2.26.2012

Crib Part 3: Turn a Crib Into a Side-Car (Co-Sleeper)

It is time for the last of my baby bedding series. This one is on the crib side-car, which is attaching a crib to an adult bed, like this…


Many families who want this setup elect an Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper, and with good reason: it is a great concept, the brand has a great reputation, and there aren’t many comparable solutions for beyond the newborn stage. We seriously considered the Arm’s Reach, but then we heard about side-carring a normal crib—a simple concept, but one that can’t be marketed so it isn't as well-known—we wanted to learn more. Well, we learned about it, executed our plan, and now I share with you what worked for us.

How to Side-Car A Crib

Step 1: Select a crib that is stable with one side removed
Our crib converts to a toddler bed, so we were certain it would be stable with only three sides.

Step 2: Make sure the crib fits in your space
Measure the crib and make sure it will fit in your space. Think creatively about how you can move your bed or other furniture. Which layout works best for your space? Left side of the bed or right side? Have baby closer to your head or closer to your feet? Could you affix the crib along the foot of the bed? We went through several incarnations before we settled on a plan that worked. At various times we had crib on the left of our bed, crib on the right of our bed; nightstand above the crib, nightstand below the crib; nightstand facing one way, nightstand facing the other.

Step 3: Get your mattress and baby’s mattress to the same height
There are several possibilities for this
· Raise or lower your bed frame
· Raise or lower the crib’s legs
· Raise or lower your mattress
· Raise or lower the crib mattress

Ideas for altering the bed frame or crib legs: use wood blocks as risers, cut the legs down (if you are brave)

Ideas for altering mattress height: remove the boxspring , alter the mattress platform, consider different mattress depths, put a thick blanket under the mattress, put a sheets of wood under the mattress

For us, baby’s mattress was higher than our bed. We talked about custom-cutting wood risers for under our bed frame, but ultimately we modified the crib’s mattress platform. The mattress platform on our crib attaches via four small pins that fit into pre-drilled holes. Hubby simply drilled new holes for the pins at the height we wanted. Each crib’s mattress platform will affix differently. If you make any adjustments to the crib, you must verify that the new setup is secure. I do this by getting fully in the crib and shaking it. I do this periodically to ascertain that everything is still secure.



Step 4: Attach the crib
The simplest option is to pin the crib between your bed and the wall, but this isn’t always doable. We have a small gap between the crib and the nearest wall. Shifting the bed could have solved this, but we liked the aesthetics of our bed centered on the wall. Also, at one point my nightstand was above the head of the crib so I could use the surface, and we did our initial measurements factoring that in.

To secure the crib to our bed frame, we used two adjustable clamps. Per clamp, place one clamp head on the inside of the crib frame; place the other clamp head on the inside of the bed frame. Tighten down the clamp until it is secure. Repeat with at least one more clamp at the other end of the crib.

Adjustable clamps can be made of plastic or metal. The one in the picture is metal., however the one on the far end of the crib (which you can’t make out) is the plastic kind. Either will suffice. We went with what we had on hand, which was a mix.



Step 5: Minimize the gap in between the mattresses
Since the crib is missing one of the sides that would normally hold a mattress securely in place, there will likely be a space where you mattress and baby’s mattress touch. It may just be some wiggle room or it may be more considerable. Safe crib guidelines say that no gap should be larger than what two fingers can fit in. If your gap is larger than that (or could wiggle to be larger than that) you will need to address it.

Push the baby’s mattress tightly against yours and then fill the space on the far side with something that will not be a suffocation of strangulation hazard. Our gap was fairly small, so we used foam pipe insulation. For a larger gap, you can try a pool noodle. A rolled-up sheet or towel may also work if you can wedge it in tight enough that you feel secure it will not dislodge. Foam, as a synthetic, is never my first choice, but our gap was too small for the other options I tried. Baby naturally hangs out on the side closest to us, so he has never even noticed the foam.



