Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without. While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.
Or are they?
In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t. They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.“
Let’s start this series off with a bang, and tear down that ubiquitous piece of baby furniture, a nursery just isn’t a nursery without one:
Non-Essential #1: The Crib
Certainly the largest, and often the most expensive piece of “essential” baby equipment, a crib is something many of us do just fine without, thank you very much. While it is still the best option for some, we must not simply take it as a given that it should be the default choice for everybody.
The entire basic idea of an infant sleeping isolated in a crib in their own bedroom is a relatively modern one, and quite limited to western culture. And yet it is so entrenched in our collective consciousness, that it can be very difficult to conceive of doing things any other way.
One Alternative: Co-Sleeping
Co-sleeping is one obvious “natural” alternative. It allows for easier breastfeeding, better sleep for parents and infants, reassurance that your baby is right there for you to watch over and protect, and possibly even decreases the risk of SIDS. It has been practiced the world over for all of human history and continues to be the norm for up to 90% of the world’s population.
If you like the idea of co-sleeping but are hesitant because you’ve heard the negative propaganda against it, consider this: Thousands of babies die each year in cribs (from SIDS or from crib-related accidents), and a few dozen babies die annually while “co-sleeping”. Even when we account for the possibility that babies sleep in cribs more often than in family beds, these numbers are still striking. Despite this, we’re not told to stop using cribs; authorities respond with extensive “crib safety” checklists and assurances that cribs are absolutely the only safe place for babies to sleep. They do not provide us with an equivalent “safe co-sleeping” checklist, however. We are told to stop co-sleeping completely, with sweeping and sensationalistic warnings that co-sleeping is always dangerous and should never, never, ever ever ever be done. Did we mention… ever??
This mentality is actually more dangerous, since a great many parents end up bringing their babies to bed with them, at least occasionally, out of desperation, exhausted. They never planned or wanted to, believing what they had heard about the dangers, and never having learned the safety precautions (one of which is, do not co-sleep when exhausted). Not only do they end up feeling guilty, but they could unintentionally create an unsafe environment. Our modern adult beds and typical sleeping arrangements are, in fact, not designed with infant safety in mind. So it is of vital importance to spread awareness of co-sleeping safety, rather than ignorance and fear.
In May 1999, the Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC] released a warning against cosleeping or putting babies to sleep on adult beds that was based on a study of death reports of children under the age of two who had died from 1980 to 1997. Among the 2,178 deaths by unintentional strangulation in the Commission’s study were 180 young children who had died from being overlain on a sofa or bed. In another analysis of CPSC data it was found that of 515 deaths in an adult bed, 121 of these were the result of overlying and 394 children died as a result of entrapment in the structure of the bed (Heinig, 2000). The CPSC statistics resulted in a media frenzy discouraging cosleeping which, instead of educating the public on how to share sleep safely, chose to alarm parents. Neither media announcement mentioned the 2,700 infants that died in the final year of that study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS], formerly called “crib death”; the vast majority of those infants died alone in their cribs (Seabrook, 1999). (2001 Tami E. Breazeal)
Another Alternative: The Floor Bed
Even if co-sleeping isn’t right for you (and it certainly isn’t right for every family), you can still question the need to keep your baby in what is essentially an elevated cage. Babies are just as well off, in fact, on a simple mattress on the floor. The bars which are there for ‘safety’ are only necessary because the baby is so high up. And they’re only that high up in the first place as a convenience to parents, so we don’t have to bend over to put our babies in.
A regular mattress on the floor provides several advantages. You are not limited to standing beside the crib, patting your fussy baby’s back. You can lie down with your baby, whether just staying with them or nursing them to sleep while side-lying, and easily slip away after they’ve drifted off. Or perhaps you would prefer to sit on the mattress to nurse them to sleep, then gently lay them down – this is far easier than having to stand up from your chair, walk over to the crib, and reach baby down to the crib mattress (all without waking him!!) And of course, being on the floor already, there is no danger of injury from either falling off, or entrapment within the bars.
From the floor mattress, baby has better view of her entire room, not just the ceiling and bars, and thus has more visual stimulation. Many believe that babies are actually calmer and less stressed. As baby becomes a toddler, it is greatly to their advantage to have the freedom be able to get in and out of their beds by their own will, rather than experiencing the powerlessness of having to cry and wait for an adult to respond. This promotes independence and self-fulfillment and is notably endorsed by the philosophies of child-rights and development pioneer, Dr. Maria Montessori.
