Growth spurts are a natural part of childhood. Find out at what a growth spurt really is and at what age growth spurts are likely to occur.
What is a Growth Spurt?
Scientifically speaking, a growth spurt is a period rapid physical growth. During a growth spurt, children increase height and weight at a faster rate than average.
Signs Typically Associated with Growth Spurts
During periods of rapid growth, parents may notice:
- Increased appetite
- Aching legs, particularly at night (Often called “growing pains”)
Growing pains usually start in early childhood, around age 3 or 4. They tend to strike again in kids aged 8-12. However, there is no firm evidence that growing pains are linked to growth spurts; increased physical activity may be a more likely culprit.
Parents often confuse physical growth spurts for fussy periods or periods of developmental disequilibrium. Children cluster feed, experience sleep disturbances, and may become irritable simply because they are acquiring new skills or becoming more physically active.
Those developmental milestones are more appropriately associated with mental developmental. Only physical changes are associated with a true growth spurt, while mental changes can occur at the same or different times.
Typical Growth Spurts of Childhood
Newborn – Growth Decline
Immediately after birth, a newborn typically loses about 5-10% of birth weight. But by 2 weeks old, a baby should start to gain weight and grow quickly.
1-6 months – Rapid Growth
Infancy is the most rapid period of postnatal human growth. A baby’s weight is about double the birth weight around 4-6 months old.
Every baby has different periods of cluster feeding and fussiness during this time, but contrary to popular believe, every child is different, and there are no strict periods when growth spurts are more likely to occur for infants.
6-12 months – Declining Growth Rate
During the second half of the first year, growth is not as rapid as the previous months. Children are still growing quickly; just not as fast as before, and growth rates continue to slow, stabilizing around age 1.
1-2 years old – Plateau
A toddler gains only about 5 pounds between ages 1-2. This is a shock for parents. Their toddler’s appetite may actually decrease during this phase of relatively slower growth.
2-10 years old – Steady Growth
This is a period of steady, stable growth. Children gain about 5 pounds per year between ages 2-5. Children will continue to grow at a steady pace until the onset of puberty.
Puberty – Major Growth Spurt
The final growth spurt begins sometime between age 9-15. For girls, puberty typically begins between the ages of 10-11, and is usually completed by age 15-17. For boys, puberty starts around age 11-12, and completes around age 16-17.
During the puberty growth spurt, boys gain up to 4 inches a year, while girls grow up to 3 inches a year. When puberty ends, the growth plates where bones grow fuse together. In general, final height is reached before age 20.
Factors impacting a child’s growth spurts
Every child has their own individual growth curve. Genetics, good nutrition, exercise, and sufficient sleep all help determine a child’s unique rate of growth.
Food and nutrition needs during growth spurts
A child’s nutritional needs change during growth spurts and may be different for each child. A baby needs more calories in relation to size than a preschooler or school-age child, and the greatest caloric intake is required during puberty.
Growth spurts vary by body tissue
Growth spurts also vary by body tissue type. Brain growth is most rapid during the first five years of life, while reproductive organs grow rapidly during puberty. Dentition is tooth formation which is usually complete by puberty.
Suggestions for monitoring your child’s growth
Start a growth chart for your child. Chart your child’s growth monthly until age 1, then every 6 months. Speak with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s growth.
Stettler N, Bhatia J, Parish A, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.