Growth Spurt Propels Child Growth

Adolescents and infants experience the major growth spurts in children’s growth process. Parents happily meet increased feeding needs during the active growth phase, but get anxious when the intake falls a little or shows no further rise.

  • It is best to feed a child on demand. The food required is based on body’s needs, which vary with the phase of growth.
  • Do not let a "stretched-out look" of early teenage exasperate you. It’s only a short ugly duckling stage. A swan soon emerges.
  • Every child goes through three major phases of accelerated growth.
  • The onset and duration of the spurts in growth differ in each child.

Knowing the general pattern of growth acceleration helps understand children’s normal growth pattern, and avoids lasting psychosocial conflicts.

Prenatal, the third trimester growth spurt

This is a phase, when a fetus rapidly increases in weight and length: about 3kg and 20cms in 3 months.

The prenatal spurt of growth merges with that of infancy, except that, in first 10 days of life, a baby loses 5-10 percent of the body weight. This is due to the loss of extra water in a newborn’s body. The effort involved in learning to feed adds to the negative balance.

Do not mistake this for loss of the spurt of infancy. Nevertheless, if the weight loss exceeds 10% of the birth weight, or continues beyond 10 days, medical consultation is recommended to rule out failure to thrive.

Growth spurt of infancy

A baby doubles its birth weight in first 6 months of life. During this phase infants feed more often than usual and are often fussy; difficult to console/calm.

Temporary increase in milk intake during active growing phase is a normal phenomenon, which gets stabilized over few following weeks. The rise in intake is directly proportional to the increased demands of the fast growing body.

The great growth spurt of early infancy begins to slow down after 6 months of age. The deceleration of growth continues until 3 years of age. This is why a toddler seems to eat less.

Please note: Intake of a child is regulated by the demand of the body and not by the chronological age. No further increase in intake in this situation, should not be a cause of concern.

Catch up growth

Catch up growth is seen in premature and low birth weight babies. These infants gain much more weight during the usual accelerated growth of infancy. This is so termed, because it is perceived as low birth weight baby's efforts to catch up with the normal expected weight for the chronological age. The rapid growth helps infants recover from the compromised fetal growth. High milk intake obviously accompanies fast weight gain.

It usually takes 6 months for the prematurely born and IUGR (intra uterine growth retardation) infants to catch up with their normal expected weight and height. Sometimes it may even take longer.

Catch up growth is also seen during early childhood, after a prolonged illness or nutrition deprivation: Sickness, poverty, child abuse and psychosocial problems in the family.

Percentage of adult height & weight gained in first 3yr of life

  • By second birthday, infant approximately attains half the expected adult height.

  • During the first 3 years of life children gain one third of their total height gain till adulthood - see the table given below.

  • Slow growth phase occurs between 3-6 years of age, but it is a major period of skills development.
Growth Spurt of Infants and Toddlers: Percentage of adult height and weight gained in first 3 years of life

Cow's milk stimulates height gain

There is some evidence that cow's milk stimulates the action of insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I in child’s circulation, a factor responsible linear growth.This effect of cow’s milk is also documented in well nourished children.

However, long-term consequences of excessive consumption of cow's milk could be associated with some negative effects.

Preadolescence (6-11yrs): short periods of rapid growth

During preadolescence, child growth seems to be at a uniform pace, but it is not. It has 3-6 small and short spurts of growth per year. These spurts do not have any definite time of occurrence.

Children in their preadolescence gain 6-7 cm per year in height and 3-3.5 kg per year in weight.

Great growth spurt of adolescence

Accelerated growth during teens is one of the major spurts of growth. It lasts for about 5 years and is accompanied with pubertal changes.

Number of Hormones Play Part in Growth Spurt  of Puberty

Within broad limits of normal, its onset and progression varies in each child.

This is controlled by several complex events in the cycle of growth and sex hormones.

The normal variation in the timing of teens growth spurt should not be confused for growth disorder.

Growth spurt of puberty in girls

Growth Spurt of Puberty in Girls
  • Starts between 8 - 13 years of age.
  • Peaks usually at 12.5 years of age.
  • Growth velocity is 8.3 cm/year.
  • Lasts over 4 to 5 years.

Growth spurt of puberty in boys

Growth Spurt of Puberty in Boys
  • Starts between 10 - 15 years of age.
  • Peaks usually at 14.25 years of age.
  • Growth velocity is about 9.5 cm/year.

Note that pubertal growth velocity is markedly higher than the preadolescent velocity of 6-7cm/year.

Children in their early teenage look very thin, because the corresponding weight and muscle mass gain of adolescence is delayed by several months. Their accelerated growth increases the demand on the daily requirement of nutrients and calories. With good amount of nutritious food intake, the teenagers’ body fill out over 2-3 years.

Healthy meal times together with healthy foods that meet the likes of each child prevents the development of wrong food habits, lasting psychosocial conflicts and eating disorders.

During the growth spurt of teenage development watch out for:

  • Vision defect :
    The pubertal growth spurt sometimes elongates the optic globe. Thus the children with genetic predisposition may develop myopia.

    Vision should be tested before it affects child’s scholastic achievements: Therefore, check the vision once a year between 10 and 20 years of age.

  • Congenital scoliosis:
    Abnormal spinal curvatures
    may first present during adolescent growth spurt, because of the rapid growth and spinal changes.

  • Iron-deficiency anemia:
    This occurs due to highly accelerated physical growth. It surfaces in girls more frequently than in boys, because the girls at this age lose blood during menstruation. The incidence of the anemia is about 2% of adolescent girls.

Anemia is also seen in early infancy growth spurt and with catch up growth in premature low birth weight babies. Here also it is due to rapid growth and is described as “bleeding within circulation”

Related pages of interest are indexed in the right column.

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Child Growth, an Indicator of Child Health

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