If you do choose a mattress on the floor, the usual safety checklists still apply, of course. No pillows, blankets, toys, etc, that you would not have in a family bed or in a crib, and ensure that entrapment between the mattress and a wall is not a possibility. If you would like something a little nicer than just a mattress, you can build your own, or purchase a ready-made floor bed.
Both co-sleeping and floor beds are solutions that use fewer resources, cost less money, and quite probably result in happier, more secure children (and thus, eventually, adults). So dare to think outside the baby cage box: question the crib!
Be sure to check out Part 2: Infant Car Seats, Part 3: Strollers, Part 4: Diapers, Part 5: Baby Bathtubs, Part 6: Baby Brain Boosters, and Part 7: Baby Food.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo: Valentina Powers under creative commons.
Mindful Momma says
I’m so glad you are writing about this! It is unfortunate that so many people are pressured into thinking that they need every little piece of baby gear. Wipe warmer anyone???
Neither of these are options for us. My bed is sacred to my husband and myself, and it’s essential for our marriage to have the haven away from the baby. When would we ever have “Mommy Daddy time” with a baby in our bed??? And I’m not even talking about just sex… there’s cuddling and pillow talk, which is essential to the intimacy of our relationship and marriage. And I believe a secure and happy marriage is one of the best gifts I can give to my baby.
As for the floor mattress, that would have worked… until she started rolling (which she started to do at about 3 months). Every morning we find our baby in one of the corners of her crib, despite laying her down in the middle of it the night before. Without “the cage”, she would have rolled off the mattress and woken herself — and us — up several times each night.
So the crib is absolutely essential for our family to stay well-rested and therefore happy and healthy. The baby’s crib is bare except for her fitted sheet (no bumpers, etc.) and we use an organic mattress and bedding. And we keep a small fan in there for air circulation. Plus, we’re VERY lucky in that she’s been sleeping all night since she was about 8 weeks old. I’m not saying it’s for everyone (no judging here!!), but that’s what works for us.
I am so glad you wrote about this. We co-slept with our now 11 month old until he was about 8 months old and got too tossy & turny for a good nights sleep. This was great for breastfeeding. I had heard all the bad stuff about it and we didn’t really plan on co-sleeping, but once we started we saw all of the advantages and loved it. I would recommend it to anyone.
We had his “child bed” (aka mattress on the floor) all ready for him since birth, but just didn’t use it until he was about 8 months old. We have never had problem with him falling out of it, we put pillows on the floor next to the mattress and we also had an area rug down. I just admitted to our ped. that we didn’t use a crib and she was horrified. I wish more people were aware of these options. It has worked VERY well for us.
A mattress on the floor has worked great for us. We can lay down with our baby when we want to, he can play on his bed, and story time can accomodate siblings. I think cribs are really overrated.
We have a floor family bed. Our daughter is a “sleep crawler,” so it’s essential that she not be high up off of the ground. My husband and I have great intimacy. We snuggle and talk and laugh every night in bed. And we do other things, too. My husband loves having our daughter in bed with us. The first thing he said this morning was how sweet it was to snuggle with me and with our daughter last night. It was clear from early on, that our daughter slept the best with us. Having a family bed is the only way that we all sleep well at night.
Jamie Ervin says
My first never slept in the crib (which was a hand down from a family member). Baby #2 spent naptime in the crib because I lost the luxury of snuggling on the couch with my sleeping infant while I had a toddler running around the house. Baby #3 wouldn’t sleep with me! I tried for the first several months and we didn’t do well… so she started sleeping in her crib (next to my bed) at 6 months of age (she also has since been diagnosed with SPD and is on the Autism Spectrum, so not a typical child). I could have skipped the crib for sure with my first (and the bassinet my MIL purchased for me was NEVER used). I think if you have a sling, a safe carseat, cloth nappies and some comfy jammies you really have what you need. The rest is extra.
In regards to sleeping on the floor, what do you do about a wandering baby? I’d be afraid I would not hear him get out of the bed and be subject to some unforseen danger. Currently we cosleep in my bed, but falling out is becoming a concern (if wakes up and crawls off). But at least I’d hear the boom. Thanks.
Dot G says
We co-slept our first baby, and it nearly ruined our relationship, our jobs, etc. We were exhausted all the time, and so too was the baby. There was zero intimacy (how can there be?)
My brother and his wife still co-sleep (and breast feed) their 2.5 year old). I can’t imagine that. They don’t seem happy.
Co-sleeping might be more eco friendly, but so is skipping toilet paper, not bathing, etc. It sure wasn’t for us. Probably the most eco-friendly side benefit of co-sleeping is that it all but guarantees an only child!
