How Firm is Firm Enough for a Baby Crib Mattress?
How Firm is Firm Enough for a Baby Crib Mattress?
I’ve seen several blogs and forums where people talk and ask questions about how firm a crib mattress should be. One person said “If it feels good to me, it’s okay for my baby.” Is that a good rule of thumb?
In fact, it’s not – unless you like a very firm mattress. Because babies are still growing, their spines and bones need more support than we do.
While there are no precise rules about crib mattress firmness, there are solid enough guidelines to help you choose the right one.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that a baby mattress be firm and flat.
Consumer Reports recommends buying the firmest mattress you can find. In fact, they address the exact comment made by the person on the forum: “Don’t worry that it may feel too firm. If it feels good to you, it’s too soft for your baby,"
To test a crib mattress to determine whether it’s firm enough, Consumer Reports suggests you “Press on the mattress in the center and at the edges. It should snap back readily and should not conform to the shape of your hand.”
In Naturepedic baby crib mattresses, our organic cotton batting makes the mattress surface comfortable without sacrificing firmness. Babies are pretty cozy on our mattresses and they routinely sleep through the night. Soft, comfortable and firm – just right!
How Firm Should A Baby Crib Mattress Be?
October 13, 2017
One of the most important considerations parents should have about their baby’s mattress is the firmness level. While it’s tempting to want baby to have a cushion-soft surface that seems cozy to us as adults, it can be dangerous if a crib mattress is soft, floppy, or saggy.
Why You Don’t Want a Soft Mattress
For starters, babies’ bones are still developing and their bodies need much more support than ours do as adults. Adults may find comfort and support from a wide range of materials and firmness levels, but for babies it’s important to remember that firmer is always better. If it feels cozy to you, it’s probably too soft for your baby.
Babies, especially newborns and young infants, lack mobility and can’t get around very well. So they have a harder time lifting themselves up and repositioning like an adult would. If they stay on their back during sleep that’s one thing, but once they start rolling onto their tummies this can present a pretty serious risk. A softer mattress that is flexible at the edges can also increase the chance that arms or legs can get stuck between the mattress and the crib.
To reduce the risk of these potential hazards, it’s best to choose a firm crib mattress with firm edges. Safety recommendations also caution parents to place babies to sleep on their backs and to keep all soft materials (bedding, toys, etc.) out of the crib environment.
How Firm Should A Crib Mattress Be?
Consumer Reports recommends that you “Press on the mattress in the center and at the edges. It should snap back readily and should not conform to the shape of your hand.” So when you’re testing crib mattress firmness, feel free to put pressure on the mattress to make sure it resists the impression of your hand. It should feel a bit firmer than you’d think is comfortable. But trust us – babies need the firmer surface and sleep just fine!
The Ideal Firmness for a Crib Mattress
At Lullaby Earth, your baby’s safety is our priority. Our crib mattresses are made with firm, flat support, as recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and also feature reinforced edges for a snug fit in the crib.
Our 2-stage or “dual firmness” crib mattresses have a firm side and a cushion firm side. When baby is around one year old you can switch to the cushion firm side for a little more cushion during the toddler years!
We do recommend you confirm with your pediatrician before flipping the mattress, since some babies may need a bit more time on the firmer infant side.
How firm does a crib mattress need to be
Choosing a crib mattress might seem like a boring task but it’s one that warrants careful consideration. The mattress is as important as the crib, and we recommend buying the best one you can.
Why does it matter? For one thing, your baby will spend a lot of time in his crib. It might seem hard to believe, especially when you’re getting up to feed a fussy baby in the middle of the night, but infants sleep up to 18 hours a day.
You’ll want to make sure the mattress fits properly in the crib you’ve selected without gaps that could pose a danger to your baby. And the mattress should be firm. A soft one can conform to the shape of your baby’s head or face, increasing the risk of suffocation or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There are two general types of crib mattresses: foam and innerspring. Both types—if they’re good quality—will keep their shape well and provide excellent support for infants and toddlers. There are differences, though. Foam—usually made from polyurethane—tends to be lighter (about 5 to 13 pounds) compared with an innerspring mattress (about 15 to 30 pounds). So although you’ll probably be lifting just a corner at a time when changing your baby’s sheets, it might be a bit easier with a foam mattress. Foam is also less springy and therefore less likely to be used as a trampoline when your child is older. Still, innerspring crib mattresses are more popular in the U.S., possibly because most adults sleep on innersprings, too.
