Globally 149 million children under five are estimated to be stunted (length more than 2 standard deviations below international growth standards). Stunting, a form of linear growth faltering, increases risk of illness, impaired cognitive development, and mortality. Global stunting estimates rely on cross-sectional surveys, which cannot provide direct information about the timing of onset or persistence of growth faltering— a key consideration for defining critical windows to deliver preventive interventions. We performed the largest pooled analysis of longitudinal studies in low- and middle-income countries to date (n=32 cohorts, 52,640 children, ages 0-24 months), allowing us to identify the typical age of linear growth faltering onset and to investigate recurrent faltering in early life. The highest incidence of stunting onset occurred from birth to age 3 months. From 0 to 15 months, less than 5% of children per month reversed their stunting status, and among those who did, stunting relapse was common. Early timing and low reversal rates emphasize the importance of preventive intervention delivery within the prenatal and early postnatal phases coupled with continued delivery of postnatal interventions through the first 1000 days of life.