When to move your toddler from cot to a bed

How to move your toddler into a big bed, from knowing when he's ready, to easing the transition from cot to bed...

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Moving your toddler from a cot into a bed can be a big milestone. They’re not a little baby anymore ?

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It’s tricky to know when the timing’s exactly right, especially since moving from the cot too early might actually reduce the quality of your little one’s sleep.

Yep, a new study published by Sleep Medicine (partially funded by Johnson & Johnson) suggests that children under the age of 3 who live in countries like the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will sleep better and for longer if they stay in their crib. 

The study concluded: “Across age groups and countries, crib sleeping was significantly associated with an earlier bedtime, fewer night awakenings, longer stretches of time asleep, increased nighttime sleep duration, and decreased bedtime resistance and sleep problems.”

So, if that’s really true… how do you know when it’s best for your toddler to move on from their crib? Is there a ‘right way’ to handle the transition – plus how can you keep them safe?

Here’s what you need to know… 

What’s the right age to move your toddler from cot to big bed?

Though the study we’ve mentioned says children under 3 are fine to stay in a crib, you may notice your little one seems ready way before then!

“The decision to transfer your child from cot to bed is often led by either a new baby on the way or a nimble toddler who’s able to climb out of his cot,” says health visitor Annette Maloney.

“Other than that, while it suits you and if your toddler is happy in his cot, it really doesn’t matter how long he stays there.”

Wendy Dean, author of The Baby Sleep System, adds:”There’s no ideal time, but if your child is somewhere between 14 months (with a bed close to the ground and a safety rail) and 3 years old, then just go with when it feels right for you.”

Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), says the best time to make the switch is when your little one appears to be on the cusp of climbing out of their cot.

“Once you’ve put the cot base at its lowest position, keep an eye on how active your little one is. Just before you think she’s at the point where she could climb out, transfer her to a bed.”

Mums reveal the ages their toddler changed from cot to bed

Our forum mums have long been discussing the ‘best age’ for the switch – and it really is each to their own.

MFMer Dawn says of her son: “When Isaac was 2 he climbed out of his cot, fell, cut his chin open and had to be taken to casualty. This was our signal to move him to a big bed!”

And -bliss- shares: “DS turned 2 a few weeks ago and is still in his cotbed. He will move to a bed when we decorate his room in a month or so.

“He sleeps very well in his cotbed and can’t climb out as he is still in his sleeping bag at nights! We think it’ll be the right time to change him as our second baby will arrive in May so hopefully he will be all settled into his bed by then!

“We are planning on using a guard, if we didn’t he would definitely be up and down out of his bed as he is too much or an explorer.

“I don’t think there’s any right time, it depends when you think is best for your LO. DS has been happy in his cotbed so we didn’t see any need to change him til now.”

“I moved my dd into a double bed when she was 15 months and it was great for her,” says Louise_N of her experience.

“She slept far better than she did in a cot. I put a bed guard on each side to stop her falling out and it worked. She wasn’t a climber so I knew she would be fine. When she wanted out she just called for us to come in for her.”

Kel4says age wasn’t a factor for her at all: “I don’t think age comes into it, unless they ask for big bed, like i did!!!

“I think physical safety and sleeping habits come first. My son was 2 2 wks ago and can’t climb out, shows no signs and plays up at bedtime so there is no way I’m moving him yet! Plus my second due in May, so I would rather wait till way after he is used to baby before another adjustment.”

Garfield24sBoys added: “We moved Daniel at 14 months, he was a very wriggly baby and kept getting his arms and legs stuck in the bars of the cot so we had little choice! Put a bed guard on for him for a couple of months but we’ve never had any problems with him.

“He stopped wriggling as much once he was in the big bed, absolutely loved it. Went through a phase of getting out when he was about 18 months old but couldn’t get back into bed (very high) so had to buy him a step and used cc once he could get back in on his own; within a few days he was sleeping properly again.”

Is a bed safe for your toddler?

Until your toddler’s used to a ‘proper’ bed, you can have one with guard rails on each side, or on one side if the bed’s side butts up to a wall. 