Look for Quality
Whichever type of mattress you chose, look for quality. The cheapest foam and innerspring mattresses have thin vinyl coverings and edgings that can tear, crack, and dry out over time. As prices increase, coverings tend to be thicker, puncture-resistant, reinforced double or triple laminates, or very fine organic cotton. An innerspring mattress that has more or better-gauge steel and better-quality cushioning will weigh more. The same goes for a foam mattress that’s made of denser, better-quality foam.
Still, you don’t have to spend a fortune or try as many mattresses as the Princess and the Pea to get a good-quality one. A mattress that costs between $90 and $200 will generally serve your baby well. Prices for foam and innerspring mattresses are comparable, ranging from $50 to $400 and up. (The more expensive ones are made with organic cotton or natural latex.) Low-priced models (less than $90) might be too soft and flimsy. Higher-priced models tend to be firmer and therefore safer.
You Can’t Tell a Mattress by Its Cover
With a mattress, almost everything that matters is on the inside. Some crib mattresses feel great in the store but begin to falter once your baby starts to use it. We’ve learned that you can’t depend on sales staff, even at reputable retail outlets, to give you accurate information. One told us, quite convincingly, that innerspring mattresses were better than foam because foam tends to "break down" after 18 months. Twenty-five years ago that may have been true, but not anymore. "A top-quality foam crib mattress will hold up just as long as an innerspring crib mattress with normal use," says Dennis Schuetz, director of marketing for the Colgate Juvenile Products Company, a manufacturer in Atlanta. That’s because foam crib mattresses have become much more durable.
Hit the Stores
Once you get a sense of options in different price ranges, you should go to a store to see what a quality crib mattress looks and feels like. One place to start? The label. Manufacturers are required by law to reveal what a mattress is made of. Don’t buy one from a manufacturer or retailer that doesn’t tell you this with in-store information, displays, or online specifications. In fact, you should be able to find out the components of each layer. And when you push down on a mattress, your hand should spring right up. Schuetz says the biggest mistake parents make is picking a mattress that’s comfortable for them. It’s better to pick a crib mattress that’s harder than you would like it to be. "If it feels good to you, it’s too soft for your baby," he says, adding that babies need more support than adults.
Buy a new crib mattress, if possible. For one thing, it ensures that the mattress is sanitary. If you buy a used mattress or accept a hand-me-down, you won’t know for sure how it was cared for or stored. Mold can grow in improperly stored crib mattresses, and bacteria can fester on the surface from liquids (diaper leakage, spit-up) that weren’t properly cleaned up. If you buy a new one for your first child and keep it clean, you can use it for your next child if you store it in a dry environment and it stays firm.
Use a Cover
Use a tightly fitting, washable waterproof mattress cover to protect the mattress and keep the baby’s sleeping environment as clean and sanitary as possible.
Test the Fit
By law, all full-sized crib mattresses must be at least 27 1/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches, and no more than 6 inches thick. If you can, shop in a store that displays crib mattresses on the selling floor, and check the fit by putting it inside a sample crib before you buy it. If you can squeeze more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib, the mattress is too small.
Don’t Worry About Warranties
Some mattresses offer warranties for one year, seven years, or even a lifetime. Don’t be swayed by a long warranty, and don’t pay extra for a mattress with a warranty. "Warranties are mostly a marketing tool to entice the consumer to spend more," Schuetz says. In general, you can expect a quality crib mattress to last as long as you’re going to use it as long as the cover doesn’t rip or tear.
We have not tested any of these crib mattresses.
Do I Need a Soft or Firm Mattress?
Whether you need a ‘soft’ or ‘firm’ mattress will ultimately depend on your body, budget, and personal preferences. The right firmness level for a given sleeper varies by height, weight, and sleep position.
Additionally, mattress firmness is often linked to pricing and performance factors like durability and pressure relief. Due to the wide range of mattresses sold today, multiple firmness options are available for memory foam and latex beds, innersprings, hybrids and other common mattress types.
