Baby must-haves: A checklist for the first year
Baby clothes are usually sized by age, but since brands can vary in their sizing, look for clothes that also list weight or height guidelines to help you find the best fit.
Some babies go straight to 3 months and never need newborn sizes, but that’s hard to predict in advance, so it doesn’t hurt to have some newborn items on your baby checklist. Also make sure you have a couple of outfits in the next size up before your child actually needs it – babies grow quickly! Buying secondhand clothes and accepting hand-me-downs are good ways to make sure you’ll always have many size options to choose from.
In general, think comfort and ease. Look for soft, roomy, durable clothing. Choose well-made items that will hold up through frequent washings. Also, avoid clothing that has dangling strings, tassels, and ribbons – these are choking hazards.
Organic baby clothing is made without harsh dyes or potentially harmful chemicals, but it’s usually more expensive. Whatever you choose, use a gentle, baby-friendly laundry detergent to prevent skin irritation.
Below are the clothing basics your baby will need for the first three months. You can use this list again to replenish your baby’s wardrobe as he outgrows his clothes during the first year.
- Bodysuits or "onesies" (7 to 10):These are basically jammies that are appropriate for both sleeping and playing. Onesies are super convenient, especially at first, because newborns nap so frequently. Look for ones that zip or snap down the front and all the way down the leg – they offer easy access for diaper changes and allow you to do them without completely undressing your baby.
You may want to pick onesies with snaps at the neck or a stretchy "envelope" neckline – you’ll be able to slip them easily over your child’s head during clothing changes. The envelope neckline also comes in handy after a diaper blow-out because you can pull the soiled onesiedowninstead of over your child’s head.
- Leggings or stretchy pants (5 to 7):These make it easy to change one piece of dirty clothing without having to switch the whole outfit. An elastic waistband fits easily over your baby’s diaper and belly – and expands as she gains weight.
- Shirts (5 to 7):You’ll need a few short- and long-sleeved tops with stretchy necklines to pair with leggings and pants.
- Outer layers (3 to 5):Look for zip-up sweaters, fleece jackets, and sweatshirts that are easy to put on and take off. Fleece jumpsuits are also cozy and warm, and easily slip over everything else. Buy larger sizes and items with loose armholes that won’t require tugging and fussing.
Hoods are helpful at this age because you can just slip one over your baby’s head when the temperature is chilly.
- Hats (2) and mittens (2 pair):A broad-brimmed sun hat for sunny days and a warm hat that covers the ears in the winter should do the trick. Mittens for babies are shaped like bags with elastic at the wrist, making them easy to get on and off little hands.
- Socks or booties (5 to 7):Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that baby socks and booties have a unique way of disappearing into thin air, especially when you’re out and about. Keep your socks and booties on the inexpensive side, since you’ll probably need to replace lost ones more than once.
- Pajamas or nightgowns (5 to 7):When dressing your baby for bed, keep in mind three things: your baby’s safety, her comfort, and how easily you’ll be able to change the inevitable middle-of-the-night dirty diaper. No matter how cute it looks, avoid sleepwear that has a lot of snaps or is otherwise difficult to get on and off. Some parents prefer nightgowns for newborns, others like the flexibility of being able to switch a damp pair of pj bottoms without changing the top.
Soft, breathable natural fabrics like cotton are comfy, and, if they fit snugly, they’re a good alternative to synthetic, flame-resistant clothing (usually made of polyester). Avoid ribbons, strings, ties, and other decorative items that could get wrapped around your baby and pose a choking hazard.
Nice-to-have clothing extras
- Special outfits (1 or 2):You may want a dress-up outfit or two for festive occasions, such as a wedding or holiday, or a fun costume for Halloween. Many parents also enjoy dressing their child in a special outfit for photo sessions.
Since it’s hard to predict what size your baby will be wearing very far in advance, you may want to hold off on purchasing special clothes until the event is closer.
- Shoes:Itty-bitty shoes are adorable, but you may not need to buy real, hard-soled shoes during your baby’s first year. Some experts recommend waiting until your child is a strong walker, because shoes can interfere with development.
- Leg warmers:Super cute with dresses, these add a layer of warmth and don’t have to come off during diaper changes.
- Hair accessories:Totally unnecessary, but so adorable. Even if your baby has little to no hair, a colorful hairband or bow will amp up the cute factor. Make sure the hair accessory isn’t too tight or scratchy, though.
