Time to Abolish Cribs?

By Jan Hunt, M.Sc.
Author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart

Two hundred years ago, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that, "All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as self-evident." This observation has certainly passed the test of time. Copernicus's writings, in which he claimed that the earth moves around the sun, were banned for decades, and led to an Inquisition trial and house imprisonment for Galileo. Today, of course, the earth's orbital movement is accepted as "self-evident".

Unfortunately, child-rearing practices and beliefs in the areas of sleeping, feeding, and discipline seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Our society has moved away from trust and toward an unnatural, mistrustful, and distant approach to children. Parents who treat their children with the same love and trust that was "self-evident" for generations now face ridicule and opposition. In earlier societies, a child's need to be close to his parents during both night and day was a "self-evident truth", and the obvious way to meet that need was to provide safety, closeness and comfort. Throughout most of human history, mothers slept next to their babies, which fostered the bond between them, and encouraged and facilitated breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding babies who sleep next to their mother take in three times as much milk during the night as do isolated babies, thus enjoying a more natural nutritional pattern. Mothers sleeping next to their children are also reassured about their safety. Babies sleeping away from their parents have perished in fires, have been abused by relatives, have been abducted from their beds, have suffocated after vomiting, have been attacked by pets, and have died or been injured in numerous other ways. Many - if not most - of these tragedies might well have been averted had a parent been present and aware of the baby's welfare through the night. Family co-sleeping can also help prevent parental abuse by reducing the stress of raising babies and young children. A child in a family bed does not need to suffer needlessly or cry to bring his mother, and the mother can remain in bed and nurse half-asleep.

Research has shown that comatose adults have an improved heart rate, heart rhythm, and blood pressure when another person is present. It seems reasonable to suppose that infants and children derive similar health benefits from having others near them during the night. Many parents have found that siblings who share the night as well as the day build a deep and lasting relationship. And finally, Dr. James McKenna's sleep research, at the Center for Behavioral Studies of Mother-Infant Sleep, shows that a mother's breathing can provide important cues to her infant, reminding him to take a breath following exhalation, thus lessening the chances of a SIDS death. But the parents of long ago (and of most third-world countries today) did not need to weigh these benefits against other approaches, they simply followed their natural drive to love, protect, and nurture their children.

Why have we not followed Schopenhauer's predicted path? Why do we not abandon cribs, where so many babies have died, and many more have been injured? Why have the numerous deaths and injuries in cribs not led to a call for its abandonment, or at least a switch to "bedside co-sleepers" (partial cribs that fit next to the parents' bed)? When babies are injured in cribs, parents are never told to avoid cribs; they are told how to purchase and use safer cribs. But when a baby dies in a family bed, there is an entirely different response. Instead of being educated on safety factors, we are told never to place our babies in adult beds – period.

Rather than calling for the end to such an age-old, beneficial, and healthy arrangement, the causes of each situation should be investigated, and parents should be educated accordingly. We should be warned against the real dangers of bed sharing: intoxication, overly-medication, the use of a waterbed, loose blankets or soft bedding, gaps between the mattress and the frame, and leaving a baby unattended. If a baby dies in a car, we are never told to keep babies out of cars, we are advised about safety measures. The same approach should be taken with co-sleeping.

Cribs force babies to face the long night alone years before they are psychologically equipped to do so. Isolation teaches harmful lessons of mistrust, powerlessness, and despair, creating a deep sense of loneliness that no teddy bear can fulfill. Judging from the reports of adults in hypnotherapy, art therapy, and psychoanalysis, experiences of forced separation from parents in infancy and childhood are traumatic, with long-term effects on the adult personality.

Cribs, especially if located outside the parents' room, are dangerous in other ways too. An isolated baby has no protection from secret physical or sexual abuse. Night-time separation lessens the critical emotional bond between parent and child, and between siblings. Cribs keep working parents from spending the only real block of time they have left with their children.

There is probably not one baby in the world who would choose cold isolation over loving proximity if they were only given the choice. Our babies' cries and screams should be more than sufficient to convince us of the emotional harm and moral wrongness of such separation. Why do we not hear what they try so hard to tell us?

Cribs are dangerous, and prevent parents from intervening quickly in emergencies. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the same organization that recently warned about family beds, has reported 40 to 50 crib deaths per year, and thousands of serious injuries. Their own web site is filled with warnings of the potential hazards of crib use. Yet they never consider the possibility that cribs should be abandoned. This is a nonsensical double standard that no one seems to be questioning.

Cribs are lonely cages for babies who deserve to have their age-old needs met with love and compassion. Cribs have no real benefits at all. Let's abolish them!


Resources on healthy infant sleep.

Resources on sleep training/CIO/controlled crying.


  1. Fantastic post, thank you! Thoughtful, reasonable. Much appreciated - it's amazing how people take sleeping in a crib in their own room so for granted, like there's no other choice. Babies should be next to mamas! Why is that so controversial? sigh ...

  2. My own daughter had reflux as an infant and newborn. It took us some months to figure out what was causing it (My caffeine intake) and she would often vomit an hour or so after nursing. Most nights I would have to deal with a mess and took to sleep with towels handy.

