The Extinction Burst…. What is it, why is it important for you to understand, AND how do you come out the other side a better mama. 

So what is an extinction burst you ask? An extinction burst happens when you are trying to extinguish behaviors or habits and instill new behaviors or habits. It applies not only to sleep training but to ANY behavior that you are trying to extinguish.

What is an extinction burst & what are ways to cope?

The definition goes something like this…It is an increase in the undesirable behavior when the reinforcement for the behavior is removed. So in layman’s terms it means “ It’s going to get worse before it gets better”

So let’s talk about sleep training and the extinction burst

Any time you are going to start a sleep training plan you are most likely going to have a period of a day to a few days where an extinction burst happens. The length and intensity depend on a variety of factors, the main one being your child’s temperament and how long the old habits have been in place. It also depends on how fast or slow the sleep training process takes. Slow changes make for a less intense extinction burst. Changes that happen more quickly can cause a more intense extinction burst, generally speaking.

The good news is that for MOST babies the extinction burst is over in 3 days max. For babies, the extinction burst typically involves some crying and protest. For toddlers, it may involve some crying or tantrums. BUT, the good news is it typically only takes about 24 hours for the baby or toddler to start to become FAMILIAR with the new routine and while they don’t yet LOVE the new routine they are starting to adjust and accept it.

This is PROGRESS! As they adjust and accept it ( and start feeling better because they’re getting more sleep!) the protesting significantly lessens over the course of the next few days ( or many times sooner!) and usually by day 4 you are over the hump and your baby is happy and has no memory of the old routine or any crying that he did in the process of adjusting to something new. 

Now YOU can move on to enjoying your baby and family again because everyone is getting some much-needed sleep! You feel better, your baby feels better and life begins to feel a WHOLE lot more manageable again!

So while many parents dread the extinction burst, once it is over they will tell you that those few days were absolutely worth the ability to sleep again! AND it is NEVER as bad as mom and dad think it’s going to be.

So now let’s talk about some ways to cope when you’re in the middle of it.

 If you have a baby with a harder temperament or maybe you just feel you cannot stand hearing your baby cry at all. You need to have some tools so you stay focused and calm. Then, if your baby really decides that he’s gonna let you know that he’s NOT happy about the changes you’ll have the tools in your toolbox to be successful.

You have to have a plan if you want to be successful and be able to follow through. Right responses each time your baby protests is the key to get through the extinction burst as quickly as possible. Consistency is your BFF here….

First,  let your spouse or partner do some of the heavy lifting so everything doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

This is especially true if you are a nursing mama. You may need breaks or simply be able to leave the house. Feel free to let your spouse handle it for a few hours. Most babies do better with dad and most times dad’s energy is calmer and less anxious so let him take on the burden so you can take breaks. 

Second, don’t listen to your baby cry at full volume over a monitor!

While this is a practical suggestion you will be torturing yourself if you sit and watch the monitor and listen to your baby cry over a microphone!  Instead, do something for yourself. Take a hot bath, take a walk, or do something to decompress. Lowering your stress hormones is very helpful to keep your energy calm and peaceful. Your baby picks up on your energy so keep that in mind as you are caring for your baby during this time.

Third, you need to remember why you started down this path of sleep training in the first place.

Why it was important to you and what you wanted to achieve.

Here are some examples of your Why:

  • I need a full night’s sleep so I can be the best version of myself. Both for my spouse and my baby/kids.
  • I need to be able to take time for my own self-care and do things that fill my cup. This is so I am not always running on empty.
  • I need time to connect with my spouse so our marriage can stay strong and connected. This gives our kids security. 
  • I want my baby/kids to learn good sleep habits and, to wake each morning rested and rejuvenated. This is so they can be their best selves.
  • It is my job to make sure that my kids’ sleep needs are met so their brains and bodies can be healthy.
  • Living in sleep deprivation is not serving anyone in my family. Not my marriage, not my kids, and not me. 
  • It’s not selfish to sleep train, it’s not selfish to need a full night’s sleep.

Whatever your WHY is write these things down. Look at the list when you’re in the middle of the extinction burst. This will help you stay mentally strong and focused. 

If you do these things you will get through these few days much easier. Before you know it, the extinction burst will be over. Your quality of life will be elevated. Then you will wonder why you were worried at all. Trust me, I hear this ALL the time!!  When your baby goes from waking multiple times per night to sleeping 11-12 hours THROUGH the night, those few days of protesting will be a distant memory! Especially now that you see how much happier your baby is now that he’s rested.

So here’s the thing, ANYTIME you have to extinguish a behavior regardless of your child’s age ( yes, you will have to do this throughout your parenting) you’re going to have a child who will let you know they’re NOT happy! Just know that this is normal and don’t be afraid to be the parent. Your children will grow up and thank you for not being afraid to give them the loving boundaries they needed. Because yes, parents that love their kids give them boundaries.

If you want to learn more about sleep training or if you just have questions about the extinction burst and what to expect, don’t hesitate to reach out to me! I’m here to answer your questions and help remove the fear from sleep training.

Need additional Resources?

Toddler Nutrition & Sleep
This is THE Key to Successful Sleep Training
5 Tested & Proved Tips to Transition Your Toddler from Napping to Quiet Time

10 Simple Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better Tonight

These tips are simple, easy to implement, and created to help your baby slowly step into a healthy, secure relationship with sleep!

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