Read on to learn more about finding a mattress with the right firmness level for you and your sleep partner.
Why Is Firmness Important?
A mattress with the right firmness level will provide adequate support and alleviate pressure points throughout the sleeper’s body. Mattresses that feel too firm or not firm enough can create joint discomfort, back and shoulder pain, and exacerbate pressure points.
How soft or firm a mattress feels will largely depend on how the comfort layer (or comfort system) is constructed, as well as its overall thickness. The comfort layer is defined as the body-cushioning system that forms the topmost part of the mattress, and its composition will determine how closely the mattress conforms to a sleeper’s body. Common comfort layer components include polyfoam, memory foam, latex, and/or steel microcoils, as well as the mattress cover. Some mattresses have a single-layer comfort system, while others may have as many as four or five individual layers in the comfort system.
Other factors can be used to evaluate firmness in different mattress types. In innerspring mattresses, the gauge (or thickness) of steel coil and other metal components can affect overall firmness. In mattresses made entirely of foam and/or latex, firmness may be linked to a measurement known as indentation load deflection (or ILD). ILD refers to how much weight is needed to indent a sleep surface by 25%; mattresses with low ILD ratings are not as firm and require less weight for indentation, while mattresses with high ILD ratings are firmer and require more weight.
Due to the wide range of firmness preferences among individual sleepers, many mattress manufacturers offer models with multiple firmness options. Additionally, some mattresses are available in ‘dual firmness’ or ‘split firmness’ designs that feature different firmness settings on both sides of the top surface; these models are geared toward couples with differing firmness preferences. Other ‘flippable’ models feature different firmness settings on both the top and bottom surfaces, and they can be rotated whenever the owner wants to change the firmness.
Firmness vs. Support
Firmness is tied to bodily support, although it’s important to differentiate between these two terms: firmness refers to how a mattress feels as soon as a sleeper lies down, whereas support refers to how well a mattress maintains an even and sag-free surface, aligns the sleeper’s spine, and relieves pressure throughout the night.
That being said, mattresses that are too soft or too firm may lack proper support for certain sleepers. Excessively soft mattresses often sink excessively, which can compromise support for heavier individuals. These beds may also create discomfort for those who sleep on their back or stomach, since both of these positions require flat surfaces for good spinal alignment.
Alternatively, many lighter individuals find that excessively firm mattresses do not conform closely enough; as a result, they do not experience as much pain and pressure relief as heavier people. Side sleepers also tend to prefer mattresses that are less firm; this position often requires surfaces that conform closely to align the spine and alleviate related aches and pains as they develop.
In addition to firmness, sagging and indentations in the sleep surface can also negatively impact mattress support. Minor indentations of 5 inches or less may not affect how the mattress feels, but deeper sagging can cause pressure points to develop in affected areas of the sleeper’s body. Generally, mattresses built with high-density foam, Dunlop latex, or coil support cores withstand sagging and indentations to the most noticeable extent.
How Is Firmness Measured?
At Tuck.com, we rate mattresses using the following 1-10 firmness scale:
- 1 (Extra Soft):An extremely plush sleep surface that sinks deeply beneath a sleeper’s body.
- 2-3 (Soft):A very plush surface that conforms closely and sinks somewhat deeply.
- 4 (Medium Soft):A plush surface with adequate conforming and minimal sinking.
- 5 (Medium):An even balance of firmness and conforming with little sinking.
- 6 (Medium Firm):A low-conforming surface with very little (if any) sinking.
- 7-8 (Firm):A sufficiently firm surface that conforms to a degree without any sinking.
- 9-10 (Extra Firm):An extremely hard surface with no conforming or sinking.
It’s important to note that mattresses with firmness settings of ‘1’, ‘9’, or ’10’ are quite rare because the vast majority of sleepers prefer surfaces with firmness settings of 2 to 8. As a result, most mattresses sold today fall between ‘Soft‘ and ‘Firm.’
Firmness and Sleeper Type
Body weight and sleep position are arguably the two most important factors for determining the right mattress firmness.
People with below-average weights generally feel more on mattress with lower firmness settings; if the mattress is too firm, then they may not weigh enough to feel any conforming or pressure relief. On the other hand, people who weigh more than 230 pounds may experience uncomfortable sinking on mattresses with low firmness settings.
