Transitioning to a Toddler Bed at 18 Months
My toddler, Olive, has been a nightmare of a sleeper since she was around 8 months old.
Seemingly switching from a great sleeper to an awful one, almost overnight, it seems I wasn’t blessed with the unicorn baby I’d cautiously hoped she’d be.
Sadly, and despite trying every technique published on the internet for the next year or so, Olive’s sleep continued to be disrupted. It seemed she had a genuine hatred of her cot; a hatred that would result in shrill screams as soon as she saw the bars of her tiny ‘prison’.
After a very tiring year of trying to improve my toddler’s sleep, I eventually admitted defeat and concluded that she might settle better in a bed.
With eye bags threatening to engulf my entire face, I decided to take the plunge and look into moving to a toddler bed at 18 months old. After reading endless articles about whether or not she’d be ready for this big move, I realised I had absolutely nothing to lose.
How much worse could it get?
Nearly sixteen weeks later since this transition to a toddler bed at 18 months and I can confirm that I’m still alive to tell the tale. While moving Olive to a toddler bed hasn’t transformed her into a 7-7 unicorn sleeper (alas), our bedtime routine and sleep has vastly improved.
Read on to find out more about my experience of transitioning Olive to a cot bed at 18 months, alongside any tips or tricks I’ve learned along the way.
What Age Should a Toddler Transition to a Bed?
I’d always presumed I’d move Olive to a toddler bed when she was 2-2.5 years old.
However, and after a lot of research, I realised there are plenty of parents moving toddlers to cot beds at 18 months old. In fact, one third of people move their toddlers to a toddler bed between 18 months to 2 years old.
The main reason people transition their toddlers to a cot bed is because they’ve outgrown the cot and are able to climb out of it. At this point, most parents are forced to move their toddlers to a bed to avoid any serious injuries.
Despite Olive’s intense efforts, however, she wasn’t able to climb out of the cot and could have probably fit into it for another year or so. My motivation was therefore less physical and more psychological – and personal. I was looking for ways to improve Olive’s sleep, before my brain finally melted away.
From the many articles I read, it seemed that for many of us sleep deprived parents (and I’m presuming you’re one of them if you’re reading this), we had nothing to lose from ditching the cot and everything to gain.
Swayed by the stories I’d read online and read from our community of parents on Instagram, I decided it was time to bite the bullet.
I was going to ditch the cot.
How to Prepare a Toddler When Moving to a Bed
Before transitioning Olive into a toddler bed, I wanted to make sure that we were well prepared for her big move – and that her bedroom was safe in case of any nocturnal wanderings.
Here’s what we did.
1. Safe Proofing the Bedroom
When contemplating moving Olive from her cot to a toddler bed, I was most concerned about making sure her room was safe. Now unshackled from the bars of her cot, I was worried that she’d accidentally pull furniture down and injure herself. To prevent this, we:
Secured heavy furniture to the wall: we had already secured the wardrobe to the wall, but we also did this for her chest of drawers.
Made sure there was plenty of empty space around the bed: I was initially planning on putting a bedside table next to Olive’s toddler bed, but decided against this incase she fell out and hit her head. This, as I touch upon later, turned out to be a very wise move.
Removed any small choking hazards from the room: for example, we moved her dolls house and its small accessories downstairs.
Installed covers over any free plug sockets: we decided not to put a stair gate on her door, fearing it would just make her feel trapped. Instead, we close all the doors upstairs before we go to bed and just leave our bedroom door open (we have a stair gate over the stairs, of course).
2. Choosing the Right Toddler Bed
One of the most daunting decisions when transitioning Olive to a toddler bed at 18 months old, was knowing what bed to choose. Olive’s existing cot, from Silver Cross, turned into a toddler bed and although I knew this would be the most logical thing to use, I was debating whether or not to go for a larger bed.
Why, I hear you ask?
Because getting a child to sleep in the comfort of a double bed, rather than hanging off the side of a small toddler bed, sounded far more appealing.
There was a surprising number of parents on Instagram who suggested doing this and I was very nearly swayed into doing it. Eventually, however, I decided to keep with the Silver Cross cot bed and I’m really happy that we did.
Low to the ground, Olive’s regular fall outs have resulted in little harm and it fits nicely in her bedroom. It’s also meant that we’ve been stricter in making sure she falls asleep alone in the bed, rather than climbing in with her.
(Although, and as I discuss below, I have managed to squeeze myself in there on one too many occasions).
3. Introducing Your Toddler to a Quilt and Pillow
The week before we moved Olive to her toddler bed, we introduced her to her new quilt and pillow. As she was in a sleeping bag before, I was a little worried about how she’d react to these and I wanted her to get used to them before the big move.
I had an unashamedly brilliant morning in John Lewis, buying her the cot bed quilt, pillow set and mattress protector set (£40.00) along with some impossibly cute duvet sets.
Thankfully, she took to them really well and didn’t seem to notice they were much different from her usual sleeping bag setup.
4. Preparing for Your Toddler to Fall Out of Bed
As mentioned above, I was worried about Olive falling out of bed and hitting her head on nearby furniture. Once we’d built the cot bed, we therefore moved her bedroom furniture around, so that there was plenty of space for her to fall.
Admittedly, the space around her bed looks a little empty now, but it puts my mind at rest that if she was to fall at night, there’s minimum opportunity for her to hurt herself.