“Bear in mind the safety factors involved when it comes to transferring your toddler to a bed. You’ll need to make sure that if he falls out, he’ll land safely. Some bed sides can be useful for preventing this, or you could place soft pillows on the floor next to his bed,” explains Annette.

(One of our mums, Lucy, adds of her experience: “Mummy was an idiot as had a bedside table next to his bed and he did fall out on the 3rd night and bruised his poor face… so we have got a bed guard now AND moved the table over a bit!”)

“Once he’s in bed, there’s the risk that he may wander out of his room. If you’re worried that he may get up in the night, place a stair gate across his bedroom door or at the top of any stairs he may encounter.”

Some other things to think about include:

  • What will your toddler will come across if they crawl out of bed? Make sure there are no tripping hazards.
  • Toddlers and older children can get tangled in curtain cords or try to climb out of a window. Tuck away cords and use window locks.

How to make the move from cot to bed easier for your toddler

Keep your child’s bedtime routine the same and you should find the transition is pretty smooth. Get him used to the idea of a ‘big bed’ by talking about it and perhaps playing on it.

If the move to a bed is being partially driven by the fact you’ve got another baby on the way, you should transfer your toddler into a bed before the birth. Your little one will then have a chance to get used to the ‘big bed’ before their new baby brother or sister needs to move into ‘his’ cot.

“I moved my son into a bed a few months back. He cried the 1st night and then hasn’t make a noise since. The cot is still in his room but thats because his sister will be moving in with him at 6 months.

“We left the cot empty for a few weeks then I had him help me put Lola’s things in it and he understands he has his own bed and the cot’s for his baby sister,” says x.Laura.x

“He has fell out once but he’s one of those kids who sleeps upside down diagonal etc! If he gets up we ignore it as he gets back into bed to go back to sleep.

“I did have to remove a lot of toys as they were to tempting he now has one box and hell often play for a short while then get into bed with a book and dose off. He’s only been found sleeping out of his bed once and that was today he was in his bottom drawer lol! But they surprise you how quickly they’ll adapt to things.”

Including your toddler in the whole process really can help, whether it’s buying the bed, or if you already have the bed, going to choose the bed linen together.

That’s exactly what Lucy did. “I put my 2 year old into a bed a few months ago and didn’t give him the option of the cot as thought it might confuse him.

“We got him a Bob the Builder duvet cover and showed him us putting the bed up so he could get used to it…

“We’d also redecorated his room as well, so he had a few changes to get used to. He was very excited about sleeping with Bob the Builder and to be honest we had no problems with him going into the bed and staying there at all..

“We stuck to his usual bedtime routine and I sit on the bed with him and read him a story while he drank his milk – but think we were probably lucky, he’s quite chilled out generally!”

If you need to assemble the bed, allow your toddler to feel they’re your helper. Get your toddler to help you make the bed, too. This makes the change feel positive and exciting, and may also give your child a sense of ownership and help ’em feel relaxed around the bed. 

Be mindful of what else is happening in your toddler’s life. If there are a lot of other changes going on – you’re returning to work, there’s a change of nursery, your toddler’s ill or potty training – the move from the familiar, safe, secure cot into a new bed could be a little bit overwhelming. 

Are bunk beds safe?

Children shouldn’t sleep on the top bunk until the age of 6.

After that, nearly all children will want to play on bunk beds so all you can do is warn them of the risks and make sure it’s safely designed.

As well as conforming to the British safety standard (BS EN747), it should have:

  • Guard rails on each side at the top.
  • Rail gaps of 6cm-7.5cm (2½in  -3in).
  • A mattress at least 10cm (4in) below the top of the guard rail.
  • Gaps between under-mattress slats of no more than 7.5cm (3in).
  • A ladder with treads at least 3cm (12in) wide and 20cm (8in) apart.

Have your say

Do you have an experience you’d like to add, that you think would help other parents decide when their child needs to move from a cot to a bed? Let us know in the comments below…

Images: Getty Images

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