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We have friends who decided against a crib in favor of a futon mattress on the floor. This idea came from the book Montessori from the Start. The benefits for the baby are that they aren't confined and can start exploring their (safe) room as soon as they can crawl and it's supposedly safer since they aren't going to fall from high up. The benefits for the parents supposedly are that during sleepless nights you can lay on the floor next to them instead of staying bent over the crib for a long time.

We've been considering doing the same once our boy is too big for his bassinet but I'm somewhat skeptical considering that most people in the world who live in houses or apartments use cribs. So, there must be major benefits to having the baby high off of the ground and surrounded by bars, right?

Of course, this is based off of my assumption that crib use is universal (for people who have the room and can afford them). Is this truly the case? What are the popular alternatives?

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My Indian parents had my sister and myself in a makeshift hammock-like swing called jhoola, that hung from the ceiling. The problem, of course, is safety. However, the benefits are that it provides a womb-like experience (very snuggly, adapts to baby's shape) and baby can be rocked in its bed.

I always understood the existence of cribs as a safety reason compared to alternatives - jhoola, co-op sleeping, etc. The confinment to a space and big bars everywhere are for safety, not because it's great for your child. Also, rolling off a mattress, even if just a few inches high, can be deadly for a child. Your child can roll-over and fall off the mattress on the wrong angle and wind up with their face in the mattress (on their side). They might get really confused, frustrated, or just not be able to breathe.

I personally am not very interested in the idea of letting the baby explore when it is time to sleep. My daughter will stay awake for as long as I keep stimulating her or providing her things to be distracted. If I don't put her to sleep, she will exhaust herself, get fussy and grumpy - in other words - she is a horrible judge of when to go to sleep. This is something I have to teach her. I teach her this by association - that her crib is not play time, instead it is time to sleep. I feel that if I encourage her to explore in her bed, it'll be harder for her to associate sleeping with her bed.

It's similar with adults, as far as I understand. Sleep therapists will commonly say to refrain from doing activities such as watch TV, reading books, studying, eating, etc. in your bed. You should use your bed to associate with sleep. Other activities can confuse your body and can make it harder to fall asleep.

I also think it's very dangerous to leave a baby alone to explore. I encourage my infant to explore a lot - but under supervision. I don't cram her in a playpen during the day (I only put her in when I have to go to the bathroom) - and man, does she go exploring.

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This is the first I've heard of the mattress-on-the-floor method, but I have to say, my first reaction is: there is no such thing as a safe room. Once mobile, a baby is able to get herself into dangerous situations using almost nothing. Crawl under the mattress, anyone? Or better yet, crawl over to the door, so it will hit the baby when the parents try to come in. Cribs have their dangers, but with a properly sized mattress and nothing within reach, they can be made reasonably secure, and you don't have to worry about the baby exploring the diaper pail or climbing up the bookshelf or emptying out the dresser.

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+1, just wanted to add that even if you could make a room completely safe, there are times you want your baby to sleep when they want to explore. –  Karl Bielefeldt Jun 7 '11 at 19:32
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Health consideration:
Some may (perhaps correctly) argue that lifting the infant from the floor gives a certain level of protection against the dust particles that naturally exist whether you have hard floors or carpeting.

Point of reference:
Cribs are useful in the same way that tables are -- they lift interesting things up to a height that's easy for adults to reach. This is true if your point of reference is standing up. But having lived a few years in Japan, I understand the use of the floor as the point of reference as well, and let me tell you, it was blissful to sleep on a futon on the floor. Alas, you can't get that kind of futons in Europe; what's called futon here is rather an expandable sofa.

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Sleeping on the floor is all well and good, but then you have to get up. Once past 30, gravity is not your friend. –  Martha Jun 7 '11 at 18:36
    
That's a fun way of putting it :-) and while I agree about gravity, I find it easier to roll face-down then lift myself onto all fours, rather than doing crunches on a soft bed to get up. Maybe I'm different. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 8 '11 at 6:18
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I'd like to add my daughter quite liked being in the crib to sleep. I think she liked the confined space. She would even push herself into a corner making her space even smaller. I don't even know if she would have been able to sleep on the floor like you describe.

