Since we first set up my son's nursery in our last house, we have gotten quizzical looks and many questions about the lack of a crib. It was unthinkable to many that we didn't plan on using one, and others assumed the decision not to get a crib indicated that we planned to cosleep long-term. The reality was that we had decided long before our son was born that we wanted to apply many of the principles of Maria Montessori's work in our home, which in part is based on the idea that you give children as much independence as they can handle at any given age. In the realm of sleeping, that indicates the use of a floor bed, and a carefully prepared (and fully babyproofed!) environment in which to sleep. We have had our ups and downs with the floor bed, and two stretches of about a week each when I cursed myself for not just getting a crib, but now at 16 months my son has a really healthy relationship with sleep, and I finally feel like I can talk about our experience with the floor bed. Here's the general timeline of how sleeping arrangements have worked at our house since the birth of my son:
0-5 weeks: Our son slept with us on a firm mattress on the floor, away from pillows and loose blankets, for the first five weeks of his life. My husband was able to be home with us for three of those weeks, and we spent almost the whole time hibernating in bed, with the exception of Christmas celebrations. It was lovely to get to spend the time snuggled together, not worrying about a lot of other logistics, just focusing on surviving our first few weeks as a family.
5-8 weeks: Around five weeks old, our cosleeping arrangement became considerably less peaceful! We had thought we would bedshare longer than five weeks to start, but nobody was sleeping, as my son was flailing his arms and legs around all night and generally being very silly and not sleepy. At this point we put his mattress (toddler/crib sized) on the floor about a foot away from the queen sized mattress we had been sharing, and we room shared for another few weeks. He still needed company to be able to nap though, either in the bed with one of us or in a carrier.
8-16 weeks: I could not have known it then, but this was the golden age of infant sleep
for us. We noticed that our son was sleeping much more soundly in the hours before we came into the room to go to bed, and made the call that he would probably sleep better if we moved back into our own room. We had very deliberately set up our early sleeping situation so that we would be the ones to move out, not him. We followed the EASY schedule during the day and he napped like a dream every two hours, and slept at night with only one or two wake ups to nurse a night, all in his own bed. On Mother's Day eve, just shy of five months old, he slept through the night for the first time. I had no idea our relatively rested existence was about to come to a crashing halt.
16 weeks- 6 months: Back to bed sharing! The four-month(ish) sleep regression hit us hard, and the only way anyone could get any rest was to bedshare again. This worked out because we also moved during this time, and I think it helped my son with the transition to have us close by. At this time he was up about every two hours to nurse, and I was very tired.
6-7 months: In my exhaustion, I decided we needed to try to get back to the golden age of perfect floor bed sleep. We tried so many things. We even moved my son into a different bedroom in hopes he would find it more restful. Looking back, he just wasn't at a good place developmentally to sleep on his own, and we would have been happier if I had zombie-coasted through a few more months of bedsharing instead of trying to force the floor issue. He did take decent naps in his room, but with night sleep we would spend 1-2 hours getting him to sleep for the night, and he would be up again a few hours later, at which point we would just bring him into bed with us, tired and defeated. The naps were good though, and I am glad we had the floor bed set up for that time because of it. It was during this time I had my first week of "wtf is wrong with us, why didn't we just get a crib like everybody else?!?!" We even swapped out his crib sized mattress for a queen in hopes that he would be more amenable to sleeping if it was in a bed like ours.
7-11 months: You guessed it, back to bed sharing! I had heard from his doctor that eight to ten months would be the peak of separation anxiety, and it was certainly true for us. Bedsharing was our only means of survival at that point, we were back to nursing every two hours at night. By ten months I was exhausted and teetering on the edge of illness at all times. Thankfully, around the same time, my son started putting himself down for his own naps in his room. I was used to having to stay until he fell asleep, but one day he grabbed the book we were reading from me, and waved "bye!" From then on he would look at books by himself, bop around his room, and eventually fall asleep on his own for naps. This was the way I had heard Montessori floor beds were supposed to work! We decided it was time to try having him sleep in his own room again.
11-12 months: I redecorated and reorganized his room with inspiration from a Waldorf school we visited. We night weaned him so that I could start getting some rest. This meant my husband took over all night-time wake ups. The first few nights there was some protesting about Dad showing up instead of Mom, but his sleep improved dramatically after about nine days. It is hard for me to think of a time as a parent I have felt more proud than the night during that time my parents came to babysit, and my son went to bed perfectly for them, on time, and they praised us for the good work we had done. There was, in this time, a one week period in which my son got really good at climbing, and would climb off his bed non-stop, for hours and hours at bedtime. This was the other time I wished for a crib, but I asked an online community of Montessori inspired parents about what we were going through, and they said to hang in there, it was a totally normal phase. It was! After about a week he went back to enjoying rest.
12-14 months: Illness, visitors, teething, all kinds of disruptions hit us over the holidays. When my son was sick I started going in to tend to him during some of his wake ups at night so he could nurse, and we started a strange rotation of my husband or I cosleeping a chunk of the night, usually a few hours, in my son's room. We had kept him on the queen mattress since late summer, so it was easy to fall asleep in there with him when coaxing him back to sleep.
14-16+ months: We recognized that our pattern of bed sharing in my son's room wasn't really helping anyone get much rest, and decided to make a slow transition to my son's toddler bed. We started with just the toddler mattress next to the queen, then put the little mattress in its frame next to the big bed, and eventually moved the big bed out entirely. My son now sleeps all over his room for naps, but he takes two, two-hour naps a day, in addition to sleeping mostly through the night, with the occasional five minute wake up. We help him settle down in the evening, but we leave the room before he is fully asleep so he isn't surprised to wake up alone. My son will ask to go to bed or take a nap when he is tired, and he will wave "bye" when he is ready for us to go and let him get some rest. I am sure sleep will continue to evolve for us, and there will be more challenges in our future, but I would like to think that the freedom to explore his environment and put himself to bed when he's ready has helped get my son to the current happy relationship with rest that he is enjoying.
Do you have any questions about our floor bed journey or safe bedsharing? Ask away! Did you use a floor bed? If so I would love to hear about your experience! Keep an eye out for a follow up post on my must-haves for a floor bed set up.