“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.
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.
Low 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.
Out 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 infancy, require 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.
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
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.