A side comment on the crib debate is that the CPSC and other regulatory bodies make cribs far less eco-friendly every year. Like car seats and other “safety” items, cribs are required to be massively over-engineered. Additionally, the rules for acceptable cribs change every year, so even the baby buying guides strongly caution against buying or using a used crib. Every new mom is frightened into buying a new crib.
Anne G says
I am all for the floor bed option, but my concern is the pets. At least with a crib I can be fairly certain the cats won’t be able to get in, at least until I’m sure the cats can be trusted not to curl up asleep on top of my sleeping baby.
Heather Dunham says
Actually, cats can get into cribs just as easily as they can get onto floor beds. http://www.allsands.com/pets/cats/catandbaby_zun_gn.htm
There is a SLIM risk of cats with babies, and this needs to be monitored wherever the baby is, until the baby is old enough to maneuver itself out of the way, strong enough to wriggle until the cat gets off! It’s similar to the issue with blankets — not to be used until the baby is old enough to take them off himself.
We do have two cats, and it’s never been a problem for us. They tended to curl up NEAR the baby to keep an eye on her, but never next to or on top of her. Now that she’s not a baby anymore, though, they do now heh – and of course, all cats are different, some truly are not to be trusted!
I’m more comfortable with a tiny infant next to me, where *I* can keep the cats away, than if she were in another room, in a crib or floor bed or whatever, until she’s old enough to be safe on her own.
Crimson Wife says
We co-slept with #1 by default for 6 mos because it was the only way we could get her to sleep at all. We had to move her to a crib when she became mobile though. #2 and #3 were in a Moses basket on the floor next to our bed at first, and then in the crib.
The thing I disliked about co-sleeping was having to remove all the pillows & the comforter from our bed for safety reasons.
Would you explain the logistics of co-sleeping with the parents? Does the baby go in the middle or side (and how doesn’t s/he fall off)? Are blankets or pillows allowed? Does there need to be side railings or something like that? Thanks!
We have been sleeping with our 10 month old son for about 5 months now. He used to be fine in his crib but as soon as he stopped taking a pacifier, he stopped sleeping alone. Last night he fell off the bed and I believe we have to do something so we’re going to try the crib mattress on the floor because he absolutely hates being in his crib and we love falling asleep with him. I can see falling asleep with him in our bed and then transferring him to a mattress on the floor working well for us. Thank you for this article. I get so many comments about how we have a “spoiled” child and so on. I know many adults who don’t like to sleep alone and it has nothing to do with how they slept as babies. It’s just personality I think. I know if my son enjoyed being in his crib, we would’ve left him there. I think the important thing here is to follow your instincts as parents. Don’t change the way you do things just because of what other people advise or say. Every baby is different, a little flexibility is in order. They won’t be this little forever.
Cat Rennolds says
My husband came up with a great pet-safe zone, originally because he has allergies if the pets sleep on his bed, but it works great with the baby; we put a screen door up in her room! You can hear baby wake from a nap, and when I am sleeping in there, I can hear the rest of the house. It also means one room with no pet hair in the carpet, so half the time baby and I take our naps on the floor together when we’re done with tummy time!
And two of our three cats would curl up ON baby if we let them; they tried it when she was in my lap, and in the bassinet:) They love her a little TOO much!
As far as co-sleeping, my husband can’t sleep with baby in the bed because he’s so worried he will roll over on her that he keeps waking himself up to check! But he agrees that it’s good for her, and I’m breastfeeding, so there’s a grown-up bed in baby’s room as well as her crib. I am gradually training her to sleep in the crib because she is getting big enough to wander, and because it gives me time with my spouse, but she still spends most of the night with me.
What do parents who co-sleep at night do for naps? I’m worried with a mattress on the floor that the baby would get hurt (our 2nd bedroom, for example, has bookcases, desks, chairs) because we live in a small apartment. Thanks!
Lori Ann says
My husband and I are thinking through this right now, since I’m pregnant with our first.
I definitely want the baby sleeping in our room and want to breastfeed throughout the night without much interruption.
However, I don’t feel we ‘qualify’ for safe co-sleeping… I am a very, very, sound sleeper, and my husband says he often has to move me off his arm during the night (this doesn’t wake me). We also use a soft foam-top mattress because of some back issues he has, and do not have heating (so we use lots of blankets and comforters in ADDITION to being bundled up in long underwear and layers of clothing).
