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Verbal reassurance (VR) sleep training

Verbal reassurance (VR) sleep training

There are many different ways to encourage your baby to sleep better, and many different reasons why parents feel the time is right to encourage more sleep. At The Sleep Store we believe each family can make this decision for themselves, and our information is provided judgement free about which technique is right for you in your own unique situation.

The information in this article about the Verbal Reassurance technique is based on the work of the team at Sleepy Planet, authors of The Sleepeasy Solution Book Jill and Jennifer are family psychologists who have worked with thousands of families over the years and can recommend their techniques with confidence and expertise.

If you have made the decision that you all need some more sleep quickly and are aiming for your child to sleep through within a week, then this is the technique we suggest you look at first. While no-one in our team, or the Sleepy Planet team, like to hear a child crying, parents have their reasons for needing more sleep. Where your own health, your parenting or your child's well being is suffering from lack of sleep, our view is that you are better to use this effective and quick technique to help your baby learn to sleep rather than taking a slower or inconsistent approach that means your baby will still have poor sleep in weeks or months to come.

While you will certainly hear some crying, most babies respond quickly to this technique and within a couple of nights are sleeping far better and not waking up crying as they may have been for months. So think of the outcome of a baby who sleeps through the night without waking crying, rather than worrying about the possibility of some crying for a couple of nights.

However if you aren't in a hurry or your baby is under 6 months of age, please refer to our article on Gently encourage your baby to self settle.

What is the verbal reassurance technique?

This technique uses 'cold turkey' to wean off sleep associations such as rocking or feeding to sleep, rather than gradually weaning off such as in our gentle and gradual approach.

The basic idea is to check in on your baby at increasing intervals and provide a verbal prompt for them to go to sleep.

This helps your child to 'self-settle' or fall asleep without needing to be helped back to sleep.

Within a few nights your baby will learn they can get back to sleep every time they wake in the night without your help.

What can verbal reassurance help with?

  • Helping your child learn to fall asleep at bedtime

  • Learning to resettle during the night

  • Increasing the length of catnaps where baby wakes tired but struggles to resettle.

  • Weaning off sleep associations such as dummy use, feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep

When can I start using verbal reassurance?

The age you can start making changes to encourage better sleep varies widely depending on which book you read and which 'expert' you listen to!

We always recommend you start with our gradual approach to encouraging better sleep, particularly if your baby is under 6 months of age. Often small changes such as increasing the time between the last feed and bedtime, or using a cuddle rather than feed in the night, will mean that you don't actually need to use verbal reassurance.

This technique is most suitable from about 6-7 months of age, at which stage you could consider also dropping the 10pm dreamfeed.

However many of our customers have used this technique from 4-5 months, when it can encourage longer sleep very quickly. Under 6-7 months we recommend you continue with a dreamfeed or two dreamfeeds, however you are always the best judge of how many nightfeeds your baby needs or if they are ready to drop their feeds altogether.

We never recommend using this technique before 4 months old, if your baby is unwell or is not meeting their developmental and weight milestones. Please consult with your GP before starting any sort of sleep program.

However if you are at the point you know this is the tehcnique you want to use, the sooner you do it, the quicker your baby will be sleeping better. Don't assume your baby is going to start sleeping through the night are better to make some changes and teach your baby to sleep well!

How to do the 'verbal reassurance' technique

  • Put baby into bed awake (at least 5 minutes after last feed finished), dressed in an appropriate sleeping bag or sleepsuit so there is no loose bedding.

  • Turn on the white noise, ensure baby has plenty of dummies if she uses them and baby has a comforter to help her self settle.

  • Say your 'verbal reassurance phrase' such as 'night baby baby, see you in the morning' and leave the room.

  • Wait for 5 minutes then do your first 'check-in'.

  • Wait for 10 minutes then 'check-in'.

  • Wait for 15 minutes then 'check-in'.

  • Repeat every 15 minutes until your baby has gone quiet. If baby is quiet and settled, there is no need to check in as this may disturb her in the process of falling asleep.

  • Do the same thing every time your baby wakes in the night.

  • Also use for day sleeps if your baby has issues with catnapping, getting to sleep or has been relying on feeding or rocking to get to sleep.


What is a 'check-in'

Pop in to check your baby is OK for your own peace of mind and to reassure your baby you are there keeping an eye on her.

You are not aiming to help her calm down - with this technique you are just checking on her and reassuring her.

Tips for the most effective check-ins:

While you will want to pick up and cuddle your baby, and stop her crying, this can end up making things take longer. Sleepy Planet recommend that the most effective check-ins include the following points:

  • Do not pick-up, cuddle, pat physical contact or attempts to calm your baby down.

  • Say the same verbal reassurance phrase every time you go in.

  • Leave the room within 30 seconds...the check-in is very quick."

The verbal reassurance is not likely to calm your baby don't stand there saying it over and over, or thinking the technique isn't going to work as your baby is still screaming at you! The phrase gives you a simple plan and ensures you give your baby a consistent message, it's not magic!!

How often will I need to check-in on my baby?

Over 5 months of age, all babies wake fully between sleep cycles (about every 2 hours during the night). So it's very common for babies to wake 4-6 times or more each night and you will need to use the technique each time baby wakes.

