It was working, but now it's not... HELP!
Think about something you love to do. Then think about someone saying “ok, this is a bad habit and you have to break it.” (e.g. cutting out chocolate or wine) You set out with the best intentions and things go really well for a few days, but then you think “I’ll just have this one glass or this one piece” and you slip back into old habits because no one is keeping you on track.
No one likes to break habits. It’s not easy, especially if you have no one coaching you along the way. And even if you do have someone coaching you along the way, you may protest to that person and try to hold on to your habits. This is exactly what happens when you try to break your baby of poor sleep habits except that your baby has no other way to protest than to cry or wake more frequently in order to get you to help them get back to sleep. “Extinction burst” is a term used in psychology and to describe what happens when someone is trying to break a habit, does well for a few days, and then tries to hold on to the habit they are trying to break by protesting the change – however, an extinction burst is temporary and on the other side, the habit is broken. (Side note: Extinction bursts happen to anyone trying to break a habit, and are not tied to the sleep training method of “extinction.”)
When you’re coaching your baby to learn how to sleep better and attempting to break some bad sleep habits, your baby may experience an extinction burst. Often, parents will see improvement for a number of nights and then out of nowhere an extinction burst hits and parents think “what am I doing wrong?! Why isn’t this working?!” Many have experienced a full night sleep (or close to it) prior to this and the taste of a full night’s sleep has them feeling like a million bucks until the dreaded extinction burst hits… and panic ensues. Typically, an extinction burst will occur 4-6 nights in, and will last anywhere from 1-3 nights. Often parents feel like giving up BUT I would urge you to stay on course because on the other side is SLEEP, and broken bad habits! An extinction burst means that your baby is making that last ditch effort to hold on to her former poor sleep habits, but when you coach them through their protesting, they make it through unscathed and on the other side.
So fear not! Know that the extinction burst means your baby is learning and that better sleep is near for all.