BabiesHouseholdHow ToParenting Styles

Ditching the Crib at 6 Months

“Thud! Thud! Thud!”

It came from the baby monitor: rhythmic, loud, and terrifying for a first time mom. I ran into my twin sons’ nursery and watched in horror as one of them repeatedly slammed his head into the end of the crib. He seemed bored and trying a new sensation on for size.

Apparently he liked it, so something needed to change.

I looked for ideas everywhere. Crib bumpers were out despite that their danger seemed overblown (27 deaths in 20 years compared to over 6,000 infant deaths in cars in a single year) because they only half-solved the problem. Though they protected his head, they did nothing for his boredom.

Soon, I found my solution: a Montessori floor bed, which is a mattress on the floor on which your baby sleeps and a childproof room that is also child friendly to alleviate boredom. I had no experience with this concept, but there were a ton of articles and examples which were useful in creating it. I knew ours wouldn’t be magazine picture perfect because I wanted to stick to a budget. Fortunately, the Montessori design for nurseries can be cheap.

Here are some of the components included in our floor-bed-centered nursery.

floorbed_aFloor Mattress:
We use a double futon mattress that gives the twins room to sprawl while also letting them touch hands while asleep. The larger size means we can snuggle for story time or bottles before sleeping, and I can sleep beside them on nights when they are frequently awake and need more support than usual. The futon mattress is thinner than a regular mattress making falls less jarring.

ExpeditLow Shelves with Quiet Toys:
I put some toys in the cubbies of a low Ikea shelf, and the rest live in the closet until they get rotated out into the room. The twins seem to do well with fewer choices when quietly playing

A Protected Space for Pinching and Corded Things:
A blocked corner has a rocking chair, an old iPod with a white noise app, baby monitor and speakers. These items are necessary for our nursery, but need to be off-limits to babies.

A Door Mirror Turned Horizontal and Mounted a few Inches From the Floor:
This is a classic Montessori thing, and the twins love it. It takes up no space and is easy to mount.

floor_bed2Out Of Reach Shelves with Diapering Supplies:
Supplies used to be in a dresser/changing table combo, but that’s not an option since roving babies pull things on themselves. So, I mounted cute cubby shelves at my head height, tucked the diapers and wipes in them, and the humidifier fits nicely on top of it all.

A Few Board Books Leaned Against the Wall:
Work on pre-literacy skills can begin in infancyrequire no expensive materials, and include “practice” reading, where young toddlers flip through books. There are wordless books and story books leaned against the wall of their room. My sons wave the books around, gnaw on the pages, and pretend to read them when playing before sleep at night or upon waking in the morning.

Placing the books cover out makes them more enticing, and I’m sure I could have made the cute bookshelf that seems standard in these rooms, but I have no time. So I lean them on the wall. My kids don’t seem bothered.

A Closet for Everything Else:
After some culling, it turned out they didn’t need a lot of the stuff we had, and I fit all their clothes, extra toys, more delicate books, and blankets in the closet.

But What About. . .Floor Bed Concerns

I tend to get the same questions repeatedly when I mention that my boys don’t use cribs. My responses are mostly based on my experience only, but that’s pretty much the point: babies are individual with unique needs, and this sleep situation fits ours.

1. You’ll get bugs and other floor nasties.

This is usually expressed with horror as in “On the floor are vermin and dust, and delicate lungs, eustachian tubes, and sinuses need a little distance from these.” and “This idea strikes me as one of those things that people do them and ask, “Why didn’t people do this before?” And then a roach crawls into their kid’s ear.” (Ask Metafilter). Obviously some climates don’t allow for a floor bed because of centipedes, and other crawling insects. But, centipedes aren’t an issue where we live and I see no reason to avoid using one because elsewhere it would be a problem. As for dust vermin and roaches, we use the same prevention crib nursery parents use for that: cleaning.

2. What happens when they roll off the mattress?

They hit the floor. Seriously, they roll off the mattress all the time, and go right on sleeping. It’s a futon mattress so it’s not much of a drop, and folded blankets around the bed, provide a small cushion.

photo credit: Deek)
“Reading” before nap time

3. They’ll never fall asleep with other things to play with.

With the crib, it took about an hour to get the boys to sleep–there was crying and wailing, not all of it coming from babies.

With the floor bed, it takes about an hour to get the boys to sleep–there is minimal crying.

