is Reverse Cycling?
Reverse cycling is a term that is used to describe
the nursing pattern of a baby who nurses a lot in evening and (or)
night time hours rather than the "normal" daytime hours.
This pattern usually arises when the normal pattern
of day time nursing is disrupted for some reason. It can be related
to distractibility in the baby, a stressful or busy day for mother
where she may have not taken time to sit down and nurse like she
normally does, or for working moms, it can arise when mother returns
The Distractible Baby
baby" stage is a normal developmental stage that most all
babies go through. It may first become noticeable at around the
age of 4 months, again at around 6 months, and again between 8 and
10 months. Some babies are much more sensitive to their surroundings
than others, so for some babies, this period can be highly disruptive
to their normal nursing patterns.
The Busy Day
There can be periods where mom might find herself
extremely busy, seeing to the needs of family and other household
duties. This can be especially true if she has other children. These
periods can impact the nursing pattern in a negative way when baby
is not overly assertive about nursing, and mom doesn't make herself
sit down and take time to nurse the baby. Baby may simply compensate
for the lack of daytime nursing by waking up more at night to nurse
and receive the much-needed closeness to mom that was missed during
The Working Mom
A working mom can be confused by a baby who is reverse
cycling because she is providing the baby nourishment while she
is away at work by leaving pumped milk or formula, yet baby still
wakes often at night to nurse. It is very important for moms to
realize that nursing a baby is not "just" about food.
Babies who are away from mom for any period of time often have a
great need or desire to "reconnect" with her, and thus
baby "reverse-cycles", but it may not be "all about"
Other times baby will simply take enough expressed
breastmilk to hold them over until they are reunited with mom. Moms
may worry about the meager amount of milk baby takes in during the
day, however, if the baby has unrestricted access to the breast
at night and nurses often, then baby almost always takes in enough
milk for optimal growth and development. Allowing baby to reverse
cycle often helps mom maintain milk supply when she is working,
especially if she has limited time to pump milk during her workday.
A working mom may find that if baby reverse cycles,
she may not need to pump as much breastmilk for baby to have at
the sitter. Baby sort of goes into low gear, sometimes sleeping
more while at the sitters and then when reunited with mother, baby
will nurse frequently to sate the nutritional and emotional needs.
In the book Nursing
Mother, Working Mother, by Gale Pryor, it is noted:
"In studying working mothers and their babies,
Irene Frederick and Kathleen Auerbach found that many well-attached
babies sleep for longer periods during their mothers' absence and
are wakeful when their mothers are present. These babies simply
shift their schedules to nurse frequently when their mothers are
available, and consequently may not need to be fed more than twice
during an eight-hour separation."
Keep in mind as long as baby is wetting plenty of
diapers, stooling regularly, gaining well, and otherwise is doing
fine, then baby is getting enough milk. Problems may arise, however,
if mothers are eager to enforce a "sleep schedule" onto
the baby - then baby doesn't get enough milk at daycare, nor in
the nighttime hours, and baby also does not get as much "mommy
time" as they might otherwise. This can result in low
supply for mom, and a fussy, unhappy baby.
How Do I Cope With Reverse Cycling?
Most breastfeeding experts agree that the easiest
way to cope with a baby who is reverse cycling is to co-sleep, or
sleep near the baby for "easy access" throughout the night.
Working moms may encourage the baby to nurse very
very frequently from the time she gets home in the evening, until
bedtime, even if she co-sleeps, because this frequency can help
encourage baby to sleep a longer stretch, making it easier for her
to get longer stretches of sleep.
For moms who are at home with baby during the day,
and are coping with a distractible baby, using the tips to help
with distractibility can help. Minimizing the distractions and encouraging
frequent daytime nursings can help reduce night time nursings.
Moms who are finding household is very busy, may
want to slow down the pace of daytime activities and literally "make
time" to nurse baby.
Taking time to rest is also important, and sometimes
we simply have to make the time to rest. For working moms this may
mean earlier bedtime, for stay-at-home moms, it may mean afternoon
nap with baby and her other children.