No Crib, No Highchair, No Pacifier–The Reality of Montessori Parenting (Part 1)

This is not an article arguing with everyone that told me I should be using a crib, a highchair, and a pacifier (even though I didn’t use any of these). Instead, this article is the honest truth about why I chose not to use these things, the people who ranged from mildly annoyed to downright rude about it, and whether two years later I regret the decisions. This is one Montessori mom’s experience with no crib, no highchair, and no pacifier.

No Crib

Scared into Compliance

Directly from the hospital, you are scared straight into sticking your baby into a crib, alone, on their back, with nothing else. They drill it into you. The doctors, the nurses, the posters on the wall, the pamphlets they send home with you–everything. 2 day, 7 day, and 1-month follow-up appointments with your pediatrician and you get the same. This is especially true in Midwestern states where the infant death rates are significantly higher.

Since I lived smack in the middle of Ohio when my daughter was born, my experience was no exception.

Back at home, I also had to listen to people tell me that cribs were for the safety of children and that’s why I should use one. Everyone seemed so disturbed when I spoke of co-sleeping with my daughter. It baffled me.

As a Montessori parent, though, I was surprised to find that Maria Montessori herself promotes separating the infant from the mother during sleep starting at 8-weeks old. Montessori prefers floor beds for the child’s independence but wants them in their own room starting at 2 months.

The floor bed idea, by the way, didn’t go over well with anyone either.  I heard some of the craziest worries about floor beds. People worried about mice crawling on the baby and even used the word “neglect” at the idea of not using a crib. (The word neglect comes up a few more times later) How could I possibly put my child on the floor! Oh no!… It was challenging to say the least.

8 weeks went by, then 12, then 16 and I just couldn’t imagine putting my daughter in another room–crib or not.

So, despite the fact that I intended on doing everything Montessori…I ended up a cosleeper and its still going strong at the age of 2 1/2 months. Why?

Intentions versus Reality

I never intended on using a crib. My in-laws really wanted to buy us a crib, so I chose one that could be converted into a toddler bed later and just went with it. I always intended to have a floor bed for my daughter and use a Moses basket until the 8-12 week transition. This turned out to be the most difficult thing I struggled with as a parent.

First, my daughter simply would not sleep without me. In her basket at the hospital, in her Moses basket at home, her sleeping bursts would last 15 minutes. Snuggled in my arms or up against my belly, she slept for hours. I tried to transition her countless times and now, I honestly regret even trying. I worried myself sick over nothing.

Second, breastfeeding in the middle of the night is incredibly exhausting when you have to get up out of bed, get the baby up out of their crib, and then transition them back to the crib after feeding. After a couple weeks of struggling, I just let my daughter nurse right where we slept and we both dozed off again peacefully.

Finally, cuddling with her at night and waking up together every morning is the joy of my life. I cannot now imagine having missed the experience and bonding that sleeping with my child provided.

The reality is that despite being attached to me every night for the last 2 1/2 years, my daughter is fiercely independent. She didn’t form some weird codependency that psychologists at the turn of the last century warned against. I didn’t need to separate her in a crib to teach her to “soothe herself”. I didn’t need a toddler floor bed for her to be able to get out of bed in the morning and find me to cuddle. She’s fine. I’m fine. We’re happy. That’s the truth.

The Bad and The Ugly

Now that I’ve told you the good, let me get a little bit real and admit the bad and the ugly.

The bad part is that I’m an incredibly light sleeper and for months I was worried about suffocating my daughter in bed. Every movement she made woke me up with worry. This didn’t really go away until she was old enough to crawl and move around freely.

I also had to sleep super bundled up, and so did she, because it is freezing in the winter in Ohio (which lasts till June!). In order to cosleep safely, you need to prep the bed properly. The best cosleeping information I found was in “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League. I highly recommend reading this for information on how to make the bed safe for the baby.

Although these things are bad, there are two ugly truths about cosleeping with your infant as well.