5. Make a Plan for How You’ll Manage Your Toddler Climbing out of Bed
Finally, before transitioning to a toddler bed at 18 months, I wanted to put a plan in place for the inevitable situation of her climbing out of bed during the night. Having experienced it many times over the last few months, there’s nothing more disorientating than being woken by, “hi, Mummy” at 3am.
We decided on a plan of action and agreed to try to stick to it over the coming weeks, as Olive got used to her new bedroom.
Did we stick to it? Find out below.
How to Stop Your Toddler Falling Out of Bed
One of the biggest hurdles we faced during the first few weeks of moving Olive to a toddler bed, was stopping her falling out. A little naïve before the transition, I didn’t think it would happen more than a few times, but Olive fell out of bed continually over the first few weeks.
The loud bump, followed by a little cry (or sometimes silence if she miraculously stayed asleep), became a regular feature of our evenings.
Taking to Instagram to seek a solution, I was given the best hack I’ve come across when it comes to transitioning your child to a toddler bed: the noodle.
This unlikely swimming accessory has been a game changer in preventing Olive falling out of bed at night. I simply put it under her sheet and run it the length of the bed (on the outer side). The noodle acts as the perfect buffer to stop her falling. Small and soft enough to be comfortable if she lies across it, this modest little swimming noodle has stopped Olive’s nightly bumps.
Transitioning to a Toddler Bed at 18 months: Did it Improve Sleep?
So, the real question: did transitioning to a toddler bed at 18 months improve Olive’s sleep? Here’s a breakdown of how it’s gone since we moved her to a cot bed in October 2022.
1. First week (October 2022)
I should probably put a disclaimer here that as someone who is a veteran of disrupted sleep, this week was less unpleasant for me than it would be for someone used to a full night’s sleep.
As such, the first week of transitioning to a toddler bed at 18 months was far less of an ordeal than I’d imagined.
Olive was instantly delighted by her new bed and the space in her room that she once hated, she now adored.
Having already had a week using the quilt and pillow, she recognised the hedgehog quilt and ran straight over to climb in. We started the transition with her lunch time nap, as she’s usually so tired around midday that getting her to sleep then is far easier than at bedtime.
The first nap in her toddler bed went by without any hiccups and she slept her usual 1 hour and 30 minutes. Bolstered by this, we entered bedtime with equal excitement: was this really the answer to all our sleep related issues?
Sadly not, but the bedtime routine was much easier.
Before moving Olive to her cot bed, our night time routine consisted of reading to her in the nursery armchair before letting her fall (mostly) asleep on us. We would then begin the stressful journey from chair to cot, trying not to break any ribs as we slowly bent over the cot to place her down.
Moving to a cot bed transformed our routine and on the first night, Olive jumped into bed with some books. This is something she’d never have done in her cot.
I was able to read to her in bed and then stayed there while she drifted off. She still wanted to be next to me and so I did have to squeeze into the tiny bed while she fell asleep. However, it was much easier to let her nod off in her bed and I was able to ninja roll away once she was asleep.
Although Olive went down nicely on the first night, she did fall out of bed twice.
More unexpectedly, however, was Olive’s reaction when she woke up in the night. Despite the bars of the cot now gone, she didn’t appear to realise that she could climb out of her bed. This meant that for the first week when Olive woke in the night, she would stand up in the bed and cry, just like she did in her cot.
2. First month transitioning to a toddler bed at 18 months
After the first few weeks, Olive (sadly) realised that she could leave the bed and the nightly visits to our bedroom soon began.
Although she stayed in bed during nap time, I was often woken to a little hand and a”Hi, Mummy!” at 2am. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of how bad things were before we moved her to her own bed, but I actually preferred this to being woken up by screams from her cot.
Rather than being distressed, she seemed jubilant that she’d found me in the dark and it was quite easy to take her back to her bed. Rather than comforting her outside the cot, I could just lay next to her as she fell asleep and then go back to my room.
Of course, this wasn’t ideal, but it was still an improvement on trying to tackle a screaming toddler back into their cot.
I’m also adamant that putting a stair gate across her door would not have helped matters. In fact, I think it would have made her far more stressed, therefore making night time wakings even more protracted.
In terms of bedtime, these continued to be much more enjoyable. We were now in the swing of selecting a few books for Olive to get into bed with, while we read to her amongst her stuffed animals.
It felt much cosier and relaxed. She still needed us next to her as she fell asleep, but laying in a quiet, cosy room with lullabies playing isn’t an unpleasant way to spend half an hour of your evening.
3. 2-3 months transitioning to a toddler best at 18 months (January 2023)
So, here we are, three months on since transitioning Olive to a toddler bed. Has sleep improved?
Although there is no distinct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, thanks to plenty of winter germs causing disrupted sleep, I’m very glad we decided to transition to a bed at 18 months. The bedtime routine has vastly improved, and over the last month, we’ve been able to leave her bed before she’s fallen asleep.
Although we’ve not made it fully out the door yet, we have made it to the dizzying heights of sitting in the doorway while she falls asleep.
I use this time to catch up on emails or read a book, so the long process of putting her down no longer feels like wasted time.
In terms of sleeping through, she’s still very much hit and miss, although I feel things are mostly much better. On a typical night, she will sleep through until 5/6am but will (usually) end up in our bed for a final doze before we get up.
On reflection, I don’t think that’s too bad at all.
As Olive turns two next month and is starting to understand more and more, I plan on implementing more ‘incentives’ for keeping her in her bed at night. This includes a reward chart with stickers if she stays in her bed (I think she’s still too young for this at the moment) as well as a Gro Clock.
Will I be enjoying 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in 3 months time? I’ll report back.