We put them in bed, then hang out on the bed with their blankies and bottles enticingly visible and read while they move off the bed and play. This is no magic bullet–it still takes an hour. . .but it’s a more pleasant hour for everyone and did you catch the fact that I get time to read?

4. Won’t they wake each other up?

When one child wakes up, about 50% of the time, he rolls off the bed and entertains himself until his brother wakes. . .then they play. This buys me precious sleep time. Of course, about 50% of the time, he rolls over his brother or bites his brother to wake him up, which means both start screaming. When compared to the crib when they would wake up and cry/scream 100% of the time, this is awesome.

5. When you sleep in their bed, you will smoosh them and they will die.

It’s extremely unlikely because we practice safe co-sleeping, and because they are older babies/young toddlers. Since they wake frequently, I rarely go into deep sleep when with them. Further, with my son’s reflux occasionally causing him to choke at night, my presence means he gets help faster.

6. They will smoosh each other and they will get hurt.

Oh man, they roll over each other ALL the TIME. But sleeping on another body is uncomfortable, so they always roll off. And if they don’t do it fast enough, the other twin yells, or shoves his brother off. They’re fine.

7. It’s chilly at floor level.

Pajamas. Blankets. Central heat. Problem solved

Montessori Nursery8. There are a LOT of pillows on that bed. Won’t they suffocate?

I know that bare mattresses are safest for infants, that the NICHHD says that pillows are not safe for babies under 12 months, and some sites suggest waiting 2 years. The only reason we have so many pillows is because one of my sons has severe reflux and has to be positioned at an angle or he refluxes and chokes.

9. It’s weird

For those of us living in the United States, crib sleeping can seem like a universal norm, but it isn’t. Infant beds are a pretty culture-specific phenomenon, and babies around the world sleep much differently based on cultural tradition rather than hard-and-fast biology rules. There are several articles kicking around about this.

In the end, this works well for twins, fit babies’ sleep patterns and my parenting style. During the first months the twins were home, the floor bed bought me precious minutes of extra sleep when I was getting no more than a few hours each night.

I don’t dismiss parents who use cribs, because I know that is what works for their children. But I suspect there are some parents living in our crib-focused culture for whom cribs don’t work who don’t realize that there is a safe alternative that may work better for them, and that they don’t have to spend months “sleep training” a child who may simply do better in a different bed.

All nursery photos by Deek; please do not copy or reuse/reproduce.Crib photo by ValentinePowers, all rights reserved.


Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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  1. A really interesting solution. Wish I had know about this when a co-workers 12 month old twins learned to work together to get out of their crib. She was at a loss for what to do.

    1. I am occasionally amazed at how my little guys work together to accomplish things they really probably shouldn’t be doing even at such a young age. It can make me feel outnumbered sometimes, so I feel your co-workers pain on that (even if the specific situation is different).

  2. With the risk of sounding stupid… What happens if they wake at night? I have been considering something along these lines for some time now. Daughter in question is 16 months. Usually when she wakes at night, she cries for a short while (minutes, topmost) and then goes back to sleep. So I would add to ‘But what about… ‘: 10. Won’t they need you to put them back to bed at the middle of night every time they wake and wander off?
    (Stupid internet, I already feel the need to be defensive. I would like to state that we also tried going in immediately, but then we can’t come out without waking her so everyone’s night is ruined. Sleep is not straightforward around here.)

    1. It’s a great question. The short answer is that they don’t necessarily need me to put them back to bed if they wake and wander, but they usually don’t wander. They usually half wake up, cry and then roll over and go back to sleep. When they wake up fully, then I have to go in, but in those instances, they stay in bed.

      If I find them sleeping in the middle of the floor, I try to judge whether they’ll wake if I move them. The room is safe, so if they stay on the floor, it’s not a big deal (we keep it clean and it’s only slightly harder than the mattress of a pack and play). If I don’t think I can transfer them back to bed, I cover them with their blankie and put a folded blanket below them so they are comfortable.

      My guys are 15 months now and very rarely wander off the mattress during the night, even though they wake up a few times each night. I think that the main reason is that they are on a double mattress instead of a crib mattress or a single mattress so even if they roll a bit, they don’t end up on the floor.

