The What / How / Where / Why / Who of the Floor Bed

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Reuben doesn’t sleep in a cot, instead he sleeps on a mattress on the floor, with a duvet and pillow.  It’s called a ‘floor bed’.  It sounds strange to people in our culture, but is completely normal for many places around the world.  He’s been in it for around 7 months now.

A what?!

A floor bed!   It looks like this:

Ok, but why?

Partly due to reading about Maria Montessori, and partly due to Reuben’s eczema.

When I was pregnant I read a few books about Montessori, and her philosophies and methods of bringing up children.  She believed that it was important to provide an environment for children that can help them to help themselves.  Ie.  We provide the tools to allow them to not need us.  A floor bed is something that allows that.  With a floor bed the child can independently decide when they are tired and take themselves to bed.  They can also get up when they’re ready and play.

The other reason is because Reuben suffers from eczema all over his whole body.  At the time he transferred from our room to a cot his eczema was at its worst.  He was about 6/7 months old, and I was pinning him down to sleep.

I can’t really explain how distressing it was.  Reuben was so uncomfortable, he was banging his head against the side of the cot, and rubbing his forearms over his body, and rubbing his ankles together.  In order to help him to sleep I had to hold down his legs with one arm and his arms with another.  He would scream horribly but as he couldn’t move he would then fall asleep.  It sounds cruel, and it made both of us cry,but I’ve since read that many parents of children with eczema end up doing just that.  There’s simply no other solution.

At its very worst, during a heatwave, Reuben could only sleep for 40 minutes at a time, and it took 20 minutes to get him back to sleep each time.  The cot became impractical.  It was really difficult to pin him down or reassure him.  I had to let the cot side down to reach him, but the sound of the cot side going back up again would wake him up.

How does it work?

We do the usual bedtime routine of dinner, bath, teeth and eczema creams, then we go to Reuben’s room and pick out a few books for bed.  He sits in bed, and I sit next to him on the floor and we read books together.  If he’s very tired he’ll just push them away.  Then the lights go out, Ewan the Dream Sheep goes on, he has a bottle of milk and either falls asleep while drinking it or shortly after.

Occasionally he’ll take longer to fall asleep, and will thrash around a bit.  We always stay and sit with him until he falls asleep.  That’s not what all parents of children in floor beds do.  Some let the children take themselves to bed when they’re ready.  Others shut the baby gate to the room and treat the whole bedroom as a giant ‘cot’ so the child decides if they sleep or not.

Isn’t waiting until he sleeps annoying / time consuming?

Yes!  We knew that being on the floor bed meant that we’d have to be more patient when it came to bed time.  CIO (Cry It Out) isn’t an option when you use a floor bed.  Either Reuben sleeps or, sometimes, he doesn’t!  There are times when he is determined to get out of bed and play.  It’s frustrating but we’ve found that every single time he refuses to go to bed he ends up doing a huge poo!  I guess he just needs to get it out of him before bed!!  After a nappy change he is then happy to go to bed.

I feel that, had we had him in a cot, and let him cry himself to sleep, then he’d be in a dirty nappy all night and we’d have never know that sometimes he has this issue.

The ultimate aim is where we can just walk him to bed, read, and then walk away.  We were almost there but then came down with the flu so all that hard work got undone!  We’re working in baby steps – first we stop patting his back, then we sit further away, then we sit by the door etc.

It IS time consuming, but we’ll never have the transition from a cot to a ‘real’ bed, so when everyone else is going through that we’ll be taking it easy!

Does he fall out of bed?

If he did ‘fall’ out of bed it would be a 3cm drop, and really the mattress squashes, so it’s not a drop at all!   But actually, he doesn’t really move during the night.  That’s why we feel fine leaving him with a duvet.  (We ‘tested’ him with a duvet first, by playing games where we hid him under it during the day.  I would NEVER put a child so young under a duvet if they were in a cot.  Reuben can crawl across the room, away from the duvet, if it ever came to it).

I think babies quickly get used to the bed having an ‘edge’, and learn to stay away from it in the same way an older child does.

Does he go anywhere in the night?

Yes, he can go anywhere in his room if he chose to.  We’ve prepared for that by baby proofing his room.  His floor is always clear at night time, there’s nothing that he can pull on top of him, and the only things he can reach are toys and blankets.  With the baby monitor we can hear if he’s crawling around.

What we’ve found is that actually, he never gets up to play in the night.  And I mean never!!  He just wants to sleep.  What he does do is crawl all the way into our room, and then sits and cries.  We either put him back to bed or, if he’s ill or we’re exhausted he just comes in with us.  This happens a few times a week.  Generally if he’s crawling into our room a lot it normally means he has a cold coming and can’t breathe well.

How do other people use a floor bed?

Check out:

Montessori on the Double

How we Montessori

At Home with Montessori

Voila Montessori

And finally, this website has a cute video and loads of information:

Bedstart

What’s the best thing about a floor bed?

Well, that has to be the mornings where Reuben wakes up and plays in his room or in the lounge and we get to stay in bed!   It’s also really heartwarming to have a full nights sleep and be woken by your child crawling into your room with a huge smile when he sees you.

It’s also easier to handle an ‘ill’ child.  We can lie next to Reuben and comfort him when he needs it, then creep back to our bed.  And he can come to us for comfort when he needs it too.

And the worst?

That would be waiting for him to fall asleep.  Although I know that parents with children in cots and beds also do this.  It requires so much tolerance and patience, and I sometimes get accidentally headbutted in the nose, and that just sucks.

Holidays are another problem – not everywhere is baby safe and hotels usually provide cots.  If your child isn’t used to a cot it can be tricky.  Reuben normally ends up in bed with us.

And finally…What do you think of cots?

They’re great!  They are the perfect way to be truly, 100% sure that your baby is safe while you sleep.  A lot of babies are comforted by the sides of them as well.  But I’m also aware that there are parents who use them for too long.  I’ve seen videos on YouTube of babies ‘jailbreaking’!  That’s just not safe.

I completely understand a floor bed isn’t for everyone!  BUT, I do think that most people use cots just because that’s what is ‘done’ in our culture.  There are other places babies can sleep – the floor, a hammock or in the parents’ bed are just some examples.  From a lot of other cultures, the cot would seem cruel and strange!   As with all issues in parenting, I believe we should question what we are doing and how we parent.  Following mainstream culture shouldn’t just be done in complete ignorance to alternatives that may be better for our children.

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