I did purchase a “bed bridge” from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that is normally used to make two twin beds into a king (like cruise ships and some hotels use), but it didn’t solve the problem of shifting and it meant that I couldn’t use fitted sheets on our mattress or baby’s, so I returned it.

Step 6: Address any other gaps
Remembering the “no gap larger than two fingers” rule, carefully look at all sides of your bed and baby’s. Are there any gaps? Are there any other places where baby could get stuck? For us, our headboard was a culprit. There was a large space between the bottom of the headboard and the start of the mattress. Our options were removing the headboard or filling the gap. We filled the gap with a painted piece of wood. Multiple pillows and blankets also create gaps, so stick to one pillow per adult and plan for only one layer of covers to go higher than your waist.




Step 7: Enjoy!


In this picture, you can (sort of) see one of our earlier set-ups. The crib is on the other side of our bed with the crib closer to the foot of the bed than the head, and the nightstand is above it with drawers accessible.


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Frequently Asked Questions About Co-sleeping

Are co-sleeping and bed-sharing the same thing?
Technically co-sleeping is any sort of rooming-in with baby. Bed-sharing is a specific type of co-sleeping. As the name implies, it is sharing a bed with the child. A side-car is a hybrid setup: more than general cosleeping but not quite true bed-sharing.

Why use a side-car instead of a co-sleeper or a bassinet?
Our mattress is the most expensive piece of baby gear we have, so we want to maximize its use. The cost of the mattress is a reflection of its value to us and the quality. We wanted a high-quality natural mattress because babies spend so much time sleeping. We planned to borrow an Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper from a friend, but ultimately decided that it didn’t make sense to us to put so much research-time and money into our baby gear pièce de résistance only to have baby sleep in something less thought-out. Plus, as part of our overall lifestyle, we are gear minimalists. Why have two (or three) sleeping contraptions and sets of specially-sized sheets when we can have one? Another plus: the crib is large enough that even a toddler can sleep in it comfortably. Basinets and dedicated-co-sleepers max-out sooner.

Why use a side-car instead of bed-sharing?
I didn’t have the courage to bed-share when V was a newborn. I don’t mean that as an insult to people who bed-share—I have no qualms about others bed-sharing from birth, if they know the rules— I just wasn’t at that point yet. Also, our bed is a queen-size and I just didn’t think we’d have enough room unless we upgraded to a king. (I later learned that I was wrong, a queen is cozy but fine.)

Additionally, I had a difficult pregnancy and recovery, and as part of my issues, I could only sleep semi-sitting with my legs bent. I used seven pillows (including a wedge and Snoogle) to do this. Safe bed-sharing requires only one pillow per adult. This way of sleeping also meant that I couldn’t sleep on my side to do the” protective cuddle curl” that works so well when bed-sharing with a young baby. Because I couldn’t cuddle up with baby, we used a swaddle blanket, which is not advised when bed-sharing. Laying him next to me in his own space and sleeping with my arm on him was the best of both worlds.



Now that he is older, and I am more healed, we primarily bed-share and the co-sleeper is more for reading and playing with soft, quiet toys when V wakes up earlier than hubby or I want to get up.

Why do you sleep co-sleep?
If you are curious about co-sleeping (or skeptical of it), I recommend Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping by Dr. James J. McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame, for a comprehensive look at the scientific and cultural/historical whys of co-sleeping (specifically bed-sharing) and how to do it safely. He says it much better, and more comprehensively, that I can. If I see you regularly in-person, you are welcome to borrow my copy of the book.

For myself, quickly I can point out: it allows me to (mostly) sleep through nighttime nursing session; with young babies it helps them regulate their body temperature and breathing and reduces the SIDS risk; neither hubby nor I have to fully wake to attend comfort a stirring baby; when V was little and required many nighttime diaper changes, I could change him without getting out of bed .

V is almost 14-months as a write this, and at this stage we feel co-sleeping helps him get ample emotional parenting during the night with minimum disruption to our sleep. His biggest nighttime needs right now are loving pats and snuggles, more so than nursing or anything else. These days, he sleeps between hubby and I and mostly wants to cuddle with hubby all night—what a beautiful way for a working dad and child to reconnect! (Note: Sleeping next to mom only is advised for young babies. We only made this transition after V turned one and demonstrated the ability to “defend” himself if needed.)



