When your baby suddenly starts eating everything but the kitchen sink, you might assume he's going through a growth spurt. Babies do experience times when they grow more than others, but it's not always easy to determine if an increase in appetite for a day or two indicates a growth spurt. Certain signs and symptoms can help give you some direction.
When and Why Growth Spurts Occur
Your baby generally triples his birth weight and grows about 10 inches during his first year of life, KidsHealth.org reports. His growth doesn't occur in a linear pattern, however; it occurs in jumps and plateaus. Periods of accelerated growth, called growth spurts, occur several times in the first year. Most occur in the first few months, but babies can also experience a growth spurt around 9 months, which, if your baby hasn't read the growth spurt guidelines, could actually be closer to 10 months. Growth spurts can occur at any time during the first year.
During a growth spurt, your baby's food intake may increase. If he was sleeping through the night, he might start waking up for a feeding, especially if you're breastfeeding. But changes in his food intake can also occur at times when your baby isn't undergoing a growth spurt. Babies, like adults, don't eat the exact same number of calories each day; they are simply hungrier some days than others. If you're breastfeeding, you might notice that your breasts seem fuller for a few days after your baby goes through a growth spurt, due to the increased milk demand, according to Cheryl Taylor, certified breastfeeding educator, writing for DrJayGordon.com.
Sleep may play a major role in growth spurts. Babies often sleep more right after a growth spurt, Taylor points out. But getting more sleep might fuel growth spurts, rather than the other way around, a group of researchers from Emory University reported in the May 2011 issue of the journal "Sleep." Not all growth spurts are accompanied by increased sleep periods, and all periods of increased sleep don't mean that your baby is undergoing a growth spurt, researchers cautioned, but a significant relationship between the two was found.
Your baby's length and weight may both increase after a growth spurt. It's not so significant that you'll notice it when he wakes up one morning -- although babies grow so fast in the first 10 months that it's common to remark that your little one looks bigger every day. You might also notice that he's producing more wet diapers for a few days, Taylor explains.