Is your baby, as the French say, ‘doing their nights’? If so, they’ll be asleep in their bassinet, crib, or cradle for a good 10-12 hours a night, or 14-17 hours if they’re a newborn. That means they’re spending almost all their time in close contact with their crib mattress, mattress pad, and crib sheets.
Do you know what’s in these products? What are the best materials for a crib mattress? The goal is to create a cozy sleep sanctuary for your little one.
See also: The Best Sustainable Crib Mattresses
I’ve written quite a bit at Leaf Score about the potential problems with conventional mattresses for adults, and also debunked some common myths, but crib mattresses warrant special attention. That’s because crib mattresses are often designed in a slightly different way to adult mattresses, featuring waterproof covers and antimicrobial treatments, for instance. Also, infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals that a healthy adult body is better equipped to handle.
My research as a new Mom
While most people who are planning to have a baby take time poring over books of baby names and choosing colors for the nursery, my pre-baby planning involves poring over toxicity reports and material safety data sheets for nursery products. I swear, I’m a fun mom! I’m just also heavily invested in creating a safe and comfortable nursery.
This means that mixed in with musing over names, I’ve also been looking at common chemicals in crib mattresses and their effects on infant health and development.
Naturally, all this research culminates in finding the best safe, non-toxic, eco-friendly crib mattresses available. If you want to skip ahead, check out my round-up of the best companies to consider for a new crib mattress, with links to individual product reviews. If you’ve never shopped for a crib mattress before, or if it’s been a while and you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about over non-toxic and eco-friendly mattresses, here’s a quick run down on how to choose a crib mattress that’s safe and comfortable for your baby.
How to choose a crib mattress
As I’ll mention time and again throughout this series, it’s essential that a crib mattress fits the crib without any gaps at the sides of edges. Most crib mattresses are required by law to have a standard size of at least 27 ¼ inches by 51 ⅝ inches, and no more than 6 inches thick. If you’re buying a mattress in a showroom, it’s easy enough to check the fit with an already assembled full-size sample crib. If you can squeeze two fingers down the side of the mattress and crib rails, the mattress is too small.
Top tip – watch out for mattresses with rounded corners that leave a big gap that could be unsafe for an infant.
Most crib mattresses are thinner than 5”, but if a mattress company tries to sell you a mattress thicker than 5” without wool, and claims their mattress is free from chemical flame retardants, they are contravening federal fire safety regulations and are either misleading you about what’s actually in the mattress or are deliberately or unwittingly flouting the law and putting your safety at risk. If you want an eco-friendly crib mattress free from chemical flame retardants, chances are that this will mean a mattress encased in a thin layer of wool.
Even a mattress that is marketed as ‘organic’ may still contain chemical fire retardants. Again, if a mattress is being sold in the US and claims to be free of fire retardants, PBDE-free, and so forth, but doesn’t have an obvious wool layer as a fire barrier, you’ll want to ask questions as to how it passes fire safety tests. Even if a mattress does have a wool layer, you may still want to check that no chemicals are added to the wool for increased flame resistance.
In some cases, a mattress company may offer a mattress free of chemical flame retardants and without the wool barrier. To purchase such a mattress, you’ll need a note from a physician stating that you or your baby has allergies or health issues that require the use of such a mattress.
And, if you live in the US, I’d strongly suggest that you buy a crib mattress that is made in the US from US-sourced materials. This is because almost all goods imported to the US are shipped in containers contaminated with benzene and other toxic chemicals to the point that the goods carry far higher levels of these chemicals than recommended exposure limits (RELs) (R).
In some cases, imported furniture, including cribs, may be fumigated with formaldehyde or other chemicals such as insecticides and pesticides. To avoid these kinds of exposures, buying a US-made crib mattress, crib, and other nursery items seems smart.
Whatever material(s) you favor for a crib mattress, look for quality. Sure, a crib mattress may only be used for a year or two, but cheap foam and vinyl mattress can degrade long before your baby is done with it. Cheap foam and innerspring mattresses with PVC covers can tear, crack, compress, and give rise to toxic dust in just a few months. Better quality mattresses made without toxic chemicals are always your best option, even if they’re a little heavier than a cheap foam mattress. In general, you’re looking at spending somewhere between $100 and $300 for a quality mattress. More than that may be excessive and less is likely to mean a poor quality product.
If you’re buying a mattress in a store, be sure to check the label to see what the mattress is made of. This information is required by law in the US, so if there’s no information, don’t buy the mattress. The same is true with mattresses sold online. And, if you’re in store, push your hand down on a mattress to check that it springs back up right away. A crib mattress needs to be a lot firmer than an adult mattress, so if the crib mattress feels like it would be comfortable for you, it’s probably far too soft for you baby.
Setting up a nursery is one of the most exciting parts of nesting, and in some cases, eco-friendly, non-toxic nursery items made with natural materials may be less expensive than their more toxic synthetic counterparts. However, the cost of kitting out a new nursery can quickly add up, especially if you’re buying most things new and are choosing eco-friendly nursery items. If you’re finding it hard to stick to your budget, my advice is to prioritize an eco-friendly, non-toxic crib mattress over other items that will get considerably less use in the first few years of your child’s life and that you can safely acquire second-hand.
Pair a non-toxic crib mattress with a budget-friendly non-toxic and eco-friendly crib, and you’re well on your way to setting up a safe sleep environment for your little one. After these pieces are in place, you’ll also want to check out my round-up of the best non-toxic crib mattress protector pads and eco-friendly crib sheets, as well as swaddles and everything else you might need in those first few weeks and months.
I’d also suggest that, for a crib mattress, you don’t spend money on an expensive extended warranty and instead allocate that money for some nice organic cotton crib sheets. You can reasonably expect a crib mattress made with quality materials by a reputable company to last for as long as your baby will need it. If you do plan on converting the crib to a toddler bed, you may want to look for a longer warranty with good conditions. The same goes if you think you might reuse the crib mattress for a subsequent child.
As always, if there’s a crib mattress you know and love that is eco-friendly and non-toxic, let me know! And, if you have questions about a particular mattress, get in touch and I’ll do my best to find you an answer.