From crawling and walking to introducing solid foods and potty training, your little one will reach many milestones in the first few years of life. While there's much to celebrate, it's understandable if both you and your child are overwhelmed with change.
One crucial milestone in the early years is graduating from a crib to a toddler bed. As you're probably aware, maintaining a sleep routine is vital during this stage, and if you already have one established, you might be apprehensive about switching things up.
Of course, there comes a time when every tot will outgrow the baby phase and enter big-kid territory. So, how long do babies sleep in cribs, and how do you know if your kiddo is ready for the transition to a toddler bed?
While there's no one-size-fits-all (or rather one-age-fits-all) answer to these questions, this guide will discuss a ballpark range, along with signs your child is ready, what to consider and how to make the transition a smooth one.
What Age Should a Child Move From a Crib to Toddler Bed?
Some babies bypass the bassinet and sleep in cribs right away. Others start at around three months and remain in the crib up until age two. Then there are kids who sleep in a crib for a solid three to four years. No timeline is explicitly better than the others.
Most sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have to do with minimizing the risk of suffocation between zero and 24 months.¹ The suggestions involve using no bedding other than a crib sheet for the first year, potentially offering a blanket after 12 months and keeping pillows and stuffed animals out of the bed until age two.
Size wise, most kids don't outgrow a crib before age three. Standard crib mattresses are 52 inches long, and it's unlikely your child will be so tall that they can't fit. And if you're using a bed that converts from a crib into a toddler bed, the mattress size will be the same.
Toddler Bed Age: When Can Baby Sleep in a Bed?
Like potty training, there's no universal best age a child should switch to a toddler bed. Some children can learn to use the potty as young as 12 months, while others aren't ready until age three or even later. With toddler beds, the change can happen as early as 15 months or as late as three and a half years.
But how long do most babies sleep in a crib? According to research published in the journal Sleep Medicine, roughly two-thirds remain in the crib for 24 months, and about 90% of toddlers transition out of the crib by age three.²
For many families, though, there's little (if any) downside to waiting. The study found that toddlers who continued sleeping in a crib from 18 months to three years were less likely to resist bedtime, went to bed earlier, fell asleep faster, slept longer and woke up fewer times throughout the night.² If you're like a lot of parents, this is huge.
Signs Your Child Is Ready to Move From Crib to Toddler Bed
Every child is different, so how do you know if yours is ready? There are a handful of indicators that can tell you whether it's the right time, but not all signs will come from your toddler. Remember that the change will affect you, too, and consider making the crib to toddler bed transition when it makes sense for everyone.
In some cases, a toddler might verbally express readiness for a big-kid bed. This could be a result of wanting to be like an older sibling, seeing that a friend has outgrown their crib, coming across the storyline in a book or on TV or a combination of things.
Most cribs are adjustable. The idea is that you lower the mattress as your toddler's climbing abilities develop to avoid a potential escape, which could result in injury or hamper a sleep schedule. By lowering the mattress, you effectively raise the crib’s bars. But at a certain age (or height, for that matter), some children will be able to climb out of the crib, even when the deck is lowered all the way down.
Some experts recommend transitioning your child to a toddler bed before they discover their ability to climb out. Others suggest making the switch after the first time they successfully scale the rails.³
Of course, the freedom to get in and out of a toddler bed poses its own safety concerns. If your child is able to understand rules about staying in bed until you come get them, you have a couple of options.⁴
You could keep them in the crib longer, even if they're able to climb out, trusting that they understand they're not supposed to. Alternatively, you could make the switch and communicate new rules about staying in bed until it's light out, or about remaining in their child-proofed room until you come in.
Too Big for the Crib
As mentioned above, it's unlikely your child will be too tall for the crib before age four. However, most toddlers are physically able to climb out of a crib when they reach 35 inches in height.⁵ Bear in mind that most children are between 35 and 40 inches tall at age three.⁶
Another Sibling on the Way
For many parents, the decision is driven by the forthcoming arrival of a second child. Though it depends on the age difference (along with other factors), pediatric experts suggest orchestrating the crib-to-toddler-bed transition two or three months before the second baby's due date or three to four months after.⁷
Transitioning early provides an adjustment buffer before things get more hectic with a newborn in the picture. If you wait, you can time the change with transitioning the new baby from the bassinet to your toddler's old crib.
Good Sleep Habits
Generally speaking, parents can expect their toddlers to be a little uncomfortable with the change at first. Having said that, those with good sleep habits — meaning they have a consistent bedtime routine and usually fall asleep without a fuss — may have an easier time transitioning than others.⁸
For more guidance on creating a nighttime routine, check out our article on Healthy Sleeping Habits for Babies.
Trying to make too many changes at once can backfire — toddlers are creatures of habit, after all. For instance, it may be best to work on potty training first and pivot to the toddler bed once that's mastered to avoid overwhelming your child.
