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Breastfeeding Crisis or Growth Spurt

Welcoming a new baby into your life is a journey filled with wonder, joy, and countless moments of discovery. As parents, we eagerly anticipate and celebrate each milestone, from those first heart-warming smiles to the triumphant first steps. Although there are moments of pure bliss, there are some that are more challenging, causing mothers to feel concerned. One such challenge that many parents encounter during the early months is known as the breastfeeding crisis or a baby’s growth spurt. 

One of the most common questions I’m asked during my consultations is, “My baby was doing really well on the breast, and suddenly, he started crying and became fussier while nursing. It looks like he’s hungry, but at the same time, he’s fighting with my breast… What am I doing wrong? Is my milk not enough for him?” Allow me to say that neither of you are doing anything wrong. 

Let’s explore what a breastfeeding crisis or a growth spurt is, why they occur, plus what and when we can expect our babies to show us.

What is a Breastfeeding Crisis?

A breastfeeding crisis or growth spurt is a natural increase in a baby’s physical development. They are both a response by the baby to a clear increase in milk demand. As we mentioned earlier, during the first few days, babies tend to be very relaxed and feed on a 2-3hour pattern. Some of them seem like they just feed and sleep, aligning with what you may have read in books when you were pregnant. However, what was going well might start to become disrupted. As a mother, you might start thinking that it’s your fault or that your milk doesn’t have enough quality to satisfy your baby’s needs. 

Why Do they Occur?

They mainly occur because your baby is growing, and they need more milk to be satisfied. The only way to signal to you to produce more milk is by being more demanding and wanting to nurse more often. 

Remember that the supply-demand mechanism works this way: if your baby frequently drains your breast, your body will understand that it needs to produce more milk because your baby is still hungry.

What and When can we Expect from Our Babies during a Crisis?

A breastfeeding crisis take place when there is an increase in your baby’s demand or a change in your baby’s behaviour while nursing. This increase in milk demand or any changes in your baby’s feeding patterns are quite predictable because most babies experience them around the same age.

That’s why we can anticipate when these crises are likely to occur. Being aware of this in advance can help you to navigate the crisis and handle it differently. This can also help you stay calm and remember that it’s a temporary phase that will pass in a few days, and you’re not doing anything wrong. 

Breastfeeding crises occur at the following stages: 

  • 15 days: It normally occurs between day 15 and day 17, although some babies may experience it as early as day 12 or as late as day 20. It might come as a surprise for mothers because it’s the first one. Your baby needs more milk, so your milk production needs to increase. The best way to achieve this is through constant breastfeeding to signal your mammary gland to produce more milk. This crisis usually lasts no longer than 3-4 days, and after that, your milk production will increase, resolving the crisis.
  • 6-7 weeks: During this crisis, you might think it’s a milk production issue like the one before, but in reality, it’s because the composition of the milk changes, making it slightly saltier. Your baby might not be pleased with this new taste. You’ll notice your baby engaging in a pattern of sucking, then pulling away from the nipple, and then resuming feeding. They may appear unsettled and uncomfortable while nursing, becoming tense and even arching their back. This crisis typically last no longer than a week and is resolved when the milk composition returns to normal.  

  • 3 months: This is the most well-known crisis but also the most challenging for mothers. It involves significant changes for both the mother and the baby. It’s too complex to discuss in detail here, so I’ll provide a summary of the changes and I’ll dedicate a whole future post specifically on this subject. Essentially, the baby goes through a brain maturing phase, and there’s a shift in milk production. From this point on, mothers produce milk on demand rather than continuously. It’s a common time for them to give up on breastfeeding due to the length of the crisis (which can sometimes last for a month). It’s resolved when the baby learns that mum’s breast produces milk on the spot, and they adapt to it. 

  • Around 1 year: Not all babies experience this crisis. During this stage, your baby may become less interested in solid food because their growth rate slows down. They might be content with the small amounts of solids they consume and want to breastfeed more frequently. It’s challenging to predict how long this phase will last, but after it passes, you’ll notice your little one becoming interested in solid foods again.
  • Around 2 years: This is an unexpected crisis where your grown-up baby may regress to newborn behaviour, wanting to breastfeed every half an hour. It’s a challenging and complicated stage in their development, and breastfeeding helps them console themselves in order to reconnect with mum. This phase can also last a few weeks, and its duration is hard to predict. After it ends, there won’t be any more breastfeeding crises, making breastfeeding easy and straightforward.

In summary, remember that breastfeeding crises or growth spurts are transitional phases you and your baby may go through during your breastfeeding journey. There’s nothing you can do to avoid them, but with the right information and being aware that are normal, you can go through them with confidence. If you’re still not sure if your baby is going through a crisis or if there’s something else that you’re concerned about, make sure that you contact an IBCLC qualified lactation consultant. 

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