Reverse Cycle Breastfeeding

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated September 7, 2013.

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Reverse cycle breastfeeding is when a baby changes his/her nursing schedule to be able to breastfeed more when he’s with his mother and eat less/sleep more when he’s away.  It occurs quite commonly when a mother returns to work.  Whereas her baby had nursed frequently throughout the day while they had been together, he now sleeps more during the day and nurses more frequently throughout the evening and early morning hours  to make up for the time away from mom during the day.  It can be a coping mechanism for babies to be able to tolerate being away from their mothers for long periods of time.

Reasons Babies Reverse Cycle

  • Return to work
  • Newborns who have not yet established a circadian rhythm with their sleep patterns
  • Toddlers who are easily distracted throughout the day and involved with all that is going on around them
  • Mothers who are overly busy during the day (frequently happens around holidays) and there is not much time for nursing throughout the day.

Tips for Handling Reverse Cycle Breastfeeding

Reverse cycling can be challenging when a mother returns to work as she is now working outside the home and usually not as free to nap and be with her baby as before.  However, breastfeeding is relaxing in and of itself and mothers should look at the extra time nursing when together as a good excuse to relax and rest.  Bed sharing or co-sleeping throughout the nighttime will also help a mother maximize her sleep while still frequently nursing her baby.

Babies are incredibly resilient and reverse cycle breastfeeding is just one testament to this fact.  If your baby is reverse cycling, it can be helpful to look at it as a positive characteristic.  Your baby is able to go with the flow of the day’s schedule and then snuggle with his favorite person in the world when you are together in the evenings/night/early morning. He is able to adapt to taking in just the basic requirements while away from you, waiting patiently for the most nutritious and best-tasting food ever made while in his mama’s arms at night.

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