Why babies hate cots and cribs – and what to do instead

Of all the parenting problems I am asked for help with, the following is the most common:

“how do I get my baby to sleep in his cot?”

“I want my baby to sleep in her crib, but she won’t, how do I make her like it?”

“I just want to be able to put him down for naps, help!”

I’ll let you into a secret.

Babies HATE cots and cribs. 

(ps for American readers, in England we call cribs cots – just to confuse you!).

Babies even tend to hate cosleeper cribs (yes, I did say that and no, I have never and would never buy one myself). Most parents I speak with who have a cosleeper crib say something like the following:

“We have a cosleeper, but he never goes in it, he sleeps in my arms instead”.

“We got a cosleeper crib, but she just won’t sleep in it, it’s just an expensive place to store blankets and other stuff”.

Why do babies hate cots and cribs?

1. Because they are just not normal for our species.

Think about it, cots and cribs really are a very bizarre concept. We are the ONLY mammal in this world who invents an artificial containment device in which to place our offspring (away from us) to sleep. All other species sleep curled up together.

2. Because when you put them down into the cot/crib you trigger an alerting reflex.

The very act of putting a baby down, into the cot or crib, causes their falling reflex to trigger, startling them awake because of the presence of imminent danger (falling). If you do want to place a baby in a crib or a cot without waking them you need to start from a position that is level with the mattress so that no downward motion is necessary. This is pretty much only possible if you are using a cosleeper cot/crib and you feed the baby to sleep on the attached bed and then move them across into their cosleeper. This is presuming that you have a baby that is OK with point number 1 however.

3. Because they have no control about when they get in, or out of, the crib or cot.

In many ways a cot or crib is like a prison to a baby, if they want to get out of it they are at the mercy of somebody else. If they are tired and want to go in they have to be put in there by somebody else. This would be OK if they could talk and tell us very clearly that they wanted to get in or out, but they can’t.

If we’re tired we can choose to lay down on the sofa, in bed, or on a beanbag. When we’re ready to get up we do just that. If you want to create really good sleeping patterns in your children allowing them control over their own tiredness cues is the way to go.

How can you do this? You give them a sleeping surface that they can choose to go to whenever they want to sleep, or rest and one they can leave at their choosing. Something they have complete control over and don’t need your help with. Check out this great video which shows the concept being used by a nursery:

Meet the floor bed.

Floor beds coincidentally also address points 1 and 2 as well. If your baby is like any other mammalian baby on the planet floor beds allow them to fall asleep snuggled next to you. If you wish you can choose to leave them when they are asleep. They also avoid the need to put the baby down and thus bypass the falling reflex issue. Most importantly of all though they allow the baby some really important autonomy.

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How do you make a floor bed? 

It really is very simple. Ditch your crib or cot apart from the mattress, put the mattress on the floor et voila – a floor bed. Some people opt for single mattresses, some prefer padded mats, some prefer kingsize mattresses so the whole family can share a floor bed, like this:


Some use a futon mattress at the side of the baby’s floor bed in order for them to snooze next to the baby, feed or cuddle them to sleep, like this:


Doesn’t the mattress need to breathe?

The jury is out on this one. Does the mattress need some airflow underneath it? Some people use a couple of bed slats underneath the mattress to give it a little bit of airflow, some lift the mattress and stand it against a wall for a couple of hours a day, some just turn it regularly.

What if the baby rolls off?

So long as the room is baby proof we’re talking only a couple of inches at most. This is the beauty of a floor bed. Some people choose to surround the floor bed with a cushioned mat, but often you will find the baby sleeping peacefully on the floor next to the bed if they have rolled off.

How long can you use them for?

Indefinitely. Many people sleep on floor beds forever. Just ask many Japanese families.

Can you ever use a cot/crib again?

In many cases using a floor bed, particularly for naps, is a good transitional step between naps in arms and naps in a cot (for this reason it’s also a good way to transition away from bedsharing too). They help the baby feel more comfortable sleeping alone, which gets around point number 1 in our ‘reasons why babies hate cots’ list. It is quite possible that in time, think a few months, that your baby may be happy to nap in their cot or crib again. Lots of people decide to stick with the floor bed idea though as they see it working so well.

p.s: naps in slings and bedsharing is great too! For the purpose of this article however I have concentrated on floor beds.

For more ways to improve your baby, toddler or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT conventional cry based sleep training, check out the brand new updated edition of The Gentle Sleep Book.

I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to those families who have allowed me to share their floor bed pictures in this blog post!


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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