions at 3 months of age. Usually, at least 8 feeds a day. And even when babies go through a growth spurt, and feeds are chaotic, they still demand the breast frequently.
But why does my baby breastfeed so well when asleep?
Because when babies are asleep, they don’t get distracted and concentrate on their sucking motions. That doesn’t mean you have to do all the feeds in the dark, and where it is quiet, not at all! Although it may seem impossible, breastfeeding for a little time during each feed gives babies all the milk they need, and they 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 restricting yourself permanently.
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: maybe your baby passed this growth spurt, but you have not noticed it. You might have thought this behavior 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 behavior has not surprised you. And it may also be that she hasn’t experienced this phase yet and will do so around 4 months. There are even some babies who get through the 3-month breastfeeding crisis and 4-month “sleep regression” (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 breastfeeding works. But the crisis is more for us mothers than 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 stay calm; we know this is easy to say but difficult to do. How you get through this stage depends on how you approach and live it. If you approach it as a normal stage during your breastfeeding journey that all mothers have to go through, which is actually something positive, perhaps you will see it differently.
Positive? Yes, of course, every growth spurt, every single one of them, represents a milestone in your baby’s development. They imply that you are both evolving in your breastfeeding journey and that time is going by. If you experience this breastfeeding hurdle as a normal developmental stage that you will overcome, you may see things differently.
For more information, download the LactApp App for iPhone and Android. There, you can count on our team of maternity and breastfeeding experts, as they are available in the consultation channel of the app.