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.
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.