If you plan on addressing your little one’s sleep issues, I want to prepare you for something.
It’s possible that things are going to get worse before they get better.
For some babies, that might mean a night or two of more intense crying at bedtime; for some, it might mean more like four or five.
That probably doesn’t come as a big surprise. If you have a child that doesn’t sleep well, you’ve probably already established an elaborate routine to respond to your baby’s bedtime.
It’s usually a combination of feeding, bouncing, getting them settled in your arms, popping in a pacifier, and getting them into their crib at the exact right moment.
Why? Because if you try to do it any other way, your baby will cry. And if you don’t give in, they’ll cry even louder and harder. It’s a common response to behaviour modification known as an extinction burst.
An extinction burst occurs when a behaviour that has been previously reinforced suddenly stops being reinforced. In other words, when a baby is used to receiving a specific response or reward for a particular behaviour, and that response or reward is suddenly removed, the baby will increase the intensity and frequency of that behaviour in an attempt to get what they want. In this case, the rocking, shushing, or nursing to sleep that they’re accustomed to.
Extinction bursts can occur in various situations, from sleep training to weaning from breastfeeding. They can be particularly challenging for parents to navigate, as it can be difficult to tell if the baby is seeking attention or if they’re genuinely upset.
However, it’s essential to understand that extinction bursts are a normal part of a baby’s development and are not a sign that something’s wrong.
So, how can parents cope with these bedtime extinction bursts?
One word. Consistency.
Suppose you have decided that a particular behaviour is no longer acceptable or that a specific reward will no longer be given. In that case, it’s crucial to stick to that decision and not give in to the baby’s increased efforts to elicit the desired response.
Staying consistent isn’t going to be easy, I know. The increased intensity of the baby’s crying will be stressful and occasionally overwhelming. Still, it is important to remain calm and consistent.
Get your partner involved or call in the support team, whether it’s your parents, your in-laws, your friends, or a professional sleep consultant so that you can take a break when things get to be too much for you.
As tough as things get, don’t forget this crucial fact. Extinction bursts are temporary. Good sleep habits are not.
Once you’ve come out the other side of this experience, you can look forward to years of your little one sleeping soundly through the night.
Need help to stay consistent and get through your child's extinction burst?
Book your Free 20-minute Sleep Evaluation Call with me and I can explain how I can help make this transition to independent sleep a lot smoother.
Erin Neri - Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Owner of To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting since 2016.
To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting
Providing families the tools & support they need to get their little ones sleeping through the night and napping like champs! Everyone has more fun when they are well rested!
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