Reverse Cycling and Breastfeeding

Reverse Cycling and Breastfeeding Why Your Baby Reverse Cycles

There are a lot of things about having a baby that people don’t tell you about.

Reverse cycling and breastfeeding is one of those things…

If your baby is attached to your breast all night long and seems to sleep the entire day away, you might have a reverse cycling issue.

My first son did this when I returned to work. He was sleeping great at night prior to me going back. My first week back to work was so hard. My baby refused most of his bottles from his babysitter during the day even though he took the bottle find before and suddenly I was an all-night buffet for him.

He nursed every hour at night and I felt helpless. What was wrong? Why was he suddenly refusing a bottle and sleeping so poorly?

I, of course, immediately thought my supply was dropping but that was quickly ruled out when I pumped at night to see how much I was getting and my supply was fine. 

So why the sudden change? I had no idea it actually had a name! Reverse Cycling.

Reverse Cycling and Breastfeeding- Is your baby up all night nursing or they refuse bottles from caregivers and only seem to eat when mom is around? Learn about Reverse Cycling and Breastfeeding!

Reverse Cycling and Breastfeeding

What is Reverse Cycling?

In simple terms, Reverse Cycling is when your baby decides that daytime eating is overrated and they now prefer all their feedings during the night or when mom is near.

Reverse Cycling can happen for many reasons. One of the more common reasons (and one that causes most nursing mothers to worry) is when this pattern develops after they return to work from maternity leave.

So why does Reverse Cycling happen and what can you do to correct it?

4 Reasons a Baby May Reverse Cycle

  1. Mom is away during the day. This is very common especially in situations where an exclusively breastfed baby is away from mom for the first time and was just introduced to a bottle. Baby might take a small amount of milk from the caregiver and “wait” for mom to return and intake most of his milk and calories when mom is near to nurse.
  2. Newborn has days/nights mixed up.
  3. Baby is becoming more aware and distracted by daily surroundings.
  4. Being on the go or having busy days where baby is feeding less often.

How to Stop Reverse Cycling

Having a baby who is reverse cycling can be very tiring. It means less sleep for mom and a feeling of frustration and helplessness when trying to figure out how to get your baby back on track.

Here are some tips for dealing with the various reasons a baby may reverse cycle:

1 – Mom is Away During the Day

This can be by far the most frustrating of all the situations where reverse cycling may happen. Not only have you returned to work but now your baby is not sleeping at night. It can make for one tired and beat momma!

Here are some ways you can survive this phase:

Nurse frequently when you are home with your baby. In the mornings before you leave for work and in the afternoon when you get home. The frequent nursing may encourage your baby to sleep longer stretches at night.

Cosleep. Keeping your baby near you at night will ensure you both get more rest. It is easy to nurse quickly at night and you fall asleep faster with less interrupted sleep when you don’t have to get up and walk clear across the house to get your baby at night. You can see our favorite cosleeper for breastfed babies, here!

Offer feedings more frequently during the day. This doesn’t mean force feeding but offering a bottle more frequently may help your baby catch on.

Offer smaller amounts of milk in bottles during the day. Not only will this make sense if you are offering bottles more frequently but it will also cut down on waste if your baby refuses to drink all or some of the milk. (Related: Do you need to throw out Breast Milk if Baby doesn’t finish?)

Try not to stress. Remember that as long as your baby is having wet/dirty diapers and is gaining weight then she is fine. Babies often sleep through the night without waking to feed so the same logic applies when they are going 8 or more hours during the day. It is not a big deal. Right now, your baby is making that up when you are home so they are getting the calories they need. Stressing won’t do any good.

Be patient. Reverse cycling often works itself out with time. Offering more feedings during the day and cosleeping at night will help you keep your sanity until your baby gets back on track.

Unsure how much milk to leave for your baby while away? Find out how much milk your breastfed baby needs, here!

2 – Newborn has Days/Nights Mixed Up

Getting into a routine and making a distinction between day and night will help your newborn recognize that nighttime is for sleeping.

Establish a nighttime/bedtime routine. Bath, book, and nurse, then put to bed. Keep lighting dark and the house as quiet as possible. Try this nighttime nursing light to help keep things dark even during night feedings.

During the day, ensure there is a lot of light and it is not too quiet. Talk and play with your baby while she is awake. Open the shades. Turn music on. Helping baby establish the difference between day and night is key.

Nurse every 2-3 hours during the day even if you need to wake your baby. This will help your baby sleep longer at night if they are taking more during the day. See how much milk your breastfed baby needs, here.

3 – Baby is Distracted During the Day

This happens as your baby becomes more aware of her surrounds. Maybe you have older children that your baby loves to watch or the TV has become fascinating.

Whatever the reason, a distracted baby can be hard to deal with. The latching and unlatching can be frustrating as you encourage your baby to finish nursing.

Nurse your baby in a quiet place. Keep your voice quiet and soft. Sometimes having a designated chair or room you can go into helps your baby know it is time to eat.

Try nursing in a sling or carrier. The Moby wrap and Ergo are two of my favorites.

Drape a nursing cover or blanket over your baby to help cut down on the distractions.

Nurse often to help make up for any missed or incomplete feedings. Frequent nursing during the day should discourage nursing at night.

4 – Busy and on the G0

Life happens and it can get very busy at times. Moms who have older children may be taking kids to sports, school, activities, play dates, etc. Other moms may work from home or have other activities or events that make them delay feedings or not nurse as frequent as baby is used too.

Wear your baby in a sling or carrier. Having your baby close allows you to nurse more frequently and gives the flexibility to nurse on the go. See how to tie the Moby Wrap here!

Ensure that you are setting time every few hours to nurse and paying attention to baby’s hunger cues. Most babies are content to be on the go and the constant motion puts them to sleep. So offer the breast often to ensure your baby is getting enough throughout the day.

Set aside some alone time during the day where you can just sit in a quiet place and nurse. Being close to mom is something all babies need. It can be hard especially when older children are involved. Things like a nursing sling can help allow you to have your hands free while nursing. 

You Will Make it Through!

Reverse cycling can be confusing and frustrating for parents but try and be patient. Eventually, your baby will sleep through the night. Until then, cherish the extra cuddles and time you spend nursing your baby. It is such a short period in their life and will be over before you know it! ( I know, I know, that’s annoying to hear but isn’t it the truth!?)

Struggling with reverse cycling? Have tips for moms on how to deal with reverse cycling? Leave a comment!

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  1. Jim says:

    Hi Heather, You seem to have the nursing thing nailed. Good on you.

    Site looks great, good information, great content for a new mom especially.

    The only thing I’m not sure of is the baby sleeping with the parent(s). Maybe I’m just old school, yeah that’s probably it. Lol.

    It all makes sense though, when you think about. Hopefully you get a lot of traffic so young and inexperienced mothers can benefit from your advise.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing.


    • Heather Grace says:

      Haha Cosleeping is popular (and debatable) topic nowadays. They make these great little attachments that stick on the side of the bed called an arms reach cosleeper. It gives baby their own space while being close to momma. Worth the money in my opinion! Makes cosleeping a little more comfortable and safe!

  2. Mike says:

    In today’s busy world this is very good knowledge to have, I think all expecting parents should read this article to get an idea of how to avoid the having to reverse cycles. My son and his wife are working thru similar situation. He works on the weekend while his wife is gone all day at work so little man gets confused often.
    Mommy is always available on the weekends but come Monday morning back to the bottle.
    Thank You,

    • Heather Grace says:

      Yes, it can be so hard for little ones to understand. Reverse Cycling can be frustrating on both sides! I hope this information helps any partents going through this know that there is an end in sight and not to stress!

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