Will your baby fall out of bed?
When V started crawling at nine-months, we set up a floor-bed in his someday room. He starts the night there if hubby and I plan to stay up for awhile. V also takes most naps in his room. V does sometimes sleep in our bed alone, and we are comfortable with that because he is not a roller; when he wakes, he generally sits up and cries out for us; and for those times he wants to be adventurous, we’ve taught him how to flip on his tummy and repel down the bedding to get to the floor.

I need a nightstand. What do you do with all of your stuff without one?
You could create a setup where your nightstand is accessible.

We moved my nightstand from above the head of the crib where I could use the surface but not the drawers to the bottom of the crib where I can access it all. It means I only have a small space to get out of bed, but I like having somewhat-close access to the nightstand.



For those things I want at arms-reach in the night, we use a clothes basket. When V was younger and needed lots of nighttime diaper changes, we also kept a diaper-change bag in the basket so I could change him without getting up. The safest rules for cribs say that there should be absolutely no items in the crib save for a fitted sheet, so use a basket with caution. I felt comfortable with the basket because it has breathing holes; in the rare event that should baby turn around, wiggle down, and smash his face into the basket, I didn’t feel he could suffocate on it. Also, I made sure to never put anything in the basket that baby could choke or strangle on.

35 comments:

  1. Hi, What crib sheets did you use for the sidecar arrangement?

    -Rain

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  2. The sheet is from Kidsline's organic crib bedding line called Willow.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I see Amazon (among others) still has it in stock...
    http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Willow-Organic-Fitted-Sheet/dp/B004HKIB8M/ref=pd_sim_ba_9

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  5. Thanks for posting these instructions; I found them very helpful. What kind of crib do you have? Ours is quite high at the head and the foot. Yours looks better for the side-car situation.

    It appears that you may be busy with a new baby, so please don't worry if you're not able to respond right away. I hope all is well!

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  6. Hi Jessica- It is an Ikea Sniglar.

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  7. We bought an Ikea Sniglar just today, and I wanted to see that someone used this specific crib to side car successfully. (I used a bassinet for my first ... but try finding anything on the market that will allow co-sleeping with twins!)

    Thank you for posting.

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  8. Hi P. I teach an online course to health professionals and would like permission to use your photo of the sidecar crib - the top photo in this post. Well done!

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    1. Hi Denise, I would be very happy for you to use it! You may give photocredit to the blog's URL. -P

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  9. We have this arrangement but are struggling with the small divot between crib mattress and king mattress. Did you find a way to push them tighter together? Or fill that hole? I've been thinking of using another sheet but that will get bunched up as well, I'm sure.

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    1. If it is a width-ways gap, can you try the pool noodle trick on the wall side of the mattress (see 4th picture down)? Pipe foam or a rolled linen (towel or sheet) shoved in that opposite end can also work to push the crib mattress nex to the bed mattress. If it is a *very* small height difference, I wouldn't sweat it.

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  10. Hi,

    I'm going to give birth in April, and am new to all of this, but was considering the same setup you wrote about here with the Sniglar crib. Is it safe to let the baby sleep in the sidecarred crib during the day, when I'm not in bed? Or do I need to get something else for her to sleep in as well?

    Thanks!

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    1. Congratulations! We let V nap alone in it until he was crawling at 9 months. After that, we started to have him nap on a floor bed unless a parent was staying in our bed during nap time. But, we also started to teach him to scale the side of our bed on his belly to get out. Around 11 months, he understood how to do that. So, we would do naps in the sidecar again. He also never was much of a roller, so I didn't worry about him rolling out of the sidecar and across the bed in his sleep. Baby E is almost 7 months and still naps in the sidecar daily. It is wonderful for nursing to sleep when needed!