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My son does this too! Like Swati's jhoola, I'm sure babies like it cramped when they need comfort. That's also why we hug the way we do - it's comforting. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 8 '11 at 6:16
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We began with our baby in a crib and due to a lack of space we found it awful to have to hover over the crib while she fell asleep. We also had a terrible time trying to place her in the crib already asleep to 'finish' a nap. It was impossible - she'd wake up every time. So one evening my wife, fed up, decided to lay her on the double bed we had in the same room (high up, not a mattress on the floor). She was able to rest beside the baby comfortably before leaving. She surrounded her with a parameter of pillows and walked away. To our delight the baby slept wonderfully to the end of her nap - squirmed all over the bed, tossed and turned and had a wonderful sleep. We've been doing it ever since. Our baby now almost 2 hasn't slept in a crib since she was 4 months old.

It surprised us how perfectly normal this was - one of those things you sort of assume you have to do with a baby but in the end, we could have saved ourselves the $500 crib.

Some things to point out:

We dutifully video monitor and check on her - especially in the early days to make sure she didn't crawl under a pillow or roll too near the edge of the bed - we had heard so much about so-called "SID" that we feared her smothering etc. It became obvious that she was smarter than we gave her credit for. Even asleep, she was quick to shuffle around or move if she got her face up against a pillow. Turns out older babies breathe as naturally as adults do (and react if it become obstructed). It's been our experience that there is a lot of the childcare industry and products that simply play off lingering parental insecurities without a lot of basis in fact.

She did fall off the bed once. On one occasion we got over-confident and regrettably left a hole in the 'pillow parameter'. As if she knew it was there, she rolled right through it in her sleep. She woke up with a scare but she was perfectly fine. Tough lesson to learn but on the bright side, she's rarely rolled that near the edge again. We left some extra cushions on the floor for a while just in case.

Now, at the age of 2, we still have a few pillows placed at strategic points on the bed to prevent her from rolling off and we usually find her head on one of them. She's adapted to it like it's a 360 degree bed. Sometimes when going to bed she even has fun helping us arrange the pillows as part of her routine.

Bottom line is - this works for us just fine. It won't work for everyone and some parents are too nervous for something like this and that's fine too. Like everything in parenting you have to do what's best as long as you do it safely. There is no 'rule' that says a crib is necessary.

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I would like to add that this can, and does, vary for babies. I've had a baby that decided it was a bright idea to just crawl over the pillow cushion, and off the bed. I had another baby that would patiently sit there, surrounded by her pillow cushion, waiting for someone to come get her. BTW, our infant also had a problem "finishing" off her nap in the crib - it was a phase that she went through for a month. After that, it just sort of disappeared :) –  Swati Jun 7 '11 at 21:06
    
Agreed. I thought I made that clear in the final paragraph but as a rule of thumb I think every answer in here has to be viewed with the caveat that every child is different and has different needs. –  Eyesno Jun 7 '11 at 21:14
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I sort of felt that parents were being called "too nervous" if they are using cribs, etc. The tone was almost scary :) Parents are too cautious at times, but cribs exist for a very real reason! –  Swati Jun 7 '11 at 21:16
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Sorry, but I just can't support an answer like this. Its great that your experience worked out well, but basically your advice is "ignore every warning about the dangers of suffocation, because its a waste of time". "It won't work for everyone" is an unsuitable disclaimer, because by the time some parents found out that it didn't work for them, their child could potentially suffocate. It is possible that all the warnings by the AAP and other groups about avoiding pillows, etc. due to suffocation hazard are bunk, but all you are countering with is anecdotal evidence from your one experience. –  Beofett Jun 8 '11 at 12:12
    
"so called SIDS"? I'd minus one if I could for that comment. –  DanBeale Aug 7 '11 at 13:58
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The main alternative is co-sleeping, which, I believe, much of the planet's population still does.

We did that mainly because it was just way more convenient for Mom. She could just roll over to nurse.

