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What are extinction bursts within sleep training?

Ok, so if you are planning on sleep training then I feel like I need to prepare you...

It is very likely that things are going to feel like they are getting worse before they actually get better. This may look like a couple of nights of intense crying at bedtime and for others it could be more like four or five nights.

I am guessing that this does not come as a big surprise because if your child is not sleeping well then you have probably amassed a huge routine to respond to your baby’s bedtime needs. I usually see a combination of feeding, bouncing, holding dummies, and getting them into their cot at the right moment for them to fall to sleep.

Why do you do such a lengthy bedtime routine? Because if you try to do it any other way, your baby is going to cry. And if you don’t do all of these things then your baby is going to cry harder. This is a common response to behaviour modification known as an extinction burst.

Extinction bursts occur when a behaviour that has been previously reinforced suddenly stops being reinforced. So, if your baby is used to having a certain response or reward for a particular behavior but then that response/reward is suddenly removed, the baby will increase the intensity and frequency of that behaviour in order to get what they want. In your case this could be rocking, holding, shhhing, feeding or dummies.

Extinction bursts can happen in a lot of different situations from sleep training to weaning from breastfeeding. I know this can feel very challenging for parents to navigate, as it can be difficult to decide if the baby is seeking attention or if they are actually upset. It is important to understand that extinction bursts are a normal part of a baby development and are not a sign of the fact that something is wrong.

Ok, so how do you cope with extinction bursts?

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency.

If you make the decision that you don't want a behaviour or routine to continue then it is vital that you stick to that decision and not stop when the crying intensifies due to baby trying to elicit the desired response.

I know this is not going to be easy, increased intensity of your baby crying is going to be stressful and can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it is also vital that you remain calm and consistent. I would ask for help from a partner, family member, friend or sleep consultant.

When things get hard please don't forget that extinction bursts are temporary. Good sleep habits are not. When you have made it through the hard part, you can look forward to years of your little one sleeping soundly through the night.

Do you need help with sleep training? I am here to help!

Book in for a free call below to discuss how I can help transform your family!

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