So, I’ve been looking at things like the Nature’s Sway baby hammocks, bassinets, and moses baskets.
Anyway, thanks for sharing the mattress on the floor option. I’d already planned to use a (twin bed) mattress on the floor once the child moved into her own room, but hadn’t thought about it with her as a baby. A good option for us to consider!!
Our 6-month-old daughter sleeps in her pack n play for naps and in the evening before my husband and I go to bed. If she wakes up around when we’re going to bed, she joins us, and if not, my husbands gets her when she does wake up.
I know the first thing people think when they hear about co-sleeping is “How will we have sex??” but you should ask yourself how any couple with a child had sex before the proliferation of multi-bedroom houses. Native Americans? Pioneers? It happens, or most of us wouldn’t be here.
i have 5 children that range in age from 16y down to 19m, i have slept with every one of my babies and wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. when i find myself “wishing” for more time with hubby or more space in bed, i remember that these babies are only babies for a short time.
Elevated cages? I’ve yet to see someone write a pro-cosleeping article without knocking the AAP-approved, conventional and also safe practices. There is room for all types of parenting, sleeping, and feeding. I hope that knocking down what others do makes you feel better about yourself.
Anna P. says
I used a crib for my 1st child but won’t be buying one for our 2nd. I want to use a safe organic mattress and don’t see the sense in putting it in a crib that’s leaching who-knows-what chemicals into the air. Besides, we don’t have the space to put one up anyway. Co-sleeping worked for #1 for many months and we were both happier that way.
Prior to my baby being born I thought we would be parenting in the traditional Western sense. The moment he was born I knew there was no way I could have him sleeping alone in his own room let alone his own bed. I wish we had never bought a crib. I have it set up in our room and baby spends part of the night in there and part in our bed. But now at ten months old I am considering just moving him onto a mattress on the floor beside our bed. During the day I give him the freedom to move about the house as he pleases, why wouldn’t I show him that same respect at night time. I wake moments before he does at night already so I am not concerned about him roaming the house and hurting himself. Thanks for posting this, I wish I read it a year ago.
We are pregnant with our first and considering having the baby sleep in the room with us in a bassinet or co-sleeper for the first 6 or so months, then moving him to a floor bed in the nursery.
I discussed it with my mom and she was pretty resistant with the idea! one of her questions was what happens when the baby gets used to being able to leave the bed and explore the room at any time, and then he has to sleep at grandmas house, or we travel or there is some other situation where the usual sleeping arrangement is not possible. wouldnt he get frustratef, bored, etc?
Also, how do you minimize the urge to play too much when it’s time to sleep? If the baby is a roller, how do you keep him from waking up multiple times a night if he keeps rolling himself off the bed (or can you)? How high should the mattress be? I’ve seen examples from a think 2 inch mat to a regular twin mattress (which i think would not be a good idea as it seems too high if the baby were to roll off!). What about the possibility of mattress mold? Even if you babyproof the whole nursery, it still seems like a much harder place to control than just a crib. How do you make absolutely sure that a little baby will be completely safe crawling around in there on their own?
Sorry for so many questions. I really like this idea, as i’m not a huge fan of cribs, but I want to know as much as possible and be safe! Sometimes it feels a bit overwhelming to do something like a floor bed. And there are tons of cribs that havent caused accidents. And if they have been used for so long and are so standard in a nursery, there is obviously something that works…
Jennifer Lance says
My babies never had the urge to play. The bed was for sleeping, and as long as you make it so, they learn. If you use the bad for playing, then the baby will learn that is where play happens. My mother also coslept with my toddlers when she watched them.
I know this is a very old post, but I’m searching about for information, tips and advice. My 1st is 5 months next week and once she outgrew her Moses basket before 3 months we’ve had her on a mattress on the floor in our room, a playmat in the livingroom for naps and currently on a 5 week holiday we’ve created a mattress out of towels, didymos wraps and her quilt! Most people think we’re cracked and she’s not crawling yet so she doesn’t wiggle too far (though we’ve had several nights where she’s wiggled off her mattress…we have a crinkle playmatt under it so we usually hear her).
Carolina, I’m curious to hear whether you went with the mattress option and if so how it all went for you, things to look out for, etc.
Our plan for our return home (and when both mom and dad can bear it) when she’s about 7 months, is to put her in her own totally baby-proofed room on mattress on the floor.
Most North Americans and Brits (partner is a Brit) give us strange looks for sleeping DD on the floor, but interstingly many of our Asian and African friends think it is perfectly normal (we live and work abroad, but not in a country where floor sleeping is the norm).