One should take some precautions, of course (make sure the baby can't roll off one side, make sure you or your spouse aren't on sleep meds or anything that would cause abnormally deep sleep, us proper bedding, etc.)

The crib's main use is to keep danger away from the kid when you're not around. Pets can't get in, baby can't get out, etc. Granted, cribs aren't always safe either.

A baby on the floor unattended seems like a really bad idea.

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I'd like to add that when I sleep alone, I am a pretty deep sleeper, but when I slept with two babies, which I've done for a few months, my sleep was much lighter, and all three of us were comfortable all of the time. –  reinierpost Aug 23 '11 at 8:28
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We purchased a small "urban" crib to use bedside, based on all the dire warnings from the parenting classes we took about SIDS and such. In practice, it has been used no more than a dozen times or so for actual sleeping, other than a short period of time just after birth when our son needed light therapy for bilirubin.

There are several reasons for this. Our son rarely found swaddling sufficient comfort, and he would complain if mom was more than a few inches away after apparently sleeping for a few minutes. My wife found that she was more exhausted when she needed to get up out of the bed to pick up our son to breastfeed, and so she was more comfortable rolling over and nursing prone than having to make the more disruptive movements required to extract him. And really, we've just never had much luck in getting our son to sleep for more than a very short time in the crib.

My wife found in the mothers' groups that she attends, including Japanese and non-Japanese mothers, it was actually pretty rare for most first-time mothers to get much use out of the crib. Cosleepers were the closest thing to successful with mothers who had the foresight to buy them; our son sleeps in our bed most of the time, with the crib placed bedside cushioned by pillows. It serves as a barrier rather than as a crib. Our son is now 9 months old. The crib is now full of various towels and toys.

If we were in Japan, we'd almost certainly never have purchased a crib; most parents sleep with the baby just next to them on the floor on another futon. Even families that have Western bedding in Japan often abandon it in favor of the futon when they have children.

I'd say that crib use is far from universal around the world, since people sleep on the floor in many countries. Your mileage may vary. Granted, we never had much success with the bassinet either, so if that works for you, chances are the crib will be just fine.

For what it's worth, there are a few safety downsides to the crib, mostly involving falls, both inside the crib (not so serious), and falling out the crib (which is more likely when the child gets bigger), or sometimes from climbing up the sides from outside.

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What are you going to do when your son is one? Two? Three? –  DanBeale Aug 7 '11 at 13:55
    
@Dan: Excellent question, and we've been discussing that, but nothing final yet. In Japan most parents actually sleep with the kids in the room for a fairly long time (one or two years common, three years not unheard of). We're now kind of leaning toward a low bed or futon to the side of ours now that he's getting close to 1, with future adjustments made when they make sense. –  JasonTrue Aug 7 '11 at 15:23
    
@Dan, now that we've gone there, we basically just got a small bed with some sideguards from Ikea, and it's next to our bed for the time being. It sits much lower than the one we sleep on, so falls would be no worse than the daily tripping and falling that toddlers do. It's been working pretty well, and is a little less scary and a lot more comfortable for me than having him between us. –  JasonTrue Jan 4 '12 at 10:15
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Crib usage is not universal.

We're Montessori parents, most of the time, and this is our baby's room, without a crib. We've been trying it as an experiment and things are working pretty well.

The mattress is very low and there's a cushioned surface below it. Even when he falls, and he did a few times, it's still fine. He doesn't even wake up after falling. It's quite a funny scene to get to the room and seeing him sleeping in the play mat. :-)

Actually, he slept in the crib for 3 months after birth. Then we moved him to his own bedroom and out of the crib. He's 5 months old now and seems to quite like it. The crib can also be a bit dangerous when he grows up and tries to climb it. Most importantly, if our boy could speak I think he would say he prefers to sleep this way. Wouldn't you? :-)

No crib, just mattress!

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"Wouldn't you?" Oh yes I would! While living in Japan for some years, I slept on a traditional futon on the (rice-mat) floor. I've never slept better. Alas, you can't come by such things in the west... –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 22 '11 at 5:56
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