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  11. I hope you are still responding to this thread. I have a pretty evacuation crib which does not have multiple mattress setting. Hence, the mattress sits too low. We are planning to drill holes and reposition the mattress. Of course we will test it for stability. Do you have any tips on this? Was it easy? Yours was the only blog that drilled these new holes in a crib. It gives me confidennce.

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    1. We carefully looked at how the crib was initially put together and then modeled our holes after that. Measure twice, drill once! Reinforce if needed. Hardware store workers and woodworkers would likely be happy to weigh in with a solution if for some reason you get it wrong.

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  12. this looks great but we have a problem as we live in a mosquito zone. we don't use a net over our bed ht we have one over LO's cot ofcourse. we would love to do what you have done hut can't work out what to do about the net situation. sigh.

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    1. I have a friend in Zambia, I will ask her what she does. Could you net your bed, too and create a unique shape for the two surfaces together?

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    2. y possibly we had thought of that. can't see any other way. any advice appreciated! thanks

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    3. any advice gratefully received! :-)

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    4. I heard from Bethany at http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com. She says, "Is it a malaria mosquito zone? If so, they should look into an extra large or custom mosquito net that will go around the bed and the side car. If no malaria, just pesky mosquitos, the only option really is to drape a net over the side car which will obviously separate mom and baby a bit but at least she can just lift one edge of the net to comfort the baby with a hand or pull baby into bed with her. It can be tricky which is why Bronwyn just still sleeps with us! But that's my best suggestion. Hope your Tanzania mama finds what works best for her!"

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  13. thanks for this! we are adapting a couple if nets to go round the whole set up. i will send you a pic when its done. Thanks for your help you have inspired us!!

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  14. Thanks for the info.

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  15. I want us to do this but we have a metal fram bed and no head board. Any suggestions?

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    1. The headboard isn't part of our set up structurally, so gaps are probably the biggest thing you'll face if your crib has a fancy headboard (ours is very straight and simple). In terms of assembly: push the head of your bed up against a wall, place the sidecar next to it. To attach the two together, here are some ideas: lash with rope or strips of fabric, use a heavy amount of zip ties, use carabineers (if you can get the size right). Does that help?

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    2. P.S. By attaching the two, I mean the metal frame of your bed and the mattress platform/frame of baby's.

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  16. I have set up our crib this way. I'll be a FTM this November. I have what may seem like a silly question though..

    Do you find it cumbersome getting baby in and out of the crib? Do you just crawl into bed with bed and place him there? And what about getting in and out of bed yourself?

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    1. It takes a time of adjustment, but isn't a big deal. I don't know if you know much about my story, but I have chronic pelvic instability and was still able to deal with this setup. One way to approach it is to lay the baby in the sidecar from the bottom and then get in bed myself. Another way is to lay the baby on the bed, then get in, then move baby over. I usually get in and out of the bed from the foot of it.

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  17. Thanks for the quick response, kind of what I was expecting. Seems cumbersome, but no biggie and I'll just get used to it. I won't have a night stand at the foot of the crib, so it might be a little easier. I did not know about your situation, but glad you found something that works for you :)

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  18. When you side car, does the crib have to be against a wall?

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  19. I have a quick question. When you first take the side of the crib off, how does it stay stabile and have the two ends not bend in or out without the support of the other side?

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    1. Hi, our crib can covert into a toddler bed. Because of this, it is designed to be stable with only three sides.

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  20. Great idea! We're thinking of doing this with our 3 month old. I'd like something that could work for several months and am wondering what you did when your child could pull himself up? We thought about dropping our mattress to the floor, putting a crib mattress beside me and getting some sort of platform that would bring the crib mattress to the same height as our bed. Trying to think of something that won't require a new plan when she starts rolling/crawling/pulling up. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Erin, I recently did a post on the mobile baby topic. I'll link you to it on my new site: http://moregreenforlessgreen.com/how-do-i-safely-bedshare-with-a-crawling-or-rolling-baby/. We've never taken our sidecar down, as it is now where my 3 year old likes to sleep if he feels lonely in his room at night. It's been less used in some seasons, but still well worth real estate in our small bedroom.

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