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 ask to breastfeed at all times and may be nervous, irritable and seemingly insatiable. Coincidentally, these increases in demand occur around the same time for 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 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 top-ups of 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 also 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 we 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 she is three months old. Babies start walking or talking during a range of ages, and we don’t expect them to meet their milestones on an exact day. In 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!
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 making milk randomly and only starts to produce when your baby asks for it and starts to feed at the breast. This means that your breasts will feel deflated and empty, which can create a false sense of lack of milk supply. If you don’t breastfeed for several hours, you will probably notice a sensation of a little more fullness, but in general, it is normal for your breasts to feel again similar to before pregnancy.
If I have all the milk supply my baby needs, why does she 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 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 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 doesn’t want to feed anymore. Can she 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 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 pay attention to the world around her more than concentrate on feeding. It 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 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 from a breastfeeding expert (such as IBCLC), who can assess what has happened.
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. 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 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 IBCLC) to get your situation checked out. 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 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 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 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, breastfeeding for a little time during each session gives your baby all the milk she needs, and she 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 imposing yourself permanently 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 around the 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 growth spurt be over?
Well, this is one of the longest growth spurts 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 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, and every one of them represents a milestone in your baby’s growth. They imply that you are both evolving in your breastfeeding journey and that time is going by. If we experience this breastfeeding hurdle as a normal developmental stage that we will overcome, we may see things a little differently.