- Diaper covers:If your baby is wearing dresses or goes pants-free in the summer, an attractive cover to wear over diapers adds a nice touch.
- Diapers:Whether you use cloth, disposable, or something in between (like a diaper with a disposable lining and reusable cover), your baby probably will go through 10 to 12 diapers a day at first, so plan accordingly. If you use disposables, you might want to start with small packs of a few different kinds in case certain types irritate your baby’s skin or don’t fit well.
Some parents planning to use cloth diapers still rely on disposables for the first few days or so, until after their baby has finished passing the meconium (that thick, sticky, greenish black poop that makes up their first stool). And many parents who use cloth diapers switch to disposables when traveling.
- Diaper pail:To keep smells at bay, choose an airtight pail that seals and stores dirty disposable diapers until you’re ready to throw them out.
If you’re using cloth diapers, consider a lidded diaper pail with a washable liner. (Learn about other cloth diaper pail options.)
- Wipes and diaper cream:Whether you plan to buy wipes, make your own wipes, or use a washcloth and warm water, have plenty on hand so you’re prepared. Unscented wipes can be less irritating to your baby’s skin. You’ll also want to keep a diaper cream on hand, in case your baby’s bottom needs special attention at some point.
- Backpack or tote:Get a bag that’s big enough to tote diapers, wipes, an extra change of clothes for your baby, bottles (if you’re using them), and a couple of little toys. Consider the weight of the bag (make sure it’s not already heavy when it’s empty) and its options for organizing all the baby stuff.
Some diaper bags have waterproof linings, changing pads, and insulated compartments, and some are made specifically to strap onto a stroller.
- Changing pad:You’ll probably want to designate a place for diaper changes. Some parents use a changing pad on a low dresser or put a towel on the floor or bed. (Keep your hand on your baby at all times when changing on an elevated surface.)
Nice-to-have diapering extras
- Baby wipes warmer:Warm wipes can help ease the surprise of a cold wipe on a bare tushie, especially in the middle of the night.
- Changing table:You can plop a changing pad or towel onto just about any place for diaper changes, but a changing table does make the task more comfortable for whoever’s on diaper duty.
- Diaper sprayer:This accessory can be a godsend if you’re using cloth diapers. It hooks up to your toilet’s water supply line and allows you to rinse poop from a diaper into the toilet. Be sure that your plumbing can accommodate a sprayer before you buy one.
- Baby carrier:Wearing your baby means your little one gets to snuggle close to you, and you’ll have two free hands to do everything else.
When choosing a baby carrier, make sure all straps and harnesses support your baby securely. It’s also a good idea to find one that can be laundered or cleaned easily.
Note: Although many parents swear by slings, this type of baby carrier has been linked to injuries and suffocation in babies. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has safety tips for parents using slings.
- Stroller:You’ll need an efficient way to take your baby around town. Think about your specific needs: Do you want storage space to make shopping with your baby easier? Do you want a seat that reclines for easy napping? Will you be climbing up and down a lot of stairs? Do you want to go for long walks or running with your baby? Choosing the right stroller can make your life a lot easier.
- Car seat:A safe car seat is mandatory. Tempting as it may be, resist buying a used car seat. Safety regulations have changed over the years, and you need one that meets all current guidelines. Also, you may not know if a secondhand seat has been in an accident and should no longer be used.
Most car seats produced today have a label with an expiration date printed on it, and they’re usually considered safe for five to eight years. Manufacturers won’t honor warranties on an expired seat, and there’s a good chance the seat will no longer have current safety features by the time it expires. Always check the expiration date when shopping for a new car seat.
- A car seat cover or blanket:When it’s cold in the car, place a blanket or car seat cover over your baby to warm him up. It’s not safe for your baby to wear a large, puffy coat while in the car seat, because a thick jacket can prevent the harness from being effectively tightened.
- Sunshades for the car windows:Shades help to protect your baby’s eyes and skin from the glare of the sun.
Nice-to-have baby gear extras
- Baby backpack:Once your baby can hold her head up well for an extended period – at about 5 or 6 months – you might want to invest in a baby backpack, especially if you’re a hiker or traveler. The high perch lets her see the world, and you can more easily negotiate stairs and stores since your hands are free.
- Portable crib or play yard:A folding, portable crib or play yard can come in handy in all sorts of situations. Use it for overnights at Grandma’s or as a safe, contained place for your baby to play at home or while traveling. Many play yards come with a built-in diaper changing table, a removable bassinet, and even a mobile.
