I’m so confused!
Things seemed to be getting a little bit better each night and I was slowly gaining confidence that this might actually be working and then… last night was terrible! Violet woke up at 2, 4, and 6 am!
I have only been feeding her once at night and she hasn’t woken up three times at night since the beginning!
I thought we were doing so well and now I’m so discouraged!
This is a not uncommon, and naturally worrying, occurrence for some families who are sleep training.
Things seem to be getting so much worse and then sleep suddenly goes off the rails again! Parents worry that all of their hard work has been for naught.
Fear not, tired parent!
This is called an extinction burst. It’s actually a sign of progress, though it’s hard to see that in the moment.
First off, an extinction burst is unrelated to the sleep training method of extinction. It can happen with any style of sleep training.
Actually, an extinction burst can happen when any kind of behavior is gradually being discontinued by not rewarding it with attention any more. It can even happen when training other mammals.
Basically, when the unwanted behavior is almost gone, the child suddenly brings it back with a vengeance, as if to test the parents to see if they were really sure about not rewarding night wakings any more. Suddenly your child wakes up three times a night where she had been waking only once for a while now.
The important thing in this scenario is to stay extremely consistent with whatever method of sleep training you have been using and to NOT reward this new (recently extinguished) behavior with attention.
If you have weaned down to just one night feeding and your baby suddenly wakes up three times at night, it’s crucial you not panic and offer a feeding three times because that would teach your baby that three night feedings are suddenly an option again.
So in this scenario, feed at the appointed time and then use your chosen soothing method at all other times. Do not feed at those other times!
The same applies for night wakings for other reasons.
Trust that this is all a normal part of the process and stay strong. Nothing has gone wrong.
In another 1-3 nights, if you stay consistent, this behavior will disappear. You will reach the promised land of excellent sleep!
Are you ready for great sleep for your family but aren’t sure where to start? Schedule a free chat and let’s see what we can do to help your entire family feel well-rested and happy in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.