If you are a smoker, a drug user, or even just an occasional nighttime melatonin taker, your chances of suffocating your baby skyrocket. And, by the way, there is a BIG difference between SIDS and suffocating. Here is a fantastically balanced review of all sleeping arrangements and their correlations to suffocating and SIDS. It advocates for allowing parents to choose the best situation based on individual circumstances.

And…

Being overly attentive to your child can actually cause worsening sleep patterns. Every time I woke up I checked her diaper, if it was wet I changed her. I set a timer for every 2 hours (per my pediatrician’s advice) and woke her up to breastfeed. 6 months later and I’d created a child who wakes up every 2 hours like clockwork. Insert here an exhausted momma who didn’t get a full night’s sleep for another two years no matter what I tried (though I refused to give “Cry it Out” even a second thought—again contrary to “sound” advice of those around me–pun intended).

Admitting Mistakes

Although I’ve already admitted one mistake (waking my newborn up based on the clock), there are other things I did wrong and I want you to hear them.

My daughter rolled off my bed. Now, luckily my mattress was on the floor so she only rolled off 12 inches, but still. I propped her up a good 3 feet away from the edge of my king mattress and left the room. Next thing I know I hear her screaming and somehow she managed to tip over and roll off the bed.

My daughter rolled between two couch cushions. Again, I propped her up on the couch between two cushions and left the room. Are you seeing a pattern? When I returned a few minutes later, she was wedged between two cushions.

After a couple of these experiences, which in horrible situations have caused infant deaths for other people, I learned my lesson. She was always placed on a floor pad, a floor mattress, or in her Moses basket while I was doing housework. I’d still put her on my bed or on the couch if I was staying in the room and attending to her. If she was going to be left alone, though, I prepped the situation.

My Final Thoughts

I would never, ever, trade the experience of sleeping with daughter for a crib or a floor bed (sorry Maria). I love sleeping with her still to this day. But…

Everyone’s experience is different.

This is the big lesson I’ve been learning throughout my entire life.

It’s not the fact that most people around me use cribs for their children that bothers me. I am not advocating for every parent to throw away their crib. What bothers me is how often I had to take a rasher for not using a crib. No one should endure judgment for a decision they’ve made, especially if they’ve made it with information and intent.

My own mother has reminded me repeatedly that for all four of her children she tried a crib and it didn’t always work. I, myself, was a bed sleeper. I simply didn’t sleep well in a crib and so I coslept with my mother. When barely old enough to pull up, I couldn’t be contained in a crib because I would crawl out.

My sister, on the other hand, loved her crib. From the day she was born my mother was able to put her in the crib, make the room dark, empty and quiet and my sister slept like…well…a baby. (Where the hell did that expression come from anyway? Babies are notoriously bad sleepers.)

Each child has different needs. Each parent has different methods. Why do we think we can apply a single rule to everyone? We don’t live in a factory, despite the industrial revolution.

My Final Message

So if there’s one thing I want you to take away from my “No Crib” experience (and you’ll hear me say this a lot) it’s that you should:

Follow your own gut.

Read, read, read and become self-informed. Observe your baby. Reflect on your own feelings and behavior. Make a decision that YOU are comfortable with. Follow YOUR gut. Be intentional about YOUR decisions.

And tune out all of the static. Ignore the naysayers, the unsolicited advisors, and the cultural trends. No one can tell you the best thing for your baby but you.

No Crib, No Highchair, No Pacifier–The Reality of Montessori Parenting (part 2) coming soon!

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2 Comments

  1. Debbie LaFleiche August 6, 2018 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Even though I don’t have children, I found the article fascinating. In so many areas of our lives, it seems, we give in to authority instead of listening to our own instincts. I see it a lot in healthcare. Doctors and so-called experts are simply giving an opinion. But when it comes from authority, we think it is the only correct path. Thanks for sharing your experience and your honest assessment of the choices you made.

    • Elizabeth Seney August 8, 2018 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      Thank you Debbie. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about decisions when they go against your community and your doctors, and especially hard if they turn out to be a mistake. I appreciate your support!

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