Breaking Down The Dreaded Extinction Burst

What do you do when your baby's old sleep habits creep back into your nightly routine and your left feeling defeated?


You finally arrived and made it, the day you have dreamed about since your little one came into this world. It has been a rough road in the department of sleep, but you set out a plan and you conquered the battle of getting your child to finally sleep through the night. Small glimpses of your rested self flash before you and your heart skips a beat imagining many full nights of rest again.


Than out of the blue, hitting you like a ton of bricks, your baby's old sleep habits have creep back into your nightly routines and you are left feeling defeated. The extinction burst has officially hit and you're left feeling like you should just wave the white flag and succumb to your child’s demands. Will you ever sleep again?!


The extinction burst is a term that many are not familiar with as it is not a term directly related to sleep, but rather it can affect many areas of your life. An extinction burst is a concept from behavioral psychology. It involves the concept of elimination of a behavior by refusing to reinforce it. The best example of this is a child’s tantrum. Parents react to tantrums, which is why they often work, but the point of the tantrum is primarily attention.


Let me give you a sleep example:

A child wakes throughout the night demanding a pacifier be placed back into their mouth. As parents you have decided to break this unwanted habit by not placing the paci during sleep times. Over the course of a few days of not reinforcing the behavior, you finally start to see progress, but then your baby begins to wake even more or amps up their uncontrollable fussing and demands. This child is hoping that by reverting back for a short period of time that a parent will just give in and go back to their old ways. An extinction burst is typically a short lived period and I highly suggest you push through, as restful nights are just on the other side of this short behavioral burst.


When babies or small children are trying to officially break a habit, be it nursing to sleep, toddlers being held to sleep, co-sleeping, etc. they display their extinction burst by crying or being extremely resistant to the change. They know up until this point it has always worked and everyone has given in, as parents are often quick to react when they are needing some much needed rest.  


I often see many parents revert back to old ways and throw in the towel, but I'd like to encourage you to make the final push towards independent sleeping for your little one. As soon as you give in you have set yourself back to the beginning. This is one reason hiring a sleep consultant has proven to work wonders for so many. Sleep consultants work to keep everyone on track by providing daily support to push through this tough time. Just as many invest in a nutritionist or personal trainer to keep their goals on track the same concept applies when helping your child learn the proper techniques and methods for healthy sleep.


Remember that every child and situation is different, but the extinction burst usually occurs within the first week of breaking the old habit and can last for anywhere between 3-5 days. 

Giving in will only create set backs and a more difficult road ahead. Push through and just on the horizon is more peaceful sleep for everyone.  

 Serenity Sleepers is committed to helping families develop peaceful sleepers using only the safest, healthiest and most gentle approaches that are based on the proper sleep science. My methods are unique and individualized taking a variety of approaches to help that individual child or family, there is no one size fits all or cookie cutter approach to my methods.


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