If you’ve looked into Montessori for a newborn you’ve probably come across the topponcino, for sale here or here or here. This was the first material we made in our A to I training, challenging many of us to brush up on or learn how to use the sewing machine. It was also one of the materials, along with the undershirt, that I was most looking forward to using when my daughter was first born. I made sure it was packed in the hospital bag, ready to use from birth. It is also one of the few items for the Assistants to Infancy that Maria Montessori mentioned herself.
The baby should remain as much as possible with the mother directly after birth, and the environment must not present obstacles to his adaptation … The child must be carefully handled and moved, not … rapidly and roughly dressed – roughly in the sense that any handling of a new-born child is rough because he is so exquisitely delicate, psychically as well as physically. It is best of all if the newborn child is not dressed, but rather kept in a room sufficiently heated and free from draughts, and carried on a soft mattress, so that he remains in a position similar to the prenatal one. ~Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
The topponcino is exactly that, a soft mattress for the newborn to aid in his/her adaptation to his/her new world (outside of the womb). Maria Montessori’s thoughts on infancy were greatly influenced by her time spent in India and my understanding is that this is where she first saw this “soft mattress” (and perhaps why she felt the newborn did not need to wear clothing but this is my own interpretation as I opt for a lower heating bill and clothing that allows for freedom of movement). The topponcino is made from cotton or wool (if you live in a cold climate) batting with a simple cover. It then has a sham that goes over top. The sham is typically white with a white eyelet lace ruffle at the top of it. It is elliptical in shape to simulate the shape of the womb, again to aid the newborn in his/her adaptation. If you choose to use a coloured sham it should be plain or simple in design with soft colour(s). In addition to the wool one I had made during my training I was given the gift of a plush, cotton topponcino with a beautiful blue, floral cover made by my friend. Typically you would have multiple shams (they do get spit-up, etc. on them) and you could also use a rubberized flannel protector or other mattress protector underneath the sham but I was lucky enough to have two topponcinos for washing. Topponcinos do need to be hand washed and air dried.
I was looking forward to using a topponcino for my daughter as it is a little security pillow for the newborn. In addition to being soft and comfortable to lie on, it becomes a consistent, known object to the newborn. When the baby is first born, his/her whole world is brand new with a few exceptions, such as the sound of the mother’s voice and heartbeat. When the mother consistently uses the topponcino, the pillow absorbs the smell of the mother and provides consistent warmth to the newborn. Having a consistent smell and warmth will provide a great sense of security to the newborn. We call it having a “point of reference.” The topponcino can be used to carry and hold the newborn, including while nursing/feeding, as well as it can be used for sleeping or lying on while awake. It is a wonderful way for the newborn to be held by others so that cold hands, rough watches/bracelets, or muscle tension does not transfer to the “exquisitely delicate” newborn, as well as the smell of the mother remains with the newborn. It is a wonderful way to transfer the newborn from your arms to the bed or bassinet so that he/she doesn’t startle and the consistent warmth and smell remains with the newborn. It also serves as a third layer of warmth/clothing for the newborn.
From the moment I was able to hold her in my arms I cuddled A. on her topponcino that I had made for her. She slept on it in the hospital bassinet and comfortably looked about. One particular nurse raised a concern that it was too plush for a newborn and urged me to watch for her shoulders slumping in that would contribute to her chest being compressed and A. not being able to breathe properly. I observed for this and could clearly see this was not happening. When I explained to the nurse the purpose of the topponcino she absolutely loved it and it became a conversation starter to explain many other Montessori principles to the nurses. I was glad that the nurse had brought this to my attention as when I placed A. on the cestina using the topponcino I realized the cestina mattress was too plush to use with the topponcino. So when using the cestina I didn’t use the topponcino. I chose to use the topponcino with the Moses basket instead.
A. slept so peacefully during the day in her Moses basket on her topponcino (night was a different story). I loved cuddling her using the topponcino and watching her sleep. As she got older she didn’t sleep very well independently and we used baby carriers more. Many people have had great success transferring their newborns to the bed or bassinet using the topponcino but this was not the case for us. She continued to use the topponcino quite a bit during alert times. I would place her on the topponcino when she was on her movement mat or place a cushion in the Moses basket so she would be up higher and could see out. This way I could keep her with me wherever I was in the house or take her outside.
Using it in the home was lovely but what I really enjoyed the topponcino for was when I was taking her out. I had a c-section with slow healing so was unable to carry heavy items for many months. So while most people carry their infant in the car-seat carrier, I was unable to carry something that heavy. I found the topponcino indispensable. I would carry her out to the car using the topponcino and transfer her to her car seat. When I took her out of the car seat I used the topponcino to carry her about. I always felt more secure holding her in her security pillow, especially when my hands were a little full I could easily cradle her in one arm using the topponcino and I knew she was comfortable and secure. While we waited at many doctors appointments she was able to be comfortable, secure and warm. When we went to social gatherings I could simply place her on the floor on her topponcino. If others wanted to hold her I could easily pass her along using the topponcino (although for reasons I will write about another time I did limit my outings and others holding her for the first few months). When breastfeeding out in public I didn’t have a nursing cover at first but by curling the topponcino up I felt covered. I really don’t know what I would have done during those challenging first few months without my topponcino.