So for the first night you may need to use check-ins multiple times during the night, which may initially take longer than your current technique of getting baby back to sleep (eg put in dummy, quick feed etc).

Within a couple of nights, the number of times your baby wakes will reduce and the number of check-ins you need to do will also drop quickly.

Consistency & Commitment

How consistently you implement this technique will determine first if it will work, and secondly how quickly it will have a good think about whether you are ready embark on using this technique.

We don't recommend starting with verbal reassurance if you don't think you can be consident or if it's not really the technique for you!

For example, if you really love having your baby sleeping in your bed, nursing whenever he needs to resettle, then the conditions and timing might not be right to start a sleep program and likely not verbal reassurance. If you would like to read more about this, read this excellent article by Elizabeth Pantley 'What is Preventing Your Baby From Sleeping Through The Night'.

Or use our gentle and gradual technique and make small, steady changes to encourage better sleep.


Start teaching your baby to self settle when you havehelp from your partner or a family member.

Make sure you are both committed to implementing the technique and won't do different things in the middle of the night, such as one partner deciding the baby needs feeding rather than continuing with the check-ins.

Make sure you have a clock or watch you can read in the dark. 10 minutes crying can sound like 2 hours in the middle of the night!

If at all possible, have your baby in their own room when you use this technique...even if this means you sleep in the lounge for a few nights or have another child camp in with you temporarily.

Check your baby is well, no sign of teeth coming through the gum and there are no underlying health issues that may effect your baby's ability to self settle.


How quickly will this work?

Your baby's sleep will likely be vastly improved within 3 days, and sleeping through the night by day 3-5. Some babies sleep is drastically improved after 1-2 nights.

Very occasionally we hear of babies who are still crying during the night after a week or more. But in almost every case the technique has been implemented inconsistently and/or the real sleep associations causing poor sleep have not been identified and addressed. For example, if you sometimes use verbal reassurance and sometimes feed baby in the night, your baby will not learn to sleep independently and resettle through the night.

Sleep associations, ie feeding to sleep

If you are currently feeding, rocking or holding your baby while she falls asleep, this is likely to be the main reason for any night-waking. Please read Sleep Associations and Self Settling for more info.

You will need to stop any sleep associations that need you there if you want your verbal reassurance to work effectively and quickly.

As an alternative, you may prefer to use a gradual process of weaning off feeding or rocking to sleep, which can avoid a lot of the crying but will take longer.

Read our info on feeding to sleep here.

Read our info on weaning off rocking to sleep here.

Will it work if my baby uses a dummy?

Yes you can certainly use verbal reassurance with a dummy:

Teach your baby to put it back in herself (you might want to work on this during the day before starting your sleep program).

Put several dummies in the cot so it is easier to find one.

Use a nightlight.

Do not put the dummy in yourself during the night - encourage your baby to do it for themselves.

Click here for more information on dummies.

Other handy tips

Start by looking at what sleep associations your baby has and can you gradually wean off these instead?

We recommend using a Safe T Sleep, Snug Sheet or Babe Sleeper in conjunction with this technique, as it means your baby won't be standing up or crawling round the cot.

Do a feed with your baby ASLEEP at about 10pm. This means your baby will have a full tummy to last the night and it will reassure you that she doesn't need any feeds in the night. If your feel your baby needs another feed during the night, you could do a second dreamfeed later in the night, eg at 4am.

Playing white noise on repeat can help.

Make sure your baby is sleeping in a suitable sleeping bag or sleepsuit, so you aren't using any loose bedding that may be unsafe or baby can kick off.

Introduce a comforter such as a Cuski prior to starting the program.

Are there any negative effects of verbal reassurance?

At The Sleep Store, our view is that families do best when everyone gets enough sleep...the negative effects of sleep deprivation are huge on both children and adults. So teaching your child to sleep is essential to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation, and verbal reassurance is the fastest and most reliable technique we have heard about. While it does often involve some periods of crying, parents are regularly checking on their baby and it works quickly, meaning overall time crying is often quickly reduced from constantly waking and crying before baby learnt to sleep.

There is a lot of information online about attachment parenting and reasons not to use 'sleep training', however there is also vast information about why sleep deprivation for parents is very dangerous over time. For example it has been reported that 5% of parents have fallen asleep while driving due to sleep deprivation! We believe parents are quite capable of making a judgement about whether they should use a slower, gradual approach to helping everyone sleep better or if they need to balance some short periods of crying against the need to have everyone get more sleep quickly.

Through our work with Sleepy Planet, the Sleep Health Foundation, Australasian Sleep Association and regular review of academic information on this topic, we are very confident that this technique is safe and effective when used for a few nights.

More information on Verbal Reassurance

If you are going to use this technique, we strongly recommend you invest in the wonderful Sleep Easy Solution DVD.

We highly recommend this DVD as it shows you the reasons why babies wake and cover the step by step plan to teach baby to sleep through using Verbal Reassurance. You will be able to see actual parents & babies going through the process of learning to self settle.

There are also audio CDs available for 1-2 years and 2-5 years, and the Sleepeasy Solution Book.

Need some more support?

Share your journey to better sleep for your family on our Facebook Group- there are heaps of parents in our group who have used this technique and can offer tips, advice and plenty of support. And our group is moderated by our team of experienced and supportive professional Sleep Coaches if you need some expert advice.

Good luck!

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