- Stroller sack:If you live in a cold climate, these sleeping-bag-like sacks can help keep your baby warm when you’re out and about with the stroller.
- Stroller rain cover:This clear plastic cover drapes over your stroller and shields your child from wind and rain.
- Infant floor seat:Designed for babies with good head control (usually around 4 months of age), these soft foam chairs are molded to support infants in a seated position on the floor. If you need to do chores, you can park your baby in the seat as you bustle around the room.
- Rocking chair or glider:A comfy place for you to rock your baby comes in handy during all those night wakings and feedings in your baby’s first year. Down the road, it’s a cozy place to snuggle and read bedtime stories.
- Crib and mattress:Many new parents don’t need a crib right away, choosing to use a bassinet or play yard with a bassinet feature instead. But you’ll likely want to move your baby into a crib after she outgrows the bassinet, so it’s helpful to buy one ahead of time and have it set up.
New cribs meet the latest safety standards, but secondhand cribs may be dangerously out of date. The Consumer Products Safety Commission recommends that you not use cribs older than 10 years or cribs that are broken or modified.
If you buy a used crib, look for a sturdy crib with slats that aren’t too far apart – no more than 2 3/8 inches (about the size of a soda can). Avoid drop-side cribs, which have caused dozens of baby deaths and have been banned in the United States since 2011. Make sure your baby’s mattress fits snugly in the crib.
- Bedding:You’ll see plenty of fancy bedding sets in baby stores, but all you really need are three to five fitted crib sheets and a couple of washable crib mattress pads. (You’ll want one extra for middle-of-the-night changes.) Some are waterproof. The bumpers, pillows, quilts, and soft blankets that often come with baby bedding sets shouldn’t go in your baby’s crib because they increase the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation.
- Wearable blankets(2 or 3):These fleece or cotton sacks zip over your baby’s sleepwear and keep him warm at night. They replace traditional blankets, which aren’t safe for sleeping babies because of the risk of SIDS. You may or may not need these, depending on the climate where you live and what season your baby’s born in.
Note: Some wearable blankets are also designed for swaddling, with flaps that fold over your baby’s arms and secure with Velcro.
- Swaddling blankets(5 or 6):Many newborns love to be swaddled, and having a few blankets made just for this purpose can make your life much easier. Swaddling blankets can also double as all-purpose blankets – for covering your baby while you’re breastfeeding, for example.
- Baby monitor:This gadget comes with a transmitter and at least one receiver, and allows you to keep tabs on your baby while you’re in another room. The transmitter needs to be close enough to your baby’s crib to pick up sounds (within 10 feet) but far enough away to ensure that the cord’s out of reach, if there is one. You can choose a basic audio model or a more expensive video monitor.
Nice-to-have sleeping extras
- Nightlight:It’s a soothing beacon in a dark room, and it provides just enough light for midnight diaper changes when you want to keep the lighting as dim as possible for your groggy baby.
- White-noise machine:Many babies sleep better, or fall asleep more easily, with white noise droning in the background.
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding
- Nursing or feeding pillow:These are specially designed to support your baby while you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, and they can help you avoid straining your shoulders or neck. Nursing pillows are more convenient – and better at keeping your baby in position – than regular pillows.
- Burp cloths (6 to 12):Lightweight cloths (or cloth diapers) catch spit-up and wipe up other baby fluids.
- Bibs (8 to 10):Even before your baby is eating solids, it’s handy to have a little bib to keep his clothes dry, especially if he’s a drooler or spitter.
- Lanolin ointment:Available in many drugstores, this ointment can relieve sore nipples.
- Nursing bras(2 to 3):Don’t try to make do with your regular bras. Your breasts have changed, so you’ll need a different fit to be comfortable. And nursing bras allow your baby easy access at feeding time.
- Breast pads:It’s normal for your breasts to leak while you’re nursing, and breast pads – disposable or reusable ones – will keep you and your shirts nice and dry.
- Breast pump:You may want to pump breast milk to feed your baby or relieve engorgement. Breast pumps can be as simple as a basic hand pump or as efficient as an electric model that allows you to pump from both breasts simultaneously. One popular style comes in a backpack with a small cooler to store milk.
Our breast pump guide can help you decide which type to go with and whether to rent or buy.