    If I had put her in another room I am certain she would have aspirated on her own vomit. There were several nights I still remember vividly where I woke instantly to her gagging and flipped her over, patting her back.

    While I cannot force anyone to make the decision I did, I can share my story and the wonderful blogs you post. Thank you Danelle.

  3. Before I knew better and my older children were put in cages, I would still instinctively bring them in to me when they were sick for fear of what Veronica has described. I wish I had have followed my instincts more with them and just let them stay with me. Would have saved quite a lot of money on crib costs and a lot of guilt now.
    I now enjoy a very happy co-sleeping arrangement with my daughter and although I do have a portable cot 'just in case' I have only used it once at night when I was in a single bed and she couldn't fit. I slept very poorly that night.
    I hear parents say they stand outside their child's door to check on them several times a night. Why not just rest easy and have them next to you?
    Thank you for this very thoughtful post.

  4. It's really common sense. I don't know how any mother can leave their babies to cry like that. :/

  5. Here is a question. Don't the babies have a traumatic adjustment period when, at age one or whenever, we finally train them to sleep in their own rooms and their own beds? How do you make that switch? Also, how do you train a baby to take a nap alone, if he/she is used to always having your warm body right there?

  6. Kerri (South Australia)March 20, 2010 12:47 AM

    I am interested in a reply to the second Anonymous' question too.

    Our 6 month old daughter has slept in our room since coming home from her birth. We chose to have her in her bassinette & now cot instead of with us in our bed full-time. There have been a couple of nights she has slept with us, and I don't sleep as well because I'm half-awake to make sure she doesn't get rolled on or covered by the quilt.

    For our 5:30am feed, I put her in the bed with us and she sleeps with us (or me on a weekday) for a few hours. It's always nice and I love this time. She also would only sleep during the day if I laid on the bed with her, and I enjoyed having the closeness and for us to wake together (or her waking to see that I am lying there looking right at her).

    This is something I'm not able to do all the time and I'm worried about getting her dependant on this, so I have changed this practise. I worried that when it came time for me to return more to office work, she wouldn't be able to settle without me.

    I also would like to know the best approach in having a toddler decide when to have their bed in their own room.

    Having said all of this, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of having her sleep in another room altogether! No way, not for our family. I like that I can hear her breathe and stir during the night and I like that she can hear that we're there too!

  7. I co-slept off and on growing up & I think it's like any other thing. Kids eventually grow out of it. Like breast-feeding. I stopped when I was 7 or 8 & even then it had been only a few nights out of the month. Kids constantly want to become more independent (barring some emotional trauma) and will move away from you on their own. We don't refrain from holding them b/c we think we'll have to carry them everywhere in college - why use that excuse for any other child behavior? The only time intervention is needed is when the behavior is obviously linked to some sort of emotional problem.

  8. I tried co sleeping but didn't get any sleep ( the way you are always aware of them never feels like real sleep to me) I tried sleeping with her I a cot right next to me and was awke all night as I'm such a light sleeper that breathing keeps me awake.
    It wasn't until I stopped feeling guilty and put her in her own room right next door (paper thing walls and both doors open) that I finally got an ounce of sleep. I am so glad I did! She's close enough for me to hear but not so loud I'm awake all night. I'm hoping when she's older she can sleep with me again but for now daytime naps on me will have to do.

    I'm the sort who has to take the batteries out of Amy clocks near by to sleep, everything keeps awake and I honestly believe that me getting some sleep and being happy mummy is a million times better than the one who wanted to cry all the time from being awake all night cause my baby was breathing too loud. Some may not agree but meh

  9. Corpseesproc ~ I'm the same way. What we did was to put 2 mattresses together on the floor (a big nice 'family bed') so that I could nurse my little one to sleep on one, roll over and have lots of room to sleep on the other. I am also ultra sensitive to light, noises, etc. So I got blackout curtains (which help us both sleep better) and we have a fan on at the end of our bed which downs out the other little noises - breathing, turning, small sounds in the night, etc. This 'white noise' of the fan - loud enough to cover the other noises but not ever blowing on or over us - works wonderfully. We both sleep soundly. :) Just an idea for future if you want to try it again someday.

  10. We have used cribs all this time and it's worked great up til he grew a little older. I have always gone from crib to co-sleeping depending on how tired I was. Up til now we took down one of the walls and stuck it to our bed, sort of like an extended co-sleeper. It's been the best choice so far, I have literally tried a billion things to get the son to sleep throughout the night, nothings worked but the most that has helped him is the extended co-sleeper. He's a light sleeper so co-sleeping is bothersome for him (Always has) however in his own bed he feels like he's independent but has easy access to me or out of his crib, I took the wall down when he was probably 20 months old. You gotta handle this subject with care, the advice that can be wonderful for some parents can be very detrimental for others if things don't work right for them. Cribs, co-sleeping, floor beds and daybeds all carry different risks, you choose whatever works best for your family and that does not make you a bad parent. I have no guilt in using the cribs, I do however distaste them. I prefer it now that it's just an extended co-sleeper and hopefully in a year he will be in his own room *if* he is ready and has a more stabilized sleep. Otherwise I can't see myself getting easy sleep if he's in his room but uncomfortable and unhappy, and not responsible enough to stay in bed or get in trouble. Just my two cents...



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