On the other hand, if your kiddo has already nixed the bedtime bottle, no longer rides in a stroller, is fully potty trained and is potentially done with midday naps, they might be ready for the transition.
Crib to Toddler Bed: What to Consider
Now that you're aware of the signs, there are a few things you should consider about the crib to toddler bed transition.
Many parents are rightfully concerned about the risk of injury when a child climbs out of the crib. Even the most acrobatic kids could fall and hurt themselves. But that doesn't necessarily mean sleeping in a toddler bed is safer.
Make sure to consider what your child will have access to if they get out of bed. Can they leave their room, wander into the kitchen or go outside? If they're confined to their bedroom, is it child-safe?
What time does your child typically wake up? Consider whether they'll come into your bedroom early in the morning (and whether you'll welcome this) and if you're comfortable with some unsupervised time each morning — even if it's only a few minutes.
Toddler Bed Design
Bed design plays an important role in terms of both safety and comfort. The best toddler beds are low to the floor and have guardrails, like the Sparrow Toddler Bed from Parachute. Made of solid birch with a non-toxic finish, this toddler-crib combo is safe, cozy and undeniably cute.
What bed cover is best for a toddler? For blankets, consider a waffle weave or soft cashmere. As for quilts, consider cloud cotton or linen.
Learn more about bed cover sizing and materials in the Parachute Guide to Quilts, Blankets and Coverlets: A Modern Take on Traditional Covers.
How to Transition Your Child From Crib to Toddler Bed
Once you've decided when to move to a toddler bed, there are a few things you can try to make your child more comfortable and help make the change as smooth as possible.
"Big-Kid Bed" Books
Similar to potty training and weaning off the bottle, there's no shortage of books out there to help toddlers move from the crib to a toddler bed. And if you allow a little screen time, there are endless kids' shows and YouTube videos on the topic too.
"Not a Baby Anymore" Conversations
It can also help to have frequent conversations about how your child isn't a baby anymore and what it means to be a big kid — whether they're an only child or are a soon-to-be big brother or sister. This isn't about shaming them for resisting change but about talking through milestones and transitions. Sometimes, the “big kid” talk can even be a motivator.
Moving around your bedroom furniture can take some getting used to, even for adults. With this in mind, you may want to place the toddler bed in the same spot where the crib used to be, to help your child ease into the switch.
Learn more about rearranging a bedroom in Parachute’s Easy Tips for Rearranging a Bedroom Layout guide.
Look for a toddler bed with guard rails or install some yourself. Unlike cribs, the rails aren't meant to keep your child from getting out, only to prevent them from rolling out of bed and falling onto the floor in the middle of the night.
As discussed, you'll most likely have a smoother transition with a bedtime routine in place. No matter where your kiddo sleeps, healthy routines often involve taking a bath, putting on cozy pajamas, brushing teeth and snuggling up to read a story. When they move to a toddler bed, you might also need to establish a wakeup routine so they know what to do or where to go in the morning.
Toddler Alarm Clock
Toddler alarm clocks signal to littles when it's OK for them to get out of bed or call on their parents, which can be crucial during the transition. These clever gadgets sometimes use colors (red means it's still too early, green means it's OK to get up, for instance). Others use pictures or cute sounds. Toddler alarm clocks don't work for every family, but some parents swear by them.
For more recommendations on game-changing products, see our blog, Can't Live Without: Parachute Moms Share Their Must-Have Baby Items.
If your toddler sleeps with a particular stuffed animal, pillow or baby blanket, it can help to let them continue sleeping with these items, even if they're a little small for the new bed.
What toddler pillow is best for every stage? You’ll want to consider non-toxic and cozy pillow materials like down alternative.
Check out our Pillow Guide: How to Choose the Right Pillow for more insights on the best pillows for you and your baby.
New Bedding for the Crib to Toddler Bed Transition
Along with the comfort of an old stuffy or a beloved blanket, new bedding can help get your child excited about graduating to a big-kid bed. The best baby bedding materials include soft, breathable fabrics. You’ll want to consider crib sheets made of high-quality and comfortable bedding fabrics like percale, linen, and brushed cotton.
Read these articles to learn more about the top textile choices for nurseries:
Brushed Cotton: Know Your Bedding Like a Designer
Linen: Know Your Bedding Like a Designer
Percale: Know Your Bedding Like a Designer
Parachute carries all the toddler bedding and baby essentials you'll need, including fitted sheets, quilts, blankets, pillows and shams. Shop the selection today or read our article, The Baby Collection: Behind the Design, to find out what went into the curation of our children's line.
For more baby sleep and lifestyle information, learn more in these Parachute baby guides:
What is a Hooded Baby Towel? Is it a Baby Essential?
Linen Gift Ideas for Baby Showers, Weddings, and Other Special Occasions
Parachute Moms Share Must-Have Baby Items