In this post, I have shared my detailed research of the history of cribs including the evolution of cribs from ancient times to the 1600s, to the 20th century, and to the modern-day cribs. This is part of a series of articles on the history of baby gear which we have covered here at MotherhoodHQ.
We previously covered others such as;
- History of strollers and baby carriages
- History of baby monitors
- History of trampolines
- History of car seats
- History of baby formula
- History of baby showers
- History of baby bottles
With this article on the origins of cribs, let’s start with the cribs of ancient times. How did babies sleep back then?
Where did babies sleep in ancient times
Babies slept in hollowed-out logs and simple pine rockers in ancient times.
The hollowed-out cribs looked like a food trough and its sides were just tall enough to prevent the baby from rolling out.
The hollowed-out cribs and the simple pine rockers were an improvement from earlier co-sleeping arrangements that caused many baby deaths.
How did babies sleep before cribs?
Babies slept with their parents, in hollowed-out rocks, and simple pine rockers before the inventions of cribs. The use of hollowed-out logs and the pine rockers came after the rise of deaths sleeping with their parents because of being accidentally crushed to death.
History of Baby Sleep Positions
The baby’s sleep position has evolved from the tummy, back and sides, and back to the back position over the years. Parents put their babies to sleep on their tummy until the late 1980’s believing that putting on their back placed them at risk of suffocating on their own vomit.
A Baby Sleeping on their Tummy
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warned parents against the tummy sleep position for their infants and recommended the back or side position after linking tummy sleep position to high rates of Sudden Infant Deaths (SIDS). The AAP explained that the tummy sleep position limited the amount of air a baby was breathing. The incidence rate of SIDS reduced significantly after the recommendation of the back or side sleep positions for infants.
A Baby Sleeping on their Back
A Baby Sleeping on their Side
The AAP soon after revised their recommended back and side sleep positions for infants, recommending the back position as the only safe sleep position for babies.
AAP explains that the side sleeping position is risky for infants because of the risk of falling to their stomachs and increasing the risk of SIDS.
Origin of cribs
The origin of baby cribs can be traced as early as the 1620’s when mothers used hollowed-out logs as sleeping areas for their newborns.
In the early 1900s, parents used bassinets and cradle to put their bed to sleep, but had to improve the cradle soon after to keep the baby in the cradle safely and from cold. Other mothers also used cut-out wine barrels as co-sleepers.
In the 1920s, parents embraced baby “cages” after Eleanor Roosevelt popularized their use for babies after hanging a chicken wire cage out of the window for her baby to take a nap in.
In the 1950s, cribs started to look like the modern ones but they lacked safety precautions.
In 1973, the Consumer Product Safety Commission established the first federal crib safety standards.
In 1987, Graco invented the Pack N’ Play, a mobile bed that facilitates sleep on the go.
In the late 1990s, Stokke developed a crib that is convertible to a toddler bed.
The Stokke Sleepi Crib Convertible into a Toddler Bed
In 2010, the American Pediatric Association developed safety guidelines for all cribs.
Here are detailed crib safety guidelines for babies below 12 months.
Where did babies sleep in the 1800s?
Hacked Wine Bottle Used for Sleeping Babies in the 1800s
Babies slept in hollowed-out logs and hacked barrels (for co-sleeping) in the 1800s. Other parents used pine rockers to put their babies to sleep in the 1800s.
1920s Baby Cribs
A Baby Cage on a Ledge Outside a Window
Baby cages, cradle swings, and baby cradles were the 1920s baby cribs. Eleanor Roosevelt popularized the baby cage in the 1920s after she hung a chicken wire cage with her child in it to take a nap arguing that fresh air was good for a baby’s wellbeing.
A Baby Cradle
The swinging cradle was a lifted cradle aimed to keep a baby from cold temperatures. The cradle could only contain a sleeping baby.
History of Christmas Cribs
The Nativity Scene that Introduced the Christmas Crib Tradition
Saint Francis of Assisi developed the first Christmas crib in 1223 when he created the first nativity scene to cultivate the worship of Christ. The nativity scene became so popular that churches, homes, shopping malls, and other places display it every Christmas period.
Today, the Christmas crib is decorated colorfully with lights, plants, sand, straw, and other things according to one’s personal liking. The Christmas Crib can be as moderate or as extravagant as you desire.
A Brief History of Co-Sleeping
Co-sleeping is an ancient parenting method that was popular until the late 1700s. Historians document that Catholic priests in Paris, Brussels, Munich, and London started the campaign against co-sleeping after mothers confessed to crushing their babies to death intentionally.
Today, co-sleeping is discouraged because of the associated risks to SIDs. In fact, most parents had embraced baby cribs by the mid-1900s. The AAP advises parents to put the babies on separate sleeping surfaces and has no proof of the efficiency of devices that seek to make bed-sharing safe.
Why do Babies Sleep in Cribs?
According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, babies sleep in cribs because it provides a safe place for an infant to sleep as it conforms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standards.
The CPSC recommends that a safe sleeping area for babies is a crib, play yard, or bassinet with a firm, flat mattress and taught sheet, free of clutter, no blankets, pillows, crib bumpers, stuffed animals, and other objects, preventing SIDS.
When were Toddler Beds Invented?
Toddler beds were invented after the cribs with the realization that babies who outgrew the crib needed to transition to a bed, but the normal was not safe for toddlers. However, the toddler beds were only mass-marketed during the last decade of the 20th century and the beds became very popular in the 1990s as a better alternative to the standard twin or double beds.
Today, the safety standards of a toddler bed according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission are that it should have entrapment guardrails on all sides, be strong enough to hold adult weight and be low enough to allow a toddler to climb out and in of the bed.
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Hi there! I am Ashley Davis, a mom of three kids and the editor here at Motherhoodhq.com. I have been a parent since 2011 and have been doing full-time consulting as a baby sleep expert since 2019. When I am not researching or testing the next baby gear hitting the market, you’ll find me teaching my toddlers a trick or two – especially over the last few months with the lockdown. I hope you’ll find my guides and reviews helpful as you make your next purchase decision. If you have any questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.