How to Use the Extinction Method for Sleep Training

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If you are interested in sleep training your baby, you are probably wondering how to go about that. There are several options out there. One common method is called “Extinction.” This post outlines what the extinction sleep training method is, the pros and cons of this method, and how to use it. 

Healthy sleep is vital to the growth and health of your child. While some babies are born being great sleepers, most have to learn how at some point in some way. There are several options in sleep training. One such method is cry it out. When it comes to using the cry it out (CIO) method for sleep training, there are basically two options. One is “graduated extinction”–also known as Ferber. This method means that you will go in at some point during the crying to attempt to re-soothe the baby and then leave. The other option is extinction. This means you put baby down and do not go back in for any soothing.

On the surface, extinction appears to be harsher than graduated extinction. Indeed, using graduated extinction is usually easier on the parent than an extinction method. This post contains affiliate links. In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Dr. Weissbluth states, “While appearing harsh, it is my impression that the total amount of crying with “Extinction” is less than with “Graduated Extinction” because success occurs faster” (page 211). I am in agreeance with this impression. 


The Pros of the Extinction Method

  • It is simpler to follow–fewer rules and fewer variables
  • It typically leads to no crying at all much faster than any other method
  • It is easier to be perfectly consistent
  • It is short. “The whole process usually takes only a few days” (page 297)

The Cons of the Extinction Method

  • It is often harder on the parents than other sleep training methods “Small, soothing efforts such as kissing the forehead, rearranging the blankets, comforting, and patting appear trivial to parents, but they interfere enormously with learning to fall asleep unassisted” (page 299)

The Key Points of the Extinction Method

  • You put baby down and do not return until after baby has slept. This is the absolute rule when putting baby down at night. During the day, you might set a time limit and get baby at some point to avoid sleep deficit and allow a short nap to happen. “Once your child is in bed, he is there to stay, no matter how long he cries, if you are using the Extinction method” (page 261). 
  • Be sure your waketime length is correct. This cuts down on crying time.

Anecdotal Commentary

I have written this blog for over ten years. Over the course of those years, I have heard from thousands of parents about their sleep training experience. 

Typically, yes, extinction method is the fastest and most effective way to go about things. It is a very effective method for a first time parent because it doesn’t require you to be able to make so many judgement calls. It is the method we used on our oldest, Brayden, and it was very effective for him. I quickly realized that checking on him only made it worse for him, and I didn’t want to make him cry more in an attempt to make myself feel better. 

With Kaitlyn (my second child), however, I quickly realized that she did much better with CIO when I did interfere. She cried less with my interference than she did with an extinction approach. So I must always throw in there that you have to trust your instincts and listen to your baby’s needs. Just because “most” babies out there respond fastest to extinction does not mean that extinction will definitely be best for your baby. Probably? Yes. But not definitely. 

I clearly had experience with cry it out that led to me having a couple of great sleepers. It doesn’t mean I didn’t fully hate it. Because of that, I looked to other options. The option I found and stuck with for my third and fourth babies is the 4 S’s. You can see a link that below. Without a doubt, this is my number one recommended method to go about sleep training. My last two babies slept better earlier and with basically no crying. I am not against cry it out in principle and I know it works. I also know it is hard on the hearts of parents, and that is why I love the 4 S’s. It is an effective method to achieve the desired results while being very low-stress. If you want some guidance on cry it out, be sure to see my post 6 Rules for Using Cry it Out as a Baby Sleep Training Method.


Related Posts:

 5 reasons to establish healthy sleep habits

 5 sleep training tips

 What age should you start CIO?

 Optimal waketime lengths

 Cry It Out Bootcamp

 Sleep Training the 4 S's

 Optimal Waketime Lengths

 Sleep training and trust

valplowman

Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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