Sleep position is key because it determines which areas of the body need more cushioning and support.
- Back sleepers require more spinal and lower back support to maintain proper spinal alignment and prevent pain and discomfort from developing.
- Side sleepers have vulnerable pressure points at the shoulders and hips, and also require neck support for proper spinal alignment.
- Stomach sleepers generally need firmer mattresses to adequately support their hips and prevent uncomfortable sinking; most physicians do not recommend stomach sleeping due to the high risk of discomfort and pressure.
As a result, a side sleeping individual who weighs 150 pounds will react quite differently to the feel of a mattress than a back or stomach sleeper who weighs 300 pounds. Additional factors include the sleeper’s shoulder, waist, and hip measurements.
Using customer reports and product analysis data, the table below features the most popular firmness setting for individuals with different weights and sleep positions. Please note that this table reflects general findings; mattress firmness preferences are highly subjective, and we strongly urge all buyers to test out multiple firmness settings before buying a new mattress.
|Weight Group||Sleep Position||Optimal Firmness Range|
|Lighter than average|
(Less than 130 lbs.)
|Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Soft to Medium Firm|
(130 to 230 lbs.)
|Side||Medium Soft to Medium|
|Back||Medium to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium to Medium Firm|
|Heavier than average|
(More than 230 lbs.)
|Side||Medium to Medium Firm|
|Back||Medium Firm to Firm|
|Stomach||Medium Firm to Firm|
Firmness and Mattress Price
Although mattress price-points vary from brand to brand, models with low firmness settings (1 to 3) tend to be the most expensive due to extra padding layers that make the comfort system feel exceptionally soft.
Additionally, high-end materials like Talalay latex and gel memory foam tend to produce comfort systems with the softest settings. Alternatively, firmer mattresses feature less padding and are usually cheaper by comparison.
Firmness and Mattress Performance
The firmness setting may be used to determine how a mattress will perform in the long run. Performance factors tied to mattress firmness include the following:
- Durability:Mattresses with low firmness settings – particularly innersprings – tend to be the least durable due to premature sagging and indentations in their relatively soft sleep surfaces. Firmer mattresses are less susceptible to this type of degradation, and their average lifespan is significantly longer.
- Pain/pressure relief:Mattresses with mid-level firmness settings (4 to 6) tend to alleviate the most bodily pain and pressure, since they are designed to offer a balance of comfort and support. Models that are too firm or not firm enough provide less pain and pressure relief by comparison.
- Smell:Off-gassing odor is an issue for most mattresses, but mattresses with low firmness settings (1 to 3) tend to produce stronger, longer-lasting smells because they have thicker foam layers; off-gassing is a major complaint among foam mattress owners. Firmer mattresses, on the other hand, generally contain lower amounts of foam and, as a result, produce less odor.
- Temperature neutrality:Medium Firm and Firm mattresses typically retain less body heat and sleep somewhat cool as a result, while mattresses with lower firmness settings usually sleep warmer. However, temperature neutrality is more closely linked to mattress type; innersprings and hybrids tend to retain less body heat than foam and latex models.
- Sex:Mattresses with mid-level firmness settings tend to be best for sex because they are sufficiently responsive without causing too much sinkage. Firmer mattresses are usually responsive enough for sex, as well. Mattresses with lower firmness settings may also be responsive but sinkage is an issue for some.
- Ease of moving:Mattresses with low firmness settings are usually heavier, and need to be rotated more often, than mattresses with higher firmness settings.
The table below features a summary of pricing and performance expectations for mattresses with different firmness settings:
|Firmness Range||Extra Soft to Soft (1-3)||Medium Soft to Medium Firm (4-6)||Firm to Extra Firm (7-10)|
|Price||Most expensive||Affordable||Most affordable|
|Durability||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Pain/pressure relief||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Poor to Fair|
|Odor potential||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Temperature neutrality||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
|Sex||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good||Good to Very Good|
|Ease of moving||Poor to Fair||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
Firmness and Pillow Loft
Pillows play an important role in mattress firmness preferences. Pillow loft, or pillow thickness, can greatly affect the feel of a mattress. The thickness of a pillow is measured using the term ‘loft’. Low-loft pillows measure less than 3 inches thick, medium-loft pillows measure 3 to 5 inches thick, and high-loft pillows measure more than 5 inches thick. A good rule-of-thumb when choosing pillows for a mattress: the lower the firmness setting, the lower the pillow loft.