      There are also folded blankets around the bed, so if they roll off a bit, they end up on a soft blanket and keep sleeping (as an aside, I had tried pillows around the bed at first and had a scare when I found one of my sons between the pillow and the bed sleeping. I worried that he could smother, so I only do blankets now).

      Most of the time when they wake up in the middle of the night, they do what your daughter does and cry for a minute and then go back to sleep–usually they change position, but they don’t roll off the bed. When I was researching the floor beds, I kept seeing parents say that their babies sort of naturally learned where the edges of the bed was and to control their bodies so they didn’t roll off. I was skeptical of that sort of claim, but my boys almost never rolled off the bed beyond the folded blankets after the first week. They change positions a fair amount, but not enough to leave the bed.

      When they DO fully wake up and need comfort/food in the middle of the night, they don’t really leave the bed. I have found that I can cuddle them or feed them to sleep without stressing about the dreaded “transfer to crib” problem because I don’t take them out of bed for either. Instead, I get in bed with them to feed/cuddle. So, it’s a little easier to leave without waking them. . .but not perfect.

      I don’t know if that helps. Here are some links blogs from other parents with floor beds that can give you more info. There are additional links in my post that can help give a picture of how these work, too:

  3. I am glad that you found something that worked for your kids.

    My daughter crawled out of the crib just before a year, and was horrified when she could not get back in on her own. That ended the crib right then and there. She never slept in it again. She liked the freedom to get and do what she needed too and the house was child proofed, well enough. She fell out of bed onto the floor a couple of times and that was really it. And it was just like said in the article, she would wake lightly then usually went right back to sleeping, now on the floor. 🙂 She wanted a regular bed and she took to that way better than she ever did the crib. Once going to bed was ‘her call’ she was less reluctant to go. The fight for seeing me and her Dad after bedtime had also ended. She could crawl out of bed if she wanted to, take a peek or get a hug and head strait back into bed. Usually she just stayed in bed. She found out we are pretty boring after hours. We both read, might as well be sleeping 🙂

    My sister’s daughter on the other hand loves her crib and it is the perfect sleeping arrangement for her. She is growing through the toddler stage and loves it. She can get in and out on her own and it is her ‘bed’.

    1. It took me forever to figure out the “it’s her call thing,” and I felt kind of like an idiot when I realized it because it seemed so obvious and it hadn’t occurred to me before.

      Even after we set up the floor bed, at first I tried to keep them in bed at their bedtime, and they got angry/frustrated. After a few days of this, I gave up one night and was like “fine, go play.” They played for a few minutes and then crawled up to the bed, flopped down with their blankies and looked at me like “ok, bottle please.”

      My friend’s daughter loved her crib too, by the way. She treated it like her own fort. The only way she got her into a “big girl” bed was to set it up like a fort too.

  4. I did this out of necessity from living in poverty. 6 people in a tiny house; only a mattress on the floor for me and my ex to sleep in. The “baby bed” was a mat made of tightly folded blankets (tight enough that they weren’t a choking hazard), right near our mattress. It probably never would have occurred to me if I had more space or money, but it was amazing – he felt comfortable and secure getting to be right next to us, and I got *more* sleep because I didn’t have to fully wake up in order to nurse him, and he didn’t have to fully rouse himself in order to wake me up either. He finally graduated to his own bed a year later after weaning (yay for housemate moving out and leaving us with more space), and there was no fuss whatsoever, since he already had full confidence in our ability to respond to his needs. I always leave the caveat that your milage may vary, but I encourage new parents to try it out.

    1. You said ” I got *more* sleep because I didn’t have to fully wake up in order to nurse him, and he didn’t have to fully rouse himself in order to wake me up either.” That extra sleep time was huge for me, and I have to think it was good for them too (though I don’t have any studies to back that).

      When they first switched to the mattress, I spent most of the night with them, and those extra minutes on either side of a feeding gained by them not waking fully (and therefore being easier to get back to sleep) added up and made a huge difference to me overall.

  5. I can’t lie but it drives me a little bit batty that something plenty of people have done around the world, throughout history for various reasons is for some reason credited as being “Montessori.” Also, I’m grumpy because the linked article about it has serious lack-of-citation issues, but I’m also awake against my will right now so I may be just extra cranky. (Whiiiiinnne)

    1. argh. That’s a good point, and I wish I’d have thought of it while writing this. The bedroom itself follows the Montessori ideas, but the floor bed is hardly her invention. Thank you for pointing it out.

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