Reverse cycling is a fancy term for an age-old problem: a baby who has his days and nights mixed up. Many babies come into the world confusing night and day, but breastfed babies can have additional issues, if mom goes back to work while still breastfeeding. Some breastfed babies eat less during the day, when the only food available is a bottle, and then want to stoke up all night, when the breast is back. Babies outgrow this schedule pattern eventually, but until then, you can take steps to reverse the up-all-night, sleep-all day trend.
Introduce noise and light into your daytime hours. Don't tiptoe around when your baby sleeps during the day, or darken rooms. Keep the daytime light and reasonably noisy, to help him understand that daytime is awake time.
Establish a bedtime routine. If your baby is still tiny, it might seem like it is too early to worry about a bedtime routine, but the earlier you initiate a sleep routine, the sooner he'll get the idea that certain activities means that it is time to sleep. Follow his nighttime bath, with a quiet story, then rock in the rocking chair with him, and breastfeed at bedtime in a quiet, dark room.
Wake your baby during the day, to nurse every two to three hours. Some babies sleep so soundly that they're like limp sacks of potatoes when you try to wake them up. Change your baby's diaper or put a new outfit on him, take him outside for a walk; do whatever you can to help him wake up every few hours and eat.
Keep your baby near you during the day if you're home with him so that you recognize his subtle waking or hunger cues. If you wait until your baby screams in hunger, you've waited too long. When he moves from a deep sleep to a light sleep or when he starts smacking his lips or turning his head from side to side, he thinks that it is time to eat. Offer him the breast as soon as you notice hunger cues during the day. Keeping him in a sling or other wearing device makes it easier to catch his hunger cues so that he doesn't stretch out his daytime feedings.
Cluster the breastfeedings in the early evening to help prevent multiple middle-of-the night-awakenings. If you've gone back to work and your baby is eating more when you get home, giving him frequent feedings before your bedtime might reduce the number of times he nurses during the night.
Make night feedings a time of peace and quiet, not a time for play. Keep the room as dark as you can, without stumbling over the furniture.
Tips & Warnings
- Some babies nurse less frequently during the day when they become more active; then, they make up their calorie intake at night. Taking him into a quiet room during the day to nurse can help if he's highly distractible and not eating because he's too busy.
- Watch for signs that your baby is not eating enough when he reverse cycles because he prefers to wait for you to come home to eat. He should continue to gain 1 to 2 pounds per month during the first six months, pediatrician Dr. William Sears explains on his website, Ask Dr. Sears.
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