My 3-year-old son kissing his newborn sister, cradled in the topponcino.

At a glance:

  • The topponcino is an infant support pillow used during the first 8-12 weeks of life.
  • It supports the fragile head, neck and body of the newborn during holding and carrying.
  • It provide a sense of warmth, comfort, and familiar smells that make the baby feel safe, acting as a security object for infants.
  • Its constant presence can be part of building a network of secure attachments; securely attached babies are more likely to feel comfortable exploring unfamiliar environments. (1)
  • It’s “Montessori” because it respects the child’s need to feel safe and secure, and helps baby to feel comfortable in its environment.
Great grandpa using the topponcino with my son at 4 months old (2016)

The topponcino (which means something like, “little patched pillow” in Italian) is an infant support pillow used by parents and Montessori caregivers in the first few weeks of life. Physically, it is a pad with multiple layers of cotton or wool batting, covered with an outer cotton sham in a neutral color. Its purpose is to aid in a gentle introduction to the new world after birth, acting as a “second home” outside of the womb by providing familiar comfort, warmth, and scent.

What makes this simple quilted bed so “Montessori?” What compelled her to bring it back to Italy? For one, the topponcino provides an important “frame of reference” for the baby outside of the womb by acting as a known, consistent object or “attachment object” that fosters a sense of being safe and secure… ultimately allowing baby to feel more comfortable exploring its new environment.

For babies learning to control their muscles, every movement matters. The topponcino gives baby freedom to wiggle her arms and kick her legs, which is not easy to do in a constraining device like a bouncer or swing.

The topponcino offers the baby freedom of movement, since you can use the pad to lay the baby anywhere. Like a small portable quilt, the baby lying prone on the topponcino is free to wiggle and move its body. It reduces the need to put the baby in “baby containers” like rockers and swings, which constrain movement.

The topponcino makes ferrying, carrying, or holding the infant more comfortable for both parent and child. It provides support for their fragile head and neck, and reduces their sense of being “jostled” while moving them around in their exquisitely fragile state. I always think it’s similar to how we airlift for hospital patients; they don’t get roughly hugged and hauled up into the helicopter, but are ferried gently up secured to a soft bed swaying in the breeze. The topponcino is a bit like that.

But wait, there’s more! As this Montessori Moms blog post points out, mothers who had a c-section and who can’t carry a carseat can use a topponcino as a carrier instead. It also provides a little privacy while nursing, since the pillow can obscure the feeding infant.

One of my favorite ways to use it was for passing the baby to relatives, like grandparents and siblings, who may otherwise feel uncomfortable holding a fragile newborn. In the age of COVID, it can also be a more hygenic way to hold a newborn, since no hand contact is required to hold the baby.

The bontha or “quilted baby bed” in India, made from repurposed cotton fabrics, may have been the inspiration for the topponcino.

Where did it come from?

Maria Montessori in India.

The topponcino is allegedly based on quilted “baby beds” used in India which Montessori observed mothers using in the 1940s. I’m sure that if you did a little research, you would probably find that similar “baby beds” have been used by mothers for time immemorial around the world. (Montessori may have based her topponcino on the “bontha” quilted baby beds of her second home in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Note how much more colorful they are, made from beautiful old sarees!)

An Indian quilted baby bed made from stitched saree fabric and batting. Here it is being used to lay the baby in the saree cradle.

Similar to the topponcino is the “baby envelope” used in Eastern Europe:

The cousin of the topponcino used in Eastern Europe also used for holding and carrying fragile babies: конверт для новорожденных (envelope for newborn).
Another photo of the “envelope for newborn” or “zavinovačka” in Slovak, the distant cousin of the topponcino. Unlike the above design, the topponcino is open and does not enclose the baby.

Where to get one?

Traditionally, the topponcino is hand-made by students in the Montessori Assistants to Infancy (A-to-I) course. You can also make one according to the same specifications using tutorials online. You can buy it, too — handmade or manufactured, on etsy or through your favorite online retailers like the Topponcino Company.

I made mine — and I can tell you that it’s fairly easy to make if you’re at least a little crafty. I made mine using the tutorial from Voila Montessori, which features instructions on how to make a “authentic” topponcino like the ones made in the A-to-I course.

To close, I highly recommend this special little infant support pillow to all new parents! You will definitely be satisfied with it!

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

What in the world is a Topponcino? What new parents need to know about this simple infant support pillow!

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