- Breast milk bags:You can pump milk straight into a bottle, but many women use specially made plastic storage bags, which don’t take up much space in the freezer and can be defrosted easily. The number of bags you’ll need depends on how often you plan to pump. Start with one box and buy more when you need them.
- Nursing cover:If you prefer to be covered while nursing outside the home, a cover slips easily over you and your baby. Some nursing covers even double as an infant car seat cover.
- Bottles(6 to 12):Newborns usually start with the 4-ounce size, but you’ll need some 8-ounce bottles as your child begins to drink more. You’ll also need at least as many nipples as bottles.
When it comes to which kind of baby bottle to use, some parents prefer glass or stainless steel bottles to avoid possible chemical leaching from plastic bottles. To learn more about the risks and recommendations, see our article on how to buy bottles and nipples.
- Formula:If you aren’t breastfeeding, you have lots of infant formula options to choose from – check out our formula primer and talk to your provider. Stock up with enough formula for a few weeks.
- Bottle brushes (2):These are handy for thoroughly scrubbing small parts and crevices in bottles, bottle parts, and nipples.
- Insulated bottle carrier:You can buy insulated carriers for one bottle or for half a dozen bottles. Use one to keep bottles and/or breast milk warm or cool when you’re on the go.
Nice-to-have bottle- and breastfeeding extras
- Bottle-drying rack:A rack is handy for drying bottles as well as nipples, pacifiers, teethers, and sippy cups.
- Dishwasher basket:These are handy for keeping track of small items (like bottle parts) in the dishwasher.
- Bottle sterilizer:You can soak bottles (and other supplies) in boiling water to disinfect them, but some parents find a sterilizer – which uses steam to disinfect – handy. Some are electric and some you pop in the microwave.
- Bottle warmer:You can use a bowl full of warm water to heat bottles of breast milk or formula, but a bottle warmer is more convenient.
- Warm or cold gel packs (3 to 4):These fit inside your bra and can soothe swollen or sore breasts. When you need to take breast milk or formula to-go, tuck the cold packs into an insulated bag.
When your baby is ready for solid food, somewhere between 4 and 6 months of age, these feeding supplies can make the transition easier.
- Highchair:You can buy a freestanding highchair, a seat that hooks onto a counter or table, or a portable highchair or booster that attaches to a regular chair. But a full-size highchair with a tray is easy to clean, and wheels make moving the chair around easy. Look for a model with a seat cover that you can remove and throw in the washing machine, because you can count on food getting mushed into every crack.
- Bowls (2 to 3):Some parents like baby bowls with suction cups on the bottom that stick to the highchair tray (so they can’t be flung to the floor easily). Suction or no suction, make sure they’re unbreakable.
- Baby spoons (3 to 5):A rubber-tipped or plastic spoon is easier on your baby’s gums and small enough to fit comfortably into a little mouth.
- Sippy cups(3 to 5):These cups come with a lid and a spout for easy drinking – and they don’t spill when knocked over. Cups with handles will probably be easiest for your child to manage at first.
If you’re concerned about BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals in plastics, there are plenty of alternatives, including reusable metal water bottles small enough for a baby’s hands.
- Waterproof bibs (5 to 10):Quick-drying bibs are useful, as are bibs with a pocket at the bottom to catch falling food.
Nice-to-have extras for feeding solids
- Mess mat:Place one under the highchair to protect your flooring and make cleanup easier.
- Baby food mill orother baby food maker:These make converting some of your dinner to your baby’s dinner an easy task.
- Baby bathtub:The kitchen sink works fine at first for bathing your baby, but you might want to move your baby to an infant tub before too long. Choose one that’s sturdy and well made. Many baby bathtubs are designed for the newborn period to age 1.
- Soap and shampoo:Look for no-tears formulas that are easier on your baby’s skin and eyes. Choose brands that don’t list "fragrance" as an ingredient if you want to avoid phthalates in your baby’s shampoo or soap. (Manufacturers aren’t required to list phthalates separately, so they’re often included with the fragrance ingredients.)
- Infant bath towels (2 to 3):Regular bath towels are often too big to use on a baby. A soft, hooded towel works well for wrapping up your baby and drying him after his bath.
- Washcloths (4 to 6):You can always find uses for baby washcloths – put one on the bottom of the tub to keep your baby from sliding around, or use one to wipe her off after eating. If you also use washcloths for diaper changes, designate one color for those so you can keep them separate.
