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What 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 to work.

The Distractible Baby

The "distractible 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 day.

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" nutritional needs.

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.

Copyright 2000 - 2003  Jim Yount

Send email to Paula Yount for any questions or comments about this site.

Disclaimer:  The pages contained herein are meant purely for informational purposes and every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information. This information, however, is not meant to take the place of your doctor, nor should the information contained on this web site be considered specific medical advice with respect to any specific person and/or any specific condition. The author, therefore respectfully but specifically disclaims any liability, loss or risk - personal or otherwise - that is, or may be, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from use or application of any of the information provided on this web site.