If you've ever had weeks where it felt like your infant just couldn't get enough milk or your toddler was asking for more snacks than a hangry teen only to find that their sleeves suddenly seemed too short, you've probably wondered: Do babies eat more during a growth spurt?
You can rest assured that those calories won't be wasted. Dr. Gina Posner, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper that babies do tend to eat more during a growth spurt because they need those nutrients to grow. Sometimes these periods will contrast dramatically with their less ravenously hungry phases, and that's normal.
"Children's growth is not linear," Dr. Robert Hamilton, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and author of 7 Secrets of a Newborn, tells Romper.
"They go through clear periods of greater growth at times and at other stages of development periods of growth slows down. But when they are growing they need more calories and fats to accomplish the task."
"During these periods, your child's inner voice, which mysteriously speaks to them, cries out for 'more food,'" Hamilton says. "Heeding this calling, children eat — and really eat! And sometimes, moms and dads are caught off guard by the quantity they eat and the voracity with which they eat. Here’s the takeaway for parents: when your child is going through a period of increased appetite, it's for a good reason... they are growing and need the nutrition. Secondly, when this is happening, it's important to feed them healthy, nutritious foods."
How do you know if you're feeding your baby too much (is that a thing?) or too little? With all that voracious eating, we may become a bit concerned as parents. Posner says every kid is different.
"I honestly don’t like generalizing," she explains. "It depends a lot on how tall the child is and how fast their metabolism is. If they are a super active baby/toddler, they will be burning more calories and need more food. If they are very sedentary, they will need less. If your pediatrician tells you their weight is good, then you are feeding them enough. If they are low, they need more and if they are high, they need less," she says.
"If they are getting overweight or obese, you should definitely be concerned. You can still eat too much of food, even if it is healthy. If you are eating more calories than you are burning (no matter if the calories are healthy foods or not), you will still gain weight," Posner says.
Thankfully, however, most kids tend to self-regulate, for better or for worse. "Children are blessed with what I call an 'inner gyroscope' that moderates and modulates everything that happens in their bodies — including their appetites," says Hamilton.
"Therefore, babies tend to be utilitarian in their eating habits. When they are hungry they eat. When they are not hungry, they refuse foods. Ask any mother or father about this phenomenon and they will verify this truth."
So the short answer is yes, babies and toddlers definitely do tend to eat more during a growth spurt, because they need those calories and nutrients for fuel to help with their growth. But many children can self-regulate with their food intake, and as long as your pediatrician says their height and weight are evenly matched, you're good to let them nosh as much as they want — on generally nutritious foods.
Dr. Gina Posner, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
Dr. Robert Hamilton, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, and author of "7 Secrets of a Newborn."