Choosing a crib mattress can be one of the most confusing choices an expectant parent has to make. What is important? Why are there so many different types on the market? How do I make the safest choice for my baby?
Your baby will spend more time asleep than awake for their first couple years of life. Your baby will also spend more time on their mattress than any other surface. Choosing the right mattress is one of the most important purchases when planning for your baby. There are many factors to consider when making this choice!
The right size! First thing is double checking your measurements. While most standard mattresses will fit standard cribs, you want to check your measurements to make sure the mattress you choose will fit snuggly up against all sides of the crib with no gaps.
The firmness of the mattress is one of the most important factors when choosing a mattress as a safe sleep environment of your child. A firm, flat surface is essential for the safety of your baby. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, soft sleeping surfaces create a suffocation hazard for infants and increase the risk of SIDS. If you are worried about your little one's long-term comfort as they become heavier, opt for a double-sided mattress. Designed for infant use, one side should be very firm. The other side is softer or more padded, great for a heavier toddler.
There are 3 main types of crib mattresses:
Foam Mattress: Polyurethane foam is the filling material used in most baby mattresses. A foam mattress is generally the lightest option. A typical foam mattress weighs about 7 to 8 pounds, although mattresses made of memory foam (denser than traditional foam) can weigh close to 20 pounds. Offered in a variety of thicknesses, usually 3”-6”, foam mattresses are often not quite dense enough create the firm sleep surface recommended. Most foam mattresses don't list density on the packaging, but weight can be a good indicator. Foam mattress are the least expensive option as far as crib mattress are concerned, however a safe sleep surface is an investment worth making. The largest concern when thinking about a foam mattress is the toxic chemical make up of that foam. “As it stands, federal law does not require mattress companies to list the chemicals they use in their production processes. A vast number of chemicals such as boric acid, antimony, modacrylic, formaldehyde, and polyurethane foam – some used in the construction of the mattress, others used as a flame retardant – are used in the production of the mattresses that we put our families to sleep on nightly. When these off-gas, some of these chemicals may be linked to increases in many ailments, including allergies, eczema, organ toxicity, liver issues, and even cancer....Beware of brands claiming to use a soy-based foam – be sure to ask questions about whether it’s 100% soy (many mix a small percentage of soy-based foam in with the highly flammable polyurethane foam), and whether there are chemicals mixed into the foam itself. ” (GreenChildMagazine) Babies are exposed to these fire retardants and other toxins by breathing them in while sleeping on the mattress as well as through absorption through their skin.
Innerspring Mattress: An innerspring mattress is made of metal coils, covered in foam, padding, and fabric. Innerspring mattresses are generally the heaviest option although can be found in many safe, firm options. Manufacturers often equate the number of coils with firmness, but the gauge of the wire is just as important. Lower gauge means thicker wire, which is stronger and therefore firmer. Look for a mattress with 135 or more coils and a gauge of 15.5 or lower. (consumerreports.com) Higher quality steel coil options do come with a higher price tag, and remember that any innerspring mattress that contains conventional foam covering still has the same toxin risks as a foam mattress.
Organic Matters: Organic mattresses are made with all-natural and organic materials, including cotton, wool, coconut fibers, food-grade polymers, plant-based foam, and natural latex. An organic mattress can be made of natural materials with or without steel inersprings. These mattresses do not contain flame retardants known as PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), vinyl, or petroleum based/polyurethane foam. All mattresses sold in the US must be fire retardant, however an organic mattress option will use naturally fire retardant materials (such as wool) and leave out the chemical options.
If using a foam or non organic innerspring mattress, the most important step you can take to reduce the toxic exposure to your little one is to allow the mattress (and all other new baby items brought into the home) to off-gas in a well ventilated area for as long as possible before use.
Risk of mold is another thing to consider. Purchasing a waterproof, well vented mattress (look for small grommeted holes on the sides of the mattress for ventilation) or waterproof mattress protector for a fabric topped mattress will prevent moisture from seeping into the inner layers of the mattress creating an environment for mold to grow. Seeing that many organic mattresses will not be waterproof in of themselves, an organic mattress pad under the tight fitting sheet is a great option. (Naturepedic Organic Cotton Waterproof mattress pad is a perfect option, and it is the only waterproof pad that is GOTS and GreenGuard Select certified.)
No matter what mattress parents choose, they should continue to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe-sleep guidelines and put babies to sleep on their backs on a firm, bare surface.
Looking for more great information on choosing the best gear for your little one? Check our the Welcome Home Baby Virtual Event for 7 sessions by expert speakers in the infant care field, including a sessions I present on Nesting: Building the Perfect Registry and Setting up Your Nursery.
Or contact me today to set up your own private consultation!