The table below features a detailed breakdown of the optimal pillow loft for different firmness settings:
|Firmness Range||Low-Loft Pillow Rating||Medium-Loft Pillow Rating||High-Loft Pillow Rating|
|Extra Soft to Soft (1-3)||Very Good||Fair to Good||Poor|
|Medium Soft to Medium Firm (4-6)||Fair to Good||Very Good||Fair to Good|
|Firm to Extra Firm (7-10)||Poor||Fair to Good||Good to Very Good|
Mattress Buying Tips
Many mattress manufacturers list a firmness setting with different models. If this information is not available online for a particular model and you are unable to test out the mattress in person, we strongly recommend reaching out to that company’s customer service division to inquire about its firmness level.
Many online-only mattress brands offer sleep trials for new customers. These trials are typically 30 to 90 nights in length; customers have the option of returning their mattress for a full or partial refund before the trial period ends. In some cases, customers may be able to exchange their mattress for a different model — but it is important to read the fine print, since some brands do not allow customers to exchange their mattress for a model with a different firmness level.
Additionally, most companies will not honor warranty claims for customers who are dissatisfied with the firmness level of their mattress, or whose comfort preferences have changed since they made their original purchase. Unless the mattress shows another type of defect covered under the warranty (such as deep indentations or protruding wires), mattress owners will likely be unable to replace their mattress for a model with a different firmness setting.
Mattress Firmness Checklist
Before purchasing a mattress, here are a few firmness-oriented considerations to make:
- What is your mattress budget?Mattresses with low firmness ratings tend to be more expensive than those with higher firmness ratings.
- What is your weight?People who weigh less than 130 pounds usually feel more comfortable on ‘Soft’ or ‘Medium’ mattresses, while those who weigh more than 230 pounds often prefer higher firmness ratings. People who fall in the middle, fittingly, tend to prefer ‘Medium Soft’ to ‘Medium Firm’ surfaces.
- What is your preferred sleep position?Generally speaking, side-sleepers are more comfortable on mattresses with lower firmness ratings, while back- and stomach-sleepers prefer mattresses with higher firmness ratings.
- Do you have chronic back pain or constant pressure/discomfort?If the answer is yes, then you may feel most comfortable on mattresses with mid-level firmness ratings.
- Is off-gassing a major issue?People who are sensitive to strong smells may prefer firmer mattresses, since they produce less off-gassing odor compared to mattresses with lower firmness ratings.
- Do you sleep hot?Mattresses with ‘Medium’ or ‘Firm’ ratings typically retain less body heat than those with ‘Soft’ ratings, and sleep cooler as a result.
- Do you plan to use the mattress for sex?Mattresses with lower firmness ratings tend to be more responsive – and thus, better for sex – than those with higher firmness ratings.
- Do you plan to move/rotate the mattress on your own?Mattresses with lower firmness ratings tend to be heavier (due to additional padding layers) than firmer mattresses. Additionally, less firm mattresses need to be rotated more often on average.
- What type of pillows do you own?Low-loft pillows are best paired with mattresses that are less firm, while high-loft mattresses go with firmer mattresses. If you do not own pillows with the right loft level, then you may need to purchase new ones in order to feel comfortable.
- Are firmness exchanges allowed?Before committing to a specific brand, be sure to review the terms of their sleep trial and mattress warranties. In some cases, you will not be able to exchange your mattress for a model with a different firmness once the initial purchase has been made.
Lastly, we’ll answer some common additional questions regarding mattress firmness options.
How can I test out firmness before buying?
Those who visit brick-and-mattress stores can arrange to visit one of these locations and lie down on a mattress to test the firmness. However, physical stores typically have a narrower selection of beds and price-points tend to be higher due to overhead costs related to maintaining a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Many online mattress brands do not operate brick-and-mortar locations, but they offer ‘sleep trials’ that allow customers to test out a bed before committing to a full purchase. Most sleep trials begin on the date of purchase and delivery, and extend for at least 90 consecutive nights; in rare cases, the trial may span one year or longer.