Thus far we’ve found the mattress on the floor of our room to be working (partner is a deep sleeper and I’m a flailing sleeper so co-sleeping wasn’t an option), and we like the idea of avoiding cribs, especially as we have family on 2 continents and travel a lot and won’t always have access to a crib when we’re away. However, I’m curious how it might work out in the long run and would love to hear from anyone who opted in to the floor option.
Congratulations on your baby =)
We ended up deciding to go for the floor bed. I feel much more confident about it now after we have had some time with our baby. she just turned 6 months! But instead of a moses basket, we ended up getting a large cot that stays in our room. At the moment she is still sleeping in the cot in our room, and sometimes on the bed with us (although usually just after her last waking). She started waking up much more often at night, so we decided to keep her in our room with us until she is sleeping longer stretches, before trying to move her to a mattress and a different room. So I can’t tell you what it has been like yet, unfortunately! But we’re confident that it will be great. Our families are still unsure, but we’re holding fast to our belief that this is the best option for us. We’ll see how it goes!
It sounds like your baby is doing great on the mattress so far, so keep it up! good luck!
Whatever happened to the box bed? My grandfather was a finish carpent (the kind who would do fine work life framing windows
as well as framing houses and made a craddle that could be lifted off the rockers to sit on the floor.
My mom said this actually made a very convenient bed after the baby was to big for the craddle. I’m the oldest grandchild and I
think I slept in a dresser drew the first few days home from the hospital before the cradle was finished. There was also
a box, just a wooden box about 2ft wide and three or four feet long my parents used when for a road trip from
California to Lousiana when I was 18 months old, and as a protable bed around town too. (They were driving a van.)
I stayed with a friend on a militay base when she had her first baby. She was pretty sick, in and out of ER several times, couldn’t
eat or sleep without drugs that weren’t nursing friendly ect, and husband was packing parachutes of detonating explosives, not
exaclty the someone you want frazzled and sleep deprived so the baby generally slept with me. They had a spare bed with a normal
mattress, a comforter and pillows. I’m a heavy sleeper and I move alot at night. At first I was afraid I might over lay the baby,
so I just slept on my back and put him on my chest, impossible to squish him in that position. It was hard, to force myself to
sleep the whole night on my back because I’m naturally a stomach sleeper, but he loved it, and I got used to it. After a while I
realized I wouldn’t roll over and sleep on him and sometimes I would put him next to me. Most nights I’d start out in the middle
with him next to me, and when he bumped into me I’d roll away to give him more room. But since I wieghed more than a hundered
pounds and he weighed ten he would fall into the dip I created and bump into me making me move over agian, and I’d wake up wedged
along the very edge of the bed. It was a little like waking up wedged into a corner while your 12 pound cat has somehow managed to
steal the entire bed. Somehow even though I was comotose, my body was always very aware of where the baby was, so I’m not
worried to sleep with my own child. I should probably mention the parents and I were both under 23.
portable bed. Gah. Can’t type today
I got a crib from a family friend and decided it worked best as a co-sleeper next to the bed. We took off the side and attached it to our bed so we can co-sleep but not give up our space in the bed (hubby didn’t like that part). It’s been so great!
Converting a crib sounds great for cosleeping and might do that as a backup. I just purchased a hammock and think that might work the best for SIDS provention as they cannot role over and the fabric is thin and circulates air. (Special Delivery from Hawaii) I went with them over other hammock companies as they had incline issues, pad inserts and thick fabrics that seemed like too much a risk. Surprisingly I was sold on the idea of hammocks after watching a YouTube video of a lot of foreign women using it for their babies. They use breathable fabrics and I think it does the same thing a crib, bouncer, vibrating seat does for a lot less.
Personally I find it crazy that baby items are tested after they are sold to the public, not before. You are the guinea pig. Second, most of the concerns on these cribs are due to falling hazards, whereas floor sleeping would alleviate all of that, no?
Kelly B says
I love this post! My husband and I are planning on not having a crib, co-sleeping and setting up our babies room Montessori style with the floor bed and family and friends look at us like we’re crazy! I don’t see what the big deal with cribs are. I see them as little baby prisons lol. I plan to baby proof her room and put up the baby gate instead of the door so there won’t be any concern over her safety when she is read to transition to her own bed. My question is what kind of floor bed do you recommend? I think a twin size would be best so she can grow with it and I can nurse her at night if she needs. Also, when co-sleeping did you use an arms reach or just have them in the bed with you? Thanks!