Sleep in infants and children: from birth through the first years

Where should children sleep: from co-sleeping, to the cot to the Montessorian bed

Where should children sleep

Children have unpredictable sleep patterns. Knowing exactly how much an infant will sleep and when and how the sleep pattern will change is impossible. However, we do know that over the course of the first years, usually the first 3-4 years, family demands and sleep-related needs change continuously. But what are these needs, and when and how do they change? What layout should be adopted at home, what beds should be selected to best accompany the needs of the child and help mummy and daddy as well?

Co-sleeping: up to what age

It is common knowledge that science strongly encourages sleeping close to the baby at least for the first 6 months of life, preferably throughout the first year. This practice is referred to as co-sleeping and is without a doubt the preferred solution for the initial period. Gradually, as the months pass, the child will grow, but many parents continue to feel the need and desire to have their baby nearby, to simplify the task of caring for them or simply to accompany them through a difficult period, such as when they start teething or weaning or when mummy returns to work. There's no exact cut-off after which a child should no longer be allowed to sleep in the same room as their parents. The advice therefore is to note their behaviour, give them time to grow and respond to their needs and those of the family. What's most important is to adopt a safe approach to co-sleeping, using products that are suitable and durable, even when the child is a little older. This is especially true after the first 6 months, when your baby has gained motor skills. Creating an environment that welcomes and protects the child is important to guarantee safe development for the baby and peace of mind for the parents. 

How to continue co-sleeping even beyond the initial months

How can you keep baby in the room once the crib becomes to small for them and therefore unsafe? Many parents develop their own do-it-yourself solutions, such as putting a traditional wood cot with raised sides up next to their own bed. This solution creates two issues: on the one hand it can be dangerous, since it's not safely attached to the parents' bed and could move creating a gap between the two; on the other hand, if the wooden slats on the parents' side of the cot are left in place they can interfere with contact and be impractical when caring for the baby. Our advice is to prepare right from the start by purchasing a bed for infants that will allow you to keep sleeping next to the baby past those first months. Options include the Chicco Next to Me Forever, which allows for safe and pro-longed co-sleeping even beyond the first 6 months.


The first birthday: a transition phase


At a certain point, when the parents feel the time is right, it's a good idea to start giving the child a little more autonomy during sleep time as well, always acting gradually. This period might begin when the baby is about one year old: some children are ready for this step as early as 9 months, while others may move into this phase gradually over the course of their second year of life. One way to begin is to keep the baby in the same room as mummy and daddy but to put them in a traditional cot with barred sides kept at a distance from the parents' bed. If the child calls for mummy or daddy during the night, rather than responding right away let a few moments pass first. Once you do reach the cot, check whether the baby has come out of the covers or if something nearby is bothering them and try putting your hand on the baby to calm them down, speaking with a gentle voice or singing a lullaby without picking them up right away.  During this phase, which might be referred to as a ‘transition’ phase in terms of practical arrangements, a cot with raised sides would be useful.


When to have the child sleep in their own room


After this ‘transition’ phase, once the child seems serene, it's time for the next important step – which shouldn't coincide with major life events such as moving house, starting nursery school, changing babysitters or welcoming a new baby to the family – a step towards being a big kid: their own room. We recommend using the same bed that the child has slept in up until this point. This gives your baby something familiar once they've moved into their own room. The room should also include any plush toys or other items your child has become attached to. One important note, which is part of the guidelines on how an infant should sleep, is that no plush toys or any other items should be placed directly inside the cot, except for the sheet and blanket, of course.


Eager for autonomy: the Montessorian bed, when and how to use it


As children grow, they will reach important milestones in terms of mental and motor skills: these include, for example, sleeping for several hours without needing a parent nearby or walking without need for support. The child will gradually demonstrate a desire for autonomy, which is not to be interpreted as independence from the parental bond, but as the desire to do things by themselves, in order to learn and grow. These needs will become especially marked over the first half of the child's second year (at about 15-18 months). Parents can encourage autonomy by arranging the house so that the child can move about freely without encountering barriers. As far as sleep time is concerned, a Montessorian bed can be used. This is a floor-level ‘open’ bed like the Chicco Next2me Forever, which gives the child freedom to get into and out of bed by themselves, responding to their desire for autonomy. 

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