If the customer is dissatisfied with their bed before the trial period expires, then they may return it for a full or partial refund (depending on the brand’s trial offer). Some companies will also arrange for the mattress to be picked up from the customer’s residence at no extra charge, while others will apply shipping and transportation fees to the total refund amount.
One thing to note: some mattress sellers impose a mandatory break-in period. This means customers must test out the mattress for a certain amount of time (typically at least 30 nights) before they qualify for a full refund on their return.
What if I have different firmness preferences than my partner?
Differing firmness preferences can be a challenge for couples, but many of today’s beds address this concern by offering multiple firmness settings. These include mattresses with dual-firmness, meaning each side of the bed has a different firmness setting.
Other mattresses are flippable, with a different firmness setting on the top and bottom surfaces. These beds may be more suitable for couples who are willing to compromise on firmness night-to-night.
For couples with different preferences who would rather not purchase a new mattress, toppers can be very useful. A mattress topper is an individual layer of cushioning that rests on top of the mattress, usually beneath the top sheet. Most toppers make the mattress feel softer but some can actually increase the firmness. Common topper materials include memory foam, latex, down/feather blends, and wool.
I bought a mattress and I don’t like the firmness level. What can I do?
First, look into the bed’s return policy. If you are dissatisfied with the firmness but 90 nights have not elapsed since the original purchase or delivery date, then you may be able to return the bed for a full refund or, in some cases, exchange it for a different model from the same brand.
If the trial period has passed, then you will most likely be unable to return the mattress for a refund. Most mattress warranties stipulate that mattress repairs or replacements are not available simply because the owner’s firmness preferences have changed; in other words, firmness preference is not considered an identifiable defect.
Those who want to change the feel of their mattress after the trial period expires can use a topper to increase or reduce their bed’s firmness. If six to seven years have passed since the mattress was purchased, then it may be time for a new bed; the average mattress will perform for about seven years before it needs to be replaced.
Are different materials firmer than others?
When evaluating mattress firmness, material composition is usually a poor indicator. A bed’s comfort layers may contain memory foam or polyfoam, latex, minicoils, wool, and other materials with firmness settings ranging anywhere from ‘Extra Soft’ to ‘Extra Firm.’ How these materials are engineered will determine how firm or soft they feel.
However, as noted above, some materials tend to be more supportive than others. For example, beds with Dunlop latex and/or coils in the support core typically maintain flat sleep surfaces with minimal sagging.
On the other hand, memory foam and polyfoam beds tend to develop sagging and indentations in the sleep surface that compromise support, regardless of how soft or firm these materials actually feel.
As a general rule, use the bed’s listed firmness setting to evaluate how it feels and avoid using the mattress materials as criteria. If the firmness setting is not listed, feel free to contact the brand’s customer service division to inquire.
I’m (X) weight and sleep in (X) position but I don’t like the firmness level your table says I’d like. What’s up with that?
Although our general mattress assessments are mostly accurate, firmness preferences are highly subjective.
Just because a sleeper has a certain weight and/or preferred position does not necessarily mean their optimal firmness setting will correspond to the majority of sleepers in their weight or position group. A lighter individual or side sleeper may prefer an ‘Extra Firm’ bed, while a heavier person or back/stomach sleeper may find a softer bed is most comfortable.
Ultimately, the most important consideration is the firmness levelyouprefer, regardless of body type of sleep position. The best way to decide is to test out as many different firmness settings as possible.
How to buy a crib mattress
The lowdown on crib mattresses
A good mattress not only makes bedtime cozier – it supports your growing baby and keeps her safe. Consider cost, comfort, and durability, as your baby will probably sleep in a crib for up to 3 years.
Types of mattresses
Foam mattressesare generally the lightest option. These are available in a variety of thicknesses, usually between 3 and 6 inches. Look for foam mattresses that are firm, on the heavier side, and resilient when you press your hand on them. Too soft a surface can conform to a baby’s shape and create a risk of suffocation and a sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) hazard.
Innerspring mattressesare coils covered with foam, padding, and fabric.
Better-gauge steel and higher-quality cushioning is heavier and more expensive, as well as firmer and more durable.