Nice-to-have bathing extras
- Bath thermometer:This isn’t strictly necessary if you’re comfortable testing bath water with your elbow, but if you’re unsure, a thermometer might be worth investing in.
- Bath toys:Toys that float and engage your child in water play as she gets older can make bath time even more fun. Household items (plastic measuring cups, little strainers) are great fun, but your child might appreciate a few toys made especially for bath play too.
Baby soothers, toys, and entertainment
- Pacifiers (3 to 5): Some babies love them, some don’t. Pacifiers aren’t a necessity by any means, but for some parents and babies soothers are essential.
- Bouncy seat:These baby seats bounce up and down when your little one kicks or moves. It’s a handy, safe place to put your baby down (thanks to the attached straps), and many babies love the motion. Be sure to place the bouncy seat on the floor, not on a table or counter, and don’t let your baby sleep in it. If he does fall asleep in the bouncer, move him to his crib as soon as you can.
- Toys:Your baby doesn’t need a lot of fancy playthings, but it’s nice to have a few rattles, musical toys, and soft toys.
- Books:Chunky board books are a fine way to introduce reading to your baby. Washable cloth or vinyl books are a good bet for wee ones too.
Nice-to-have baby entertainment extras
- Mobile:A brightly colored mobile is great entertainment for a newborn. Check it out from below (like your baby will), rather than from the side. Some will play music too. Remove the mobile once your baby is sitting, so he doesn’t pull it down and hurt himself.
- Baby swing:Another favorite for babies who love to be moving, freestanding swings provide rhythmic motion. Some are electric, some battery-powered, some have head-to-toe swinging, and others rock side to side. A good baby swing can be super helpful when you need to prepare a meal or take a break.
- Play mat (activity gym):These are soft mats with baby toys that dangle from overhead. Babies who aren’t mobile yet can have a ball batting at the toys. Fancy versions feature lights and sounds.
- Play saucer (activity center):Play saucers keep older babies propped up safely in one place while they grab and manipulate various attached toys. Some babies love saucers, others don’t, so let yours have a test run before you purchase one. Saucers can be used from about 4 to 12 months of age.
- Toy box or basket:A box will keep things out of sight when put away, but be sure it doesn’t have a lid that will slam on little fingers once your baby gets old enough to retrieve her own toys. Baskets allow for easy pickup. You might put one in each room your baby plays in.
As soon as your child is rolling, crawling, or toddling around, you’ll need to be aware of the biggest household dangers so you can childproof your home.
A few pieces of safety equipment can help protect your baby from many common hazards:
- Safety gates:If you have stairs, invest in safety gates for the top and bottom. You can also use a gate to block off areas of the house that might be perilous, such as the bathroom or kitchen.
- Outlet covers:Exposed outlets are an almost irresistible attraction to curious explorers. Bottom line: Keep them covered.
- Cupboard and drawer latches:Choose from several types, including ones that latch or twist open and closed. Tug at them to make sure they can withstand numerous tries by a determined toddler.
- Toilet seat locks:Babies can drown in as little as 2 inches of water, so keep your baby and his toys out of the toilet with a lock. The lock fastens on top of a closed seat and requires you to press a button or undo a latch to open it.
- Anti-tip straps and wall anchors:These will keep your baby from pulling the television and furniture over, once she’s toddling around the house.
Do I Need a Mattress Protector?
A mattress protector might be the most important accessory to have for your mattress. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what a mattress protector does. Often, when I bring up a mattress protector when selling a mattress, I get an immediate “no” as soon as I start talking, the customer fearing being “upsold.” Other times, the customer laughs and proclaims proudly that they don’t “pee the bed,” not realizing all of the other fluids that the human body produces. It baffles me that so many people sleep on mattress without a mattress protector. So what does a mattress protector do?
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What does a mattress protector do?
A mattress protector accomplishes four things:
- Keeps the mattress clean.Human bodies are pretty gross. We all perspire at night. We all produce oil from our skins. Some of us wear makeup. We all also shed dead skin cells. There are other activities that can produce a “wet spot” on the bed. All of this can soak through your sheets and into the mattress. Once a little gets into your mattress, it’s almost impossible to get it out of your mattress. A mattress protector prevents any of that from getting into the mattress and can be taken off and washed.
