When you lay your tiny newborn in their cot for the first time, it's hard to imagine that soon they will be a great bounding toddler, big enough for a "grown-up" bed.
The move from a cot to a big bed is, in many ways, a milestone event and a small (but significant) step towards independence.
There are all sorts of reasons why parents decide to move their babies and toddlers out of their cots and into beds. Some of these include the impending arrival of a new sibling, a child’s tendency to break for freedom and plunge to the floor or simply the fact that they are suddenly just too enormous for it.
We’ve spoken to experts for advice on the right time to transition and how to make the move from a cot to bed a smooth and happy one for the whole family.
When to move your baby from a cot to a bed?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when you should move your toddler from cot to bed. Some children are happy to make the move at 18 months, others are content in their cots till they’re almost 3.
Lots of things will affect your decision, the size of your cot, how adaptable your child is and the dynamics of your family.
Sarah Beeson MBE, a former health visitor and author of parenting guide Happy Baby, Happy Family, tells GoodtoKnow, “When moving to a bed from a cot the impetus is often the toddler climbing out of the cot. When this starts for safety reasons it’s a good idea to get them into a bed as soon as possible.”
Here two other signs that your tot is ready to say goodbye to their cot:
- They look huge in it and have to sleep all curled up to fit in, or often bang into the bars.
- They are ready to embrace other aspects of being a toddler, such as potty training, eating by themselves and walking rather than being in a buggy.
Educational psychologist Kav Solder says, “There are lots of things to consider – namely is the child emotionally and developmentally ready? Has the bedroom been checked for potential hazards should the child awake in the night and want to get up?” The latter is incredibly important and parents should be checking to see if their baby’s new bed is a safe place for them to sleep.
Ultimately, there’s really no rush, so if you don’t think your child’s ready, then leave it for a while.
How do I move my baby from cot to bed?
Toddlers love familiar things, as they make them feel safe and secure. When we rouse slightly during our natural sleep cycle – which happens several times a night – our subconscious does a quick check to ensure our surroundings are as they should be, so that we can roll over and go back to sleep.
If your toddler senses that something isn’t quite right, they will find it much harder to nod off again. So it’s important to make the change to a big bed as stress-free as possible.
These ideas might help ease the way:
Introduce the idea gradually. Talk about how grown up they are and how it’ll soon be time to say goodbye to their cot and get a lovely new bed.
Make the new bed attractive. Invest in a new duvet cover in their favourite colour or featuring a beloved character. Sarah Beeson says, “Maybe you’re converting their cot bed into a bed or you’ve bought a new toddler bed. You can involve your little one in the change by including them in choices of bed linen, arranging their room and making it an exciting new experience.”
Be prepared for some setbacks. Sarah adds, “Be prepared for your child getting out of their new bed now there are no barriers to keep them contained. Though, you may want to use a side retained to prevent them from falling out of bed in the night.”
Make a bedtime routine and stick to it. Establishing a bedtime routine will help your child become familiar with their bed and the process of getting ready to sleep. Of course, every family will be different but some potential steps to include might be a bath, a bedtime story, a milky drink and a kiss goodnight. Sarah says, “From suppertime to the last kiss goodnight, try and get your bedtime routine down to an hour or less. If they start delaying and dawdling your child is most likely trying to draw things out and keep themselves awake. Be positive and warm but keep things moving along. As they grow, it would be an absolute angel that didn’t try their luck at extra splashing in the bath, stories and snuggles.”
Go with your gut. If your toddler is keen on the bed, then just go for it. However, if they are reluctant, leave the cot up for a while and let them play in the bed for a few days before asking them to sleep in it. Then progress to daytime naps in the bed, finally dismantling the cot and going for full nights.
Choosing the right bed to transition to
Cot bed: If you’ve got a cot bed, then the move is much more straightforward – just take one side off and lower the base. It gets tricky if you’ve got another baby on the way, though. Do you buy another cot, or buy a bed, and make the cot bed back into a cot? The other issue is bedding, normal duvets are too big, so you can either fork out for a cot-bed sized duvet and cover, or have a normal one drooping over one end.
Child bed: These are the same size as cot beds, so again you’ll need cot-bed bedding. They’re great for small rooms, though, and can be a good interim move if you’re planning on bunk beds for siblings later.
Bed guards: Some parents feel that their child should adjust to the dimensions of their new bed and lack of bars so that they don’t roll out after the first few nights. Others just can’t face the constant picking up and putting back into bed. So fold-down bed guards can be a really good solution.
On the move: Once your tot’s in a big bed, it changes things when you travel, too. Travel cots are bigger than normal cots, so they might be happy to carry on sleeping in one for a while, but sooner or later they’ll need their own bed on holidays. A great option is a Readybed. It’s an inflatable bed with a sleeping bag attached, complete with a pump. When deflated it fits into a really small carry bag. Perfect for going camping.
When not to make the move
When you’ve just moved house: Too many upheavals at once can make your toddler feel anxious, and could lead to disrupted nights. Let a child adjust to their new home while enjoying the familiarity of their old cot. Once they are settled in, you can introduce them gently to the idea of them new “big bed”.
If you’ve just had a new baby: A child’s whole life will change once they has a sibling, so your toddler will need familiar things around them, and a new bed could be one change too far. Also, turfing them out at the same time as the new baby arrives could make a child feel like they being replaced, or that the baby is taking their things. If you have time to move your child into their big bed well in advance of the baby’s birth, they will probably be much less possessive of their old cot.
If the gap between your children is small: Don’t rush your older child into a bed before they are ready for it. It may seem like an extravagance to have two cots, but you don’t have to spend a fortune. The Ikea Sniglar cot for £29 is a great basic cot or you could choose to have a cot bed, which you can then change into a bed when they have grown a bit older.
They are starting a new nursery or other childcare: Again, if other parts of their life are changing, it will help to make your toddler feel safe if the place they sleep remains the same. Wait until they are fully settled in to a new routine before making the change.