Organic mattressesare made with all-natural or organic materials, including cotton, wool, coconut fibers, food-grade polymers, plant-based foam, and natural latex. These mattresses can be innerspring, foam, or other – it’s hard to classify a mattress stuffed with coconut-husk fibers.
Organic crib mattresses can be expensive, but some people say the peace of mind is worth the price. They contend that chemicals and industrial compounds used in standard mattresses – flame retardants known as PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), vinyl, and polyurethane foam, for instance – emit toxic gases, and that the substances used to make mattresses could harm babies. Others say materials like latex can produce an allergic reaction in infants.
As researchers continue to analyze issues of toxicity, advocates for going organic point out that if these chemicals could be harmful, the safest thing to do is to buy a crib mattress that doesn’t use them.
“Breathable” mattresses, made of materials that are supposed to allow a baby to breathe freely even if his or her face is pressed up against it, are getting more popular. Experts haven’t yet weighed in on their efficacy.
What to look for when buying
The right size:A mattress needs to fit snugly in the crib, with no space between the side of the mattress and the crib frame. If there’s a space, the mattress is too small and could be a suffocation and entrapment hazard. The size of both crib mattresses and cribs is standardized by the federal government, but due to slight variations in each, not every mattress will fit perfectly in every crib.
Firmness:The firmer the crib mattress the better (mattresses designed for older children and adults may not be firm enough). Even if it feels very stiff to you, your baby will adjust to it.Consumer Reportssuggests this test: "Press on the mattress in the center and at the edges. It should snap back readily and should not conform to the shape of your hand."
Density:You want high density so it’s firm enough to keep your baby safe while sleeping. Most foam mattresses don’t list density on the packaging, but weight can be a good indicator. As for innerspring mattresses, 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.
Resiliency:When you push your hand down into the middle of the mattress and remove it, how quickly does it regain its shape? Faster is better; sleeping babies make an impression on the foam, and it can be difficult for them to change position if the mattress retains their shape. Some foam mattresses are “2-stage” or “dual firmness,” with a firm side for infants and a softer side for toddlers.
Weight:A typical foam mattress weighs about 7 to 8 pounds, although mattresses made of memory foam (an especially dense form of polyurethane) can weigh close to 20 pounds. Innerspring crib mattresses are heavier in general, weighing in at about 15 to 25 pounds. Keep in mind that you’ll be hoisting up a side of the mattress, or lifting the whole thing, when changing your baby’s sheet.
Mattress cover (ticking):For water resistance, look for double- or triple-laminated ticking reinforced with nylon. This composition is also more resistant to tears, holes, and soggy diapers. Organic mattresses usually have cotton covers; parents may want to consider a fitted waterproof mattress cover.
Venting:Look for small holes on the sides of the mattress that let air flow in and out. A mattress will smell better if it has plenty of vent holes to let odors escape. Diapers do leak, so this is important.
Cleaning:Most traditional mattresses suggest spot-cleaning only. Some have removable covers that can be machine-washed. The innards of at least one crib mattress on the market can be hosed down in the tub once its washable cover is removed.
Certification seals:Crib mattresses for sale in the United States must meet safety standards defined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials. (The Juvenile Products Manufacturer Association does not test or certify crib mattresses.) A manufacturer’s claim that a product is organic can mean a variety of things, but look for an Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification (a worldwide uniform certification), which assures you that certain flame retardants and heavy metals were not used to make the mattress.
Important safety notes
- Use caution with used or secondhand crib mattresses. Some studies link used mattresses to an increased risk of SIDS, although researchers aren’t sure whether the mattresses caused the increase in risk or were simply correlated with an increased risk. (Theories that fungal activity or toxic gases in used mattresses caused SIDS have been largely laid to rest.) Experts recommend that parents avoid old, worn mattresses, particularly those with foam/padding exposed – which can increase the potential for bacterial growth – or those that hold an indentation after your hand is placed firmly on the surface, then removed.
- Air mattresses are not safe for babies. The soft surface is a suffocation hazard. As the CPSC warns, "Never place infants to sleep on air mattresses or other soft surfaces (such as water beds and adult beds), which are not specifically designed or safe for infant use."
- 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.
What it’s going to cost you
Crib mattresses start at about $40 and can range to more than $350. Organic mattresses start at about $80 and can reach $400.