Reverse Cycling

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

What is reverse cycling?

Reverse cycling is when baby nurses frequently at night and less frequently during the day.

Why do some babies reverse cycle?

  • Newborns may reverse cycle in the early days or weeks simply because they have their days and nights mixed up.
  • Distractible (and/or very active) babies or toddlers may nurse more at night to make up for missed or shortened nursing sessions during the day.
  • If mom is very distracted or busy during the day, baby may nurse more at night to make up for missed or shortened nursing sessions, or simply to get more uninterrupted time with mom.
  • If mom is away from baby during the day, baby may take just enough milk (by bottle or cup) to “take the edge off” his hunger, then wait for mom to return to get the bulk of his calories. Baby will typically nurse more often and/or longer than usual once mom returns. Some mothers encourage reverse cycling so they won’t need to pump as much milk. Reverse cycling is common for breastfed babies who are away from mom part of the day, especially those just starting out with the bottle.

Tips for handling reverse cycling

General coping tips for interrupted sleep:

If your newborn has days and nights mixed up:

  • During the day, keep the lights on and go on with your normal daytime activities — don’t keep things dark and quiet where baby is sleeping. Play with and talk to baby during waking times. Wake baby to nurse every 2-3 hours.
  • During baby’s night wakings, keep everything calm, quiet, and dark (if you need a light to breastfeed, try using a smaller light like a nightlight or closet light). At some point you may want to begin a bedtime routine (such as bath, story, breastfeeding) to signal that nighttime has begun.

When mom is busy or distracted:

  • Consider using a sling or other baby carrier so that baby can be with you and breastfeed while you go about your day.
  • Be aware of baby’s typical breastfeeding routine, and remember to watch for baby’s cues on busy days — this is easiest when baby is close by.
  • Be aware that after a really busy day (we all have them!), your child may need some one-on-one time with mom to breastfeed and reconnect.
  • Tips for juggling a newborn and toddler

If your baby is distractible, see The Distractible Baby for tips. Do babies under 12 months self-wean? has additional tips for distractible older babies.

If baby is reverse cycling and taking very little milk when mom is away at work:

  • Be patient. Try not to stress about it. Consider it a compliment – baby prefers you!
  • Use small amounts of expressed milk per bottle so there is less waste.
  • If you’re worrying that baby can’t go that long without more milk, keep in mind that some babies sleep through the night for 8 hours or so without mom needing to worry that baby is not eating during that time period. Keep an eye on wet diapers and weight gain to assure yourself that baby is getting enough milk.
  • Ensure that baby has ample chance to nurse when you’re together.
  • If you prefer to pump less milk while you’re away from baby, you may choose to encourage baby to reverse cycle.


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