- Keeps the mattress feeling in “like new” condition for longer.Perspiration (or any moisture, like spilling a drink) will wear down the foams in the mattress, shortening the comfort life. It’s a similar effect to a kitchen sponge after too many uses. Even if only a little moisture gets through, after years of every night use that adds up. You will need to replace your mattress more quickly without the protector.
- Helps prevent dust mite allergies from acting up.Dust mite allergies are very common and can lead to issues such as sneezing, runny nose, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Dust mites eat dead skin cells, and there will be dead skin cells in your mattress if you don’t use a protector.
- Helps protect the warranty.As I mentioned in my warranty post, a stain will void the warranty. Even if the stain has nothing to do with the warranty issue, it still voids the warranty.
For all those reasons, everybody needs a mattress protector.
A mattress protector is different than a mattress pad. Mattress pads generally add some level of padding to the mattress (hence the name,) and is not generally waterproof. Mattress protectors are thin, won’t change the feel of the mattress, and are waterproof. If you buy the correct mattress, you won’t need any extra padding on the mattress, and you get to use the thin, waterproof mattress protector instead.
There are also mattress toppers, which are even thicker than mattress pads. If you use a foam topper, I’d recommend using the mattress protector over the topper, such that it covers both the topper and the mattress.
Types of mattress protectors
There are a few types of mattress protectors. The best protectors will have some sort of performance fabric on the top to wick away heat and moisture from the body. These tend to be the most expensive, but are great for people who sweat a lot at night. These are both waterproof and breathable. An example of this is the Bedgear Dri-Tec protector. This is the one I use.
If you’re concerned about your bedding being all organic, Naturepedic sells organic mattress protectors here.
Another type of protector will also be waterproof and breathable, but won’t have the performance fabric on the top. This tends to be more moderately priced, but has most of the function of the most expensive ones. An example of this is the Protect-A-Bed Premium.
The cheapest type of protector are the ones that feel more like plastic. These tends to be less breathable, and some are less durable but these are less expensive. At the bare minimum, everybody needs at least something like the SafeRest protector, which gets very high reviews on Amazon.
Everybody needs some type of mattress protector on their mattress. Having a mattress without a protector is like having an expensive smartphone without a case. If you don’t have one, get one, even if it’s the cheap one for $30. It’s more sanitary and it could protect your investment, which may have been $1000 or more.
Crib Mattress Pad Safety
A mattress pad helps protect your baby’s crib mattress from damage. When you use a crib mattress pad correctly, it doesn’t pose a danger to your baby. If the pad isn’t used properly, however, it can increase your baby’s risk of injury and even death. Learning exactly how to use crib mattress pads can protect your little one’s mattress and also ensure that he’s safe while sleeping in his crib.
A crib mattress pad is a waterproof cover that helps protect your baby’s crib mattress. The pad creates a barrier that protects the mattress from accidents, such as diaper leaks and spit-up, which can leach into a fabric mattress and lead to odors and unsightly stains. The mattress pad also adds a layer of padding to the crib, which can make your baby more comfortable while he’s sleeping.
When a mattress pad isn’t used correctly, it can pose a suffocation hazard. If the pad isn’t fitted tightly around the mattress, it can come loose. If your baby’s face gets caught in the loose pad, it could cause suffocation. The same applies if you use a mattress pad that is just placed on top of the mattress but doesn’t have a fitted crib sheet placed over it. These types of mattress pads don’t fit around the mattress, which means they can move around and get caught over your baby’s mouth and nose. For the same reason, smaller mattress pads, often called burp pads or lap pads, shouldn’t be used without a crib sheet fitted over them.
Choose a mattress pad that is designed for a crib 2. The mattress pad should fit tightly around the mattress by wrapping around the sides and corners so that the edges of the mattress pad fit snugly underneath the crib mattress. If you use a mattress pad without sides, lay it over the crib mattress and then place a tight-fitting crib sheet over the mattress pad so that it doesn’t shift. If you use a smaller burp or lap pad, place it where your baby usually sleeps and then put a tight-fitting crib sheet over the mattress and the pad.
Tips and Considerations
Mattress pads aren’t always tested for safety and, according to its website, "Consumer Reports" hasn’t tested any crib mattress pads. Keep in mind that crib mattress pads aren’t absolutely necessary either. For example, if you use a plastic-lined crib mattress, you probably don’t need the pad to protect the mattress. If you decide to use mattress pads, consider purchasing two. That way, you’ll have a clean spare on hand if you need to change and wash the first one.
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.
How many mattress pads does a baby need
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.