Which bed, and when?

Babies and younger children should spend about half of their time asleep. Here are some tips for choosing sleeping arrangements to keep them safe and cozy.

There are several different kinds of beds for newborns, each with some advantages and disadvantages:

  • Crib: It’s safe, it’s big enough to grow in; but you can’t roll it around, and it’s probably too large to fit into the parent’s bedroom. Some good studies have shown that babies in their own crib, in their own room, are more likely to sleep through the night earlier, but many parents especially of younger babies want them nearby.

  • Bassinet: Named after a small version of a Basset Hound, this is a smallish crib that’s usually portable. It’s probably on wheels, and can be rolled back and forth across the kitchen tile to put colicky Junior to sleep. The biggest disadvantage: they’re not cheap, and babies will outgrow them by three or four months.

  • The Pack-n-Play: It might take a PhD in tubular physics to get it up and take it down, but they’re pretty sturdy. To put a little baby down at the bottom will be hard on your back, so use the bassinet attachment to create a higher surface for babies who aren’t yet rolling over.

  • The co-sleeper: This is kind of like a sidecar on a motorcycle, creating a space for your baby next to but not in your own bed. I have never used one, so I can’t really comment on how sturdy and reliable they are, but it seems like a clever way to keep a baby near without losing valuable mattress real estate. As mentioned above, babies sleeping in the room with parents tend to learn to sleep through the night a little older than their more-independent baby neighbors.

  • In bed with parents: This can be pleasant and rewarding for some families, but doesn’t work for everyone. If you’d like to keep Junior in your bed, follow some safety rules. No water beds; no thick cushy comforters; no drugs or alcohol for mom and dad; and be very careful if mom or dad is overweight or overtired. There have been suffocation deaths when babies are in bed with parents. Also, some families find it tough to get the baby out of their bed when the time comes.

Once a child is old enough to roll over, get those bumpers out of the crib. They’re only for looks, and a baby trapped in the corner can get entangled. When a baby is close to pulling up, lower the crib bed to its bottom setting.

When should toddlers graduate from the crib to a “real bed”? One absolute rule: once your baby can climb out, you need to get rid of the crib. It’s not safe for babies to crab-crawl and wiggle their way up and out. But as long as your child is happy sleeping in the crib, and isn’t escaping, there’s no good reason to rush the move to a “big bed.” Once out of the crib you can’t really keep them in their beds at all; they’ll wander out and all over your home. For most families, there’s no reason to get Junior out of the crib until about 2 ½ years of age.

Some families like to use a toddler-sized bed as a transition to a full-sized bed. That’s probably not necessary; but kids find them cute and cozy. You ought to stop using the smaller size bed when the child complains it’s too small, or when he can’t stretch out his entire body from head to toe.

Toddler beds are short, and sit on the floor. Families who skip the toddler bed and put a child in a regular, adult bed ought to start by putting just the mattress on the floor, or use the mattress on a boxspring with no frame. You do not want your child higher than two feet off the floor—he will roll out, and those rail things really don’t work. If he falls only a few feet, he’ll be fine, but a child rolling out of a bed on a frame will fall far enough to break an elbow or collarbone. Ouch.

Enough about beds…it’s time for my nap!

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