What is Reverse Cycling and Why Does it Happen?

Periods of reverse cycling can be challenging to navigate, but there are common reasons why it happens and solutions that may help.

Baby Nurses More at Night? You Might be Reverse Cycling

Reverse cycling is a specific nursing pattern that often occurs around the four to six-month mark, though it could be a little earlier or later depending on several factors that may be driving this sudden change in your breastfeeding schedule. There are a few common reasons often attributed to why suddenly your baby nurses more at night, which include:

  • Your parental leave ended and you returned to work. Whether your little one is enrolled in a daycare or is being cared for at home by a family member or nanny, you may not be the only one getting used to your back-to-work schedule - your baby might be adjusting to the change too! Reverse cycling frequently happens because he or she wants food, comfort, or both, and may not be getting as much as they desire of either because you are now away during much of the day. 

    Your baby may not drink as much breast milk during the day or may take just enough of their bottle to stay satisfied until you're with him or her again. When this happens, he or she may not be getting enough breast milk while you're away and will then nurse frequently overnight to "make up" for this deficit. This is not dangerous or necessarily a negative, so long as your baby is eating. Your little one may also become easily distracted in a daycare environment, leading them to be more interested in everything going on around them and less likely to be as interested in their bottle or eating. Finally, he or she may simply desire the soothing effect that comes with breastfeeding and wish to receive this comfort throughout the night, since they are adjusting to less time with you during the day. 
  • Your little one is going through a growth spurt. Quick, temporary phases of reverse cycling may occasionally happen simply because babies grow quickly! During periods of especially rapid growth and development, he or she may want to nurse more often than usual. When you finally have a set breastfeeding schedule, it can be challenging to see it suddenly thrown off - but rest assured that growth spurts typically don't last long. 
  • Your baby is sleeping more during the day. This often goes hand-in-hand when you return to work - because your little one is getting most of their feedings when you are at home (typically during the evening and nighttime hours now), they then sleep more during the day without these regular nursing sessions. This pattern reverses your baby's sleep schedule and makes him or her more likely to be awake and alert overnight, which in turn keeps you awake overnight too!

What Can You Do When Baby Nurses More at Night?

If your little one is suddenly waking often throughout the night for feedings, it may be beneficial for yourself and others in your family for you to sleep with the baby nearby. A bassinet close to your bed or a toddler bed in your bedroom can be helpful for attending to your little one's needs quickly and then falling right back asleep, to encourage as much overnight rest as possible. Keeping overnight feedings quiet, gentle, and dark (with minimal lighting) may also help you and your baby fall back asleep faster while avoiding long periods of wakefulness during the night. 

It may also be beneficial to help your little one understand the difference between daytime and nighttime. When he or she is sleeping during the day, be sure to go about your day as you normally would - don't draw the blinds or curtains, keep lights on and the television or other background noise at a steady volume, and wake him or her to breastfeed on their normal schedule. Between naps and breastfeeding sessions, keeping your little one entertained, engaged, and active can also help ensure he or she isn't oversleeping during daytime hours or getting their days and nights mixed up. 

Finally, if you suspect that your baby or toddler is reverse cycling because of a sudden change in schedule, such as your return to work, starting daycare or preschool, or being with a babysitter for long stretches of the day, remember that he or she may simply need some extra quality time with you. Try nursing your little one as often as possible during the daytime hours that you are together - both in the morning before work and in the afternoon or evening after work - to minimize the need for overnight feedings. It may take some time to discover the breastfeeding schedule that is most effective for both of you, but so long as your baby is gaining weight at the recommended rate and there is no significant change in their daily amount of wet diapers then you can rest assured that he or she is receiving the nourishment they need. 

Changing a reverse cycling pattern can be challenging and even frustrating at times, but be patient with yourself and your little one! Sudden changes in your daily schedules, growth spurts, and other physical or environmental transitions often require a period of adjustment - just remember that reverse cycling doesn't last forever. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider or pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby or if there are indications that he or she is not receiving enough nutrition. Providing breast milk to your little one isn't always easy, but the wonderful benefits to your and your baby are well worth the occasional challenge - you're doing a great job, mama.

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