All About Toddler Growth Spurts

Toddlers grow a few inches—and gain a few pounds—each year. But did you know that addition can come on suddenly? Read on to learn more about toddler growth spurts.

Outside of the womb, children grow the most during their first year of life. Indeed, most babies triple their birth weights and grow ten inches by their first birthday. But the growth definitely doesn't stop there, and changes during the toddler years are vital for development. Here's what you need to know about toddler growth spurts, from when they happen to how they occur.

father measuring toddler daughter against a wall
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When Do Toddlers Grow?

Children grow in fits and starts, but most toddlers grow three to four inches and gain three to four pounds each year. By the time they turn 3, most kids have grown to about 50 percent of their ultimate adult height. But the rapid pace of growth will soon slow down and become more subdued until puberty, i.e. once your child grows out of the toddler stage, their height and weight will plateau a bit. A typical school-aged child (age 4-10) grows about 2 inches—and gains about 6 pounds—per year.

What Are the Signs of Growth Spurts In Toddlers?

How do you know if your toddler is going through a growth spurt? Chances are, your child will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Excess hunger
  • Increased sleepiness and sleeping for longer stretches at a time
  • Growing pains, which are dull aches that usually appear in the legs.; the pain could awaken your child during the night

How Tall Will My Toddler Be?

Genetics largely determine a child's height, says Lynne Levitsky, M.D., chief of the pediatric endocrine unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. Tall parents generally create tall children, while shorter parents have kids of smaller stature. But that's not all. Other factors contribute to your child's height, including:

  • Medical Conditions: Certain illnesses—including food allergies, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease, heart problems, chromosomal abnormalities, and kidney problems—may stunt a toddler's growth.
  • Nutrition: A malnourished toddler may be pushed off her "natural" growth rate.
  • Sleep: Improper sleep can also hinder growth, since 70 to 80 percent of growth hormone is released while kids are sleeping, according to Paul Saenger, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.
  • Emotional State: Kids who are unsupported or stressed may not grow properly. This is called "psycho-social growth failure".

Why Is My Toddler Short?

Since growth is largely genetic, many smaller toddlers inherit genes for short stature from their parents. These children typically grow at a normal rate and are otherwise healthy, showing no symptoms of medical problems. They generally enter puberty at an average age and reach a final adult height similar to that of their parents. In general, no treatment for these children is recommended or known to be effective in significantly increasing their final adult height.

However, short stature could also indicate constitutional growth delay. Also passed down genetically, this appears in children usually of average size in early infancy. It causes them to undergo a period of slower-than-average growth between 6 months and 2 years of age, leading to their falling behind on the growth chart. After about age 2 or 3, they will start to grow at a normal childhood rate until they reach puberty and continue to grow at an older age, letting them "catch up" to their peers in final adult height. There is no treatment necessary for this condition.

In rare cases, children could be deficient in growth hormone (GH), and they might need to take a synthetic version when they get older. Your doctor can give you more information about these daily injections.

What Is a Growth Chart and How Do You Read It?

The most important tool in understanding and tracking your toddler's development is growth charts. These allow you to compare your toddler's height, weight, and head circumference with others of the same sex and age group. Careful tracking on the growth chart is critical to spotting problems and treating them quickly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using charts by the World Health Organization (WHO) for those 0 to 2 years of age in America. Parents should then refer to CDC growth charts for children over 2 years old.

How to read toddler growth charts

Wondering how to decipher all those lines and numbers? Here's how to read the toddler growth chart.

  • Find his measurement in inches on the left or right side of the chart, and your child's age along the top or bottom.
  • Move your fingers along those lines until they intersect.
  • Make a mark at that point.
  • Find the curve closest to this intersection. (Each curve represents a different percentile, or the number of children out of 100 who would measure in at that height.)
  • Follow the curve up to the right to read which percentile it represents. (A 15-month-old boy, for example, who is 31 inches long would be in the 50th percentile, or exactly average in size.)

If your child is following their growth curve for height, no worries. If your child's height seems to be plateauing or falling off his curve, then your pediatrician will do tests to look for a medical cause. It might be concerning if your child crosses two or more percentile curves, for example.

What Can Parents Do to Support Toddler Growth Spurts and Physical Development In General?

While you should be encouraging healthy habits year-round, it is particularly important that toddlers get enough sleep and eat healthful foods during growth spurts. Developing bodies use a lot of energy, after all, and sleep and food act as fuel. Encouraging play and movement are also important, as physical activity encourages—and contributes to—growth.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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