Reverse cycling is a type of nursing pattern where breast-fed babies nurse when their mother is at home. Most often, this pattern occurs around 4 or 5 months of age. It often happens when a mom returns to work and baby starts a new nursing schedule.

Both you and your baby are likely tired from changes in your daily schedules. Reverse cycling can make matters more challenging.

The term reverse cycling has some misconceptions. When your baby enters this pattern, the bulk of their feedings occur when you’re at home. On the flip side, your baby then sleeps more during the day when you’re at work. This can throw off both of your sleep schedules. You might wake up a lot at night, and your baby might want to feed at least once a night.

Reverse cycling only concerns breast-fed babies. Babies who drink formula don’t go through this cycle.

After you give birth, your body gets used to producing milk at certain times of the day. Your baby gets used to nursing whenever they are hungry.

When you start working again for eight-plus hours a day, it can throw your nursing pattern completely off. While you’re home with your baby, the majority of your feeding sessions likely happen during the day. If you’re not around during the day any longer, your baby might not eat as much. Instead, they might wait until they can nurse from you when you get home.

To build up to a typical eight-hour work day, you might consider slowly easing into what your schedule will be like. You can try:

  • going back to work part time
  • starting back work early on a Thursday or Friday (if you’re off on weekends)
  • telecommuting for part of the work week
  • bringing your baby to work (if your job allows)
  • an onsite or nearby day care center where you can spend a few moments with your baby when possible

Reverse cycling can make your baby sleep more during the day, so you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure they don’t stay up all night. When you see your baby after work, the first thing they’ll likely do is nurse with you.

Your baby will probably then want to sleep. But for both of your sakes, try to avoid this as much as possible. Successful broken reverse cycling patterns depend on a strict no-nap policy during late afternoons and evenings.

Breast-fed babies tend to consume fewer calories in more frequent meals, so it’s no wonder that your little one still gets hungry in the middle of the night. In fact, as your baby continues through the reverse cycling stage, you should expect them to wake up at least once a night.

While this can ultimately mean a disruption in sleep, it’s also to your benefit. According to Dr. Eglash with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, prolactin hormones decrease when you don’t nurse for more than eight hours.

Prolactin is responsible for telling your body how much milk to produce. A deficit can quickly translate to a milk shortage for your baby.

This rule can seem downright ludicrous, given the fact that you need to adapt some form of a schedule during the day to help break the pattern of reverse cycling.

Still, you should not expect your baby to conform to a strict nursing schedule when you two are home together. During the first six months of life, the average baby consumes between 25 and 35 ounces of milk every 24 hours.

If your baby is not getting enough milk while you’re away, it’s understandable that they’re hungry and want to eat.

Overcoming the pattern of reverse cycling can take time. You might find that your baby doesn’t eat as much during the day and then makes up for it at night when you’re home.

Still, this pattern is temporary and should not have any long-term consequences. Call your doctor if your baby exhibits any of the following symptoms:

  • extreme fatigue
  • lethargy
  • weight loss
  • dark yellow urine
  • a significant decrease in the number of soiled diapers a day
  • sleeping through the night despite missed feedings

At first, breaking reverse cycling patterns can be a struggle. It’s important to be patient with both yourself and your baby. Remember that during this stage, a lot of changes are occurring physically for both of you.

If you’re going back to work, changes in daily schedules can add extra stress. Take everything a few steps at a time, and be sure to cut yourself some slack. If you have any concerns about your baby’s health and milk consumption, talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant.