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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Montessori Floorbed? Our Baby's Sleep Arrangement

Recently I posted a photo of my son's Montessori style floorbed on Instagram, and several of my followers showed interest in knowing more about it. So, although I am unable to fully get all the details in one page, I am going to attempt to summarize the basics of how we learned about floor beds, why we decided to try it, some of the unforseen difficulties, and ultimately, why we plan to do the exact same thing with any future kids we might be blessed enough to raise.

First of all, the floor bed wasn't fully planned from the get-go. When I was pregnant with Theodore, we intended to have a crib for him. We knew he and I would co-sleep for at least 3-4 months though, so we really weren't too concerned with getting a crib right away. It wasn't a priority.

When Teddy came home from the hospital, he slept in bed with me and my husband (Zach), and I kept his bassinet/cradle right next to me. For a few weeks I was able to nurse him on and off throughout the night and then put him back in his cradle, keeping him an arms reach away. We used the cradle for naps sometimes as well, so that I could have time to shower and eat while he was sleeping. Pretty soon though, Teddy decided he much preferred sleeping in my arms, and didn't want to be placed back in his cradle after nursing. And to be honest, I preferred it too. We also discovered that he had reflux, and part of the reason he wanted to be held was because when he slept inclined on my chest, or propped up on my arm, it eased his discomfort. (Side Note: Months later, after many trials and errors, we finally discovered that Teddy's reflux was caused by allergies to foods I was eating, but for a long time, we were unable to figure out the exact culprits. So during that time, my mommy instincts told me that the best thing to do was to try and make him as comfortable as possible, until we could figure out exactly how to solve the problem.)

During those first few weeks, my husband was able to stay home with us and help me through the sleep deprivation and body aches, as I healed from the general soreness of childbirth, and adjusted to my new role. He was my hero.  My real life knight in shining armor, bringing me snacks while I nursed Teddy, tirelessly holding my hand while we navigated the painful phase of breastfeeding, changing diapers, truly saving me day in and day out.

And then he went back to work.

At the time, Zach was working some odd hours, sometimes waking up at 3:30 or 4 am in order to drive out of town for work. He also stayed in a hotel when he was working away from home, which meant Teddy and I were by ourselves many nights. I decided to sleep in the nursery when we were alone. It made diaper changes easier. We still had a twin bed in the nursery because prior to having Teddy, we used it as a spare room. And I had also spent some nights there during my third trimester, because pregnancy sleep was impossible, and between my tossing and turning, and getting up every half hour to pee, I was concerned about keeping Zach awake, which in turn made it even more difficult to fall asleep (even though Zach literally never complained). So having the twin bed in Teddy's room sort of worked out perfectly. Teddy and I loved having our own space, we could coo at each other in the dark of the night, move around as much as we wanted to get comfy, and I didn't really feel the need to try and be quiet while burping/changing him, because when Zach was home, he was sleeping in the other room. It was also more physically comfortable for all three of us, with Teddy and I having our own sleep space. Zach and I had always shared a queen bed, and while that worked fine for the two of us, it wasn't easy for us both to sleep well with Teddy in bed also. So this was really the perfect solution, we were all much happier and getting more sleep than we had before.

Once we got used to the new arrangement, I began trying my hand at the old "nurse, and roll away" tactic, when Teddy was napping and I wanted to get up and do things. He was not even close to mobile, but I would still block the edge of the bed, just in case. When he became more mobile, we realized we would either need to get a crib, or figure something else out, because we didn't want him rolling off the bed and getting hurt. It was around this time that I was also looking at DIY baby tee-pees online. I wanted to make one for Teddy eventually, like a little playhouse for his room, and when I typed the words into the Pinterest search bar, keywords "baby" and "teepee" brought up a blog post by Lauren Hartmann, about her daughter Fern's floor bed. I was elated! Someone else had already written a blog post about the exact solution to my problem, and I stumbled upon it accidentally. What luck! I read about her floor bed experience, and then I began researching more floor bed stories. I realized this was a common practice in the Montessori world (which I had heard of, and was curious about), as well as in other cultures. So I told Zach about the idea, and we decided to remove the twin bed frame/box spring from underneath the bed Teddy and I had been sleeping on, and we put the mattress directly on the floor. I folded quilts and blankets to put around the edge so that if Teddy ever did roll off (which surprisingly, he didn't), he'd have a nice soft landing. This made me much more comfortable leaving the room if I had to use the bathroom or eat a snack. We thought of this as a temporary solution and still had the crib in the back of our minds. But as time went on, we started getting used to the idea that a crib wasn't 100% necessary. Plus, we figured the later transition to a big kid bed would likely be pretty simple for Teddy, since not a whole lot would be changing.

This initial change from twin bed to floor bed took place right around the time Teddy turned 4 months old. He had been sleeping with me since he was born, and pretty soon would be sleeping on his own! This was also the time Zach and I were looking for a new place to live, out of state. We knew we wanted to leave California, and we had our sights set on Idaho, after having visited on vacation two years prior. Because we knew we would be moving soon, the thought of not having to buy a crib seemed even more appealing, and we became fully committed to the idea of the floorbed, planning Teddy's room in the new house to accommodate one. We had a Pack n' Play, so we knew that was an option if we ever needed to put Teddy in a temporary safe spot to sleep/nap in, until we had his room set up at the new house. Once we found a rental and had a moving date, we decided it was time for me to end the co-sleeping arrangement. We were moving in one month, and Teddy's sleep habits were not ideal.

By this time, Teddy was almost 5 months old, and he was beginning to sleep less and less, refusing to be put to bed by anyone besides me, refusing bottles of my breast milk, refusing to sleep unless I was laying with him,  and was just generally an overly tired, cranky baby. He would only sleep if I was nursing or holding him, and I was exhausted. I didn't know how I was going to pack up the house and move across state with a baby who cried every time he left my arms. I tried baby wearing, but even that didn't work for me long term. It was ok sometimes, but it wasn't a solution. After many lengthy discussions with friends and family who had already raised kids, we decided it was time to try something new. We thought with all the big changes coming up, a new house, Teddy having a new room, it might be easier to make the transition to a new room if he was already used to sleeping on his own before the move. At the time, it was the hardest thing in the world for me. I hated having a wall in between my baby and me. But looking back now, I am so glad we did it at that time. It took some getting used to at first, but we stuck with it, and by the time we left the old house, Teddy was a sleep champ. We moved one month later and he transitioned to his new home with ease. I was able to finally start sleeping more. He had gone from waking up every 30-45 minutes in the night, to sleeping 4-5 hour stretches, once he realized that night time wasn't an all you can eat boobie buffet.

Age 5 months. Consistently napping on his floor bed (Pre-crawling phase!)
At this stage, having a floor bed really wasn't much different than having a crib, because Teddy wasn't moving around too much. He would roll around a little bit, but for the most part, he was a late bloomer when it came to the mobility milestones. In the early phases of floor bed, the biggest positive for us was the fact that there was absolutely zero risk of our son getting his limbs stuck in between crib rails. If an actual crib mattress is used (which many people do) it's even more similar. The only reasons we went with the twin was because we already had one, and were planning to keep it for Theodore's toddler bed. The twin also made a perfect place for me to lay down with Teddy during night time and early morning nursing sessions. The other obvious difference between a crib and a floor bed, is that there is a chance the child could roll off the edge of the bed. If a low crib mattress is used,  they are only about 4 inches off the floor, and folded blankets around the sides can further cushion the landing if desired. But from what I've heard, most babies only roll off a couple of times, and many of them don't even wake up. I think Teddy may have rolled off once or twice at the new house, but it's hard to tell because it was around the same time he started scooting, and was practicing getting out of bed on his own anyways.

Waking up in his new room! Age 6 mo.
Once we got to the new house, I prepared Theodore's room so that when he did start really scooting around, there were no dangers. His dresser went in the closet, and there were only a couple of electronic devices, which were kept out of reach because I gated off the corner of his room where they were plugged in. He had a white noise machine, baby monitor, and a humidifier. When he started really crawling, I realized he could probably move the gate if he tried hard enough, so I took all the items with cords out of his room, removed the baby gate, and made him a special area in one corner, where I could sit and nurse him, read books, and snuggle before bed time. We call that area his "reading nook" and it has a soft rug to lay on, some blankets, and a few pillows.

One of the drawbacks to having a floor bed, is the lack of adult-related things you can keep in the room once the baby is able to move around. A baby monitor, for example (unless it is wired way up high, out of children's reach) or comfort items like a fan, heater, etc. These aren't really a big deal to do without, but when you think of a modern nursery, you think of these things being readily available, a rocking chair, a place to plug your phone in while nursing, a night light or lamp. But with a Montessori room, the room is for the child, not the grownups. So all the outlets are covered and there's nothing in the room that could pose a potential danger if the child were to crawl underneath or begin climbing on it.
Teddy's "Reading Nook" 

At this point you're probably wondering, what about when they are mobile? How the heck do you keep the kid in bed?? Well, you don't really. The idea is to allow them to have the freedom to move around, to explore their surroundings, and eventually to learn that the bed is for sleep. It's the exact opposite of a crib where the child is prevented from movement, and therefore sleeps because there is no other option. With a floor bed, the hope is that at some point, the child learns that when they are tired, they can simply go to bed. I think the first time Teddy put himself to bed completely on his own, he was around 10 months old. It isn't something he does all the time, but every once in a while he does do it. Generally, he likes to be tucked in, so he comes to one of us to let us know he's tired, and we take him to bed and give him kisses. But there are times when even after we leave the room, we hear him get out of bed to play with his toys for a while before finally deciding to go to sleep on his own. And we encourage this, because he is learning that sleep is a choice just like everything else. And he can choose to go to bed when he is ready.

Now for the biggest struggle we have had with the floor bed, the scooting phase:

The phase when Teddy learned he could get himself out of bed and transport himself across the room by scooting was by far the most complicated. I think he may have been around 7 or 8 months old. There was about a 3 week gap in between the time he learned how to get out of his bed, and when he finally learned to climb back into bed. It may have been easier for him if we had been using a crib mattress, because those are smaller, but we decided to just stay consistent and stick with what he was used to. "He'll figure it out eventually" was a basic household mantra during this time.

During wake times, this phase was great. It was amazing when Teddy would wake up early in the morning and not need anything from us for about 30 minutes, sometimes up to an hour! We would wake to hear him cooing and playing, I could hear him from our room. He'd have his books, teethers, or plush toys and be just scooting around like the happiest little guy on the planet, and us tired parents, we could continue sleeping! (Or "dozing" as I like to say, because I can never fully fall asleep when I know Theodore is awake.) These were the most rewarding moments for us, truly magical. To hear our little dude in there all proud of himself, happily playing, independently self-entertained, it was a real treat. All of our concerns and constant questioning whether we had made the right choices were slipping away. We felt validated, a sigh of relief knowing that real growth was happening right before our very eyes. Nap time, on the other hand, was a different story. Naps were hard. Really hard.

At night, Teddy would generally go to sleep where we put him, and only get out of bed if he was hungry or needed a diaper change. Night time sleep wasn't too difficult, in my opinion, during this phase, he was tired from the day, it was dark, he had a routine, it was sort of a given that he was going to fall asleep and stay asleep for at least 4 hours. But naps, wowza. What a rollercoaster. We had days when we contemplated putting him in a crib. We didn't know if we were doing something wrong, or if this was just a normal part of babyhood. Teddy would be so SO tired, showing obvious signs of sleepiness, in desperate need of a nap, and then spring back to action as soon as we put him to bed. Every day was different. Some days he would cry at nap time, other days he would play in his room for an hour and never fall asleep, other days he would fall asleep in weird places on the floor, and some times I would just give up and take him on a car ride or stroller walk because I was at my wits end, and I knew he needed to sleep, but didn't know how to help him get there. We tried putting him to bed earlier, keeping him awake longer, feeding him more, any advice we got, we tried. Also, you should know, during this time Teddy never liked being rocked or held to sleep. Apart from the newborn phase when he was constantly nursing, he generally would get fussy and cranky if we tried to rock him or soothe him to sleep. He never took a pacifier, hated bottles, and didn't want to be held. Even nursing him to sleep was no longer and option because he was always wanting to play with mommy after eating, instead of going to sleep.

For me, this was rough. I always have leaned more towards the attachment parenting side, while Zach is more of a tough love kind of guy. It actually works out pretty well for us as a family, because there's a nice balance. If I had been on my own, I would have driven myself nuts trying to prevent Teddy from EVER crying. Although, it never would have worked because he didn't even like being snuggled or rocked at that time. So my attempts to comfort him were futile. I hated seeing him tired or upset, but Zach helped me learn that sometimes we have to struggle a little bit in order to come out stronger on the other side. So there were some tears at times, both from me and from Theodore, while we experimented and learned how to best help our baby get some rest, but it worked out for the best. We had attempted all kinds of different ways to get Teddy to nap, sometimes trying my ideas, sometimes Zach's ideas. But ultimately, it had to be Theodore's choice. He had to decide on his own when he was ready for sleep. The one thing that we both think probably helped him the most, was to simply enter his room and put him back in bed every time he got up. He knew he wanted to go to sleep but he didn't know how. He was tired, his desire to practice crawling drove him to scoot out of bed, but then he would get upset when he tried to go back and was unable to get back in. We decided to consistently show him that the bed was a comfortable place, and that going to bed when you are sleepy is a really great idea. Then during awake times, we would help him practice climbing into bed all throughout the day, until he finally could do it on his own. All of sudden, we had a baby who might get out of bed at nap time, play or fuss for a few minutes, and then decide to just crawl back to bed and go to sleep! And while this whole process maybe isn't exactly ideal for busy parents who have a lot of stuff going on, it ended up being ok for us. I think that 2-3 week phase was the hardest part of the floor bed experience, so far. I could probably write an entire blog post about that alone. But once Teddy finally learned how to climb back into bed on his own, the road got smoother. Much smoother. And the payoff for him learning this valuable skill was huge.

Now Teddy is 17 months old. We still struggle with naps from time to time, but there is usually a reason. Either he is sick, or teething, or going through some sort of new change (like when he was weaning). For the most part, Theodore loves his bed. There are plenty of times during the week that he wakes up chipper and plays for a few minutes while I finish doing things around the house. It's much more relaxed. There are still times when he wakes up fussy or upset because he didn't nap long enough, or he's hungry or needs a change, but that's pretty much a normal part of being a baby/toddler.

Having the floor bed has had it's ups and downs. But every time Zach and I considered using a crib, we always circled back to the same point. We always ended up realizing that even if we had Teddy in a crib, we would probably still have the same, or similar challenges. The one thing that we probably would not have dealt with, would have been those weeks when Teddy was able to get out of bed, but not able to get back in. However, on the flip side, we never had to worry about him getting an arm stuck in a rail, or trying to climb out of a crib and potentially hurting himself. The other bonus to that struggle is Teddy found independence. He found confidence and is now able to decide if he needs to nap, or if he needs to just have a little quiet alone time. Sometimes he is tired, but not tired enough to sleep, and some quiet time with his books is just enough to help recharge his batteries and make it to the next bed time. Also, having the floor bed makes his room a really fun place for the whole family to be. Some of my fondest memories include all three of us playing in Teddy's room, sprawled out on the floor, talking, laughing, tickling, all of us laying in his bed reading together. It's opened up doors for a new kind of bonding. Teddy's room isn't just a "nursery" or a place to keep a bunch of grownup stuff to help care for a baby. It's his space, his play area, his sleep spot, his reading nook, HIS safe place to go when he is tired. It's his special room with all his own special things, where mommy and daddy go to comfort him when he is sick, and sing to him before bed. Every night I lay down with him, snuggle up close while I read him stories, sing to, and pray with him. I couldn't lay with him if he was in a crib. His room is so much more than I ever dreamed it to be, and the floor bed is the reason for all of it.

Now that we are thinking about baby number two, we realize how special and family-oriented a floor bed is. It's definitely on our mind and I can't really see using a crib for any other children we may have. We are open to using the crib if the need arises. But so far we haven't had any issues that couldn't be resolved through patience and perseverance. The floor bed is really about teaching your child healthy sleep habits, rather than forcing them to sleep because they have no other option.

I do think that there are some situations a floor bed might not work for. If you are unable to make the room safe, or if your child has a personality that doesn't jive well with the freedoms a floor bed allows, they may be safer and happier with more physical boundaries. On the whole though, I think a floor bed is a very simple concept, and allows parents to be minimal in their approach to what furniture they buy for their child, as well as what kinds of things they keep in the child's room. A child that doesn't have too many toys will often use their imagination more, and we have witnessed this in Theodore a great deal in the past few months. Looking into the floor bed option for a child can really change not only your perspective on sleep habits, but also your entire approach to parenting. Children learn by exploring and experimenting, so it's really neat to know that when our son wakes up early in the morning, he's in there learning something new, imagining, tinkering, and doing things all on his own!



  1. What a great documentation of your journey and thought processes!

  2. Lovely to read this post as I'm just considering moving my almost 9 month old to a floor bed but having so much doubts. my son has just gotten his naps and sleeping schedule in a good routine and we've passed that sitting/standing excitement phase in his pack and play and I know that this transition is going to be hard! your post has given me some encouragement!

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