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Crib mattresses

Crib mattress buying guide

Last updated: November 2012

Getting started

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 new

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.

Types

Either type of mattress--innerspring or foam--is fine as long as you choose a good-quality model. Both will keep their shape well and provide excellent support for your infant or toddler.

Innerspring


With an innerspring mattress, the number of layers, what each layer is made of, and the quality of the covering add to the price and increase the comfort level. The Sealy Perfect Rest mattress, shown here (about $80) has a vinyl cover you can wipe clean with a damp cloth. It also has border rods for strength (see Features) and weighs 12 pounds. The Simmons Kids Pampering Sleep Supreme 234-coil baby crib and toddler mattress, about $150, also has a vinyl cover. The two sides of this mattress differ (a feature you'll see in other models); a firmer "baby" side is covered in foam, while the toddler side takes advantage of innerspring coils. For more on dual-firmness mattresses, see Convertibility in Features.

Foam


These mattresses are usually made from polyurethane. The orthopedic firm foam crib mattress by Dream On Me, shown here, for example, is waterproof, weighs only 8 pounds, and sells for $70.

Features


Foam firmness

The best foam mattresses are firm, on the heavy side, and resilient. 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. You don't want your baby resting on something that will mold to the shape of her head.

Foam density

To assess foam density (the denser, the better), compare the weight of different models. That's not always easy to do in a store, but you'll probably find the information online. To give a mattress a density test, pick it up, place a hand on each side in the center, and then press your palms together. A dense mattress won't allow you to press very far.

Innerspring layers

If you decide on an innerspring mattress, follow this general rule: The more layers, and the better the quality of those layers, the better the mattress. The weight of innersprings tends to increase when the mattress contains better-gauge steel and better-quality cushioning.

Border rods

Never buy an innerspring mattress that lacks these rods, which go around the perimeter of the top and bottom. They provide extra firmness, durability, and strong side and edge support so a mattress won't sag when your baby stands or walks near the edge.

Coil count and steel gauge


Coil count--the number of springs or steel coils an innerspring mattress contains--is a popular marketing point. But a generous coil count doesn't always mean a firmer mattress. "The amount of the steel in an innerspring is how you evaluate the spring unit in an innerspring mattress, not the number of the coils," says Dennis Schuetz of Colgate Juvenile Products. The cheapest innerspring crib mattresses might have fewer than 80 coils and more expensive models might have more than 280. Still, a model with 150 coils could be firmer than one with 200. How is that possible? The gauge of the steel in those 150 coils might be thicker than the steel in the 200-coil mattress. The thickness of crib-mattress coils ranges from 19 to 12.5 gauge (the lower the number, the thicker the steel). "Look for a moderate to high coil count," Schuetz advises. "About 135 to 150 is a good midrange." Also consider a steel gauge of 15.5 or below.

The Colgate Cradletyme Ultra II 150 coil innerspring crib mattress, (about $170,weighs 22 pounds, has border rods, and contains coir fiber. (You'll find more information about coir fiber below.) It's covered with ticking made with nylon to keep it waterproof, and has ventilation holes and 150 coils of 13.5-gauge steel. The layers of its construction are shown here.

The insulator pad

There's a thick insulator pad on top of the steel coils in an innerspring mattress, which keeps the coils from poking through. "The quality of the insulator is really a key component in a mattress," Schuetz says. "A mattress with a cheap insulator can feel good in the store but may not necessarily hold up."

The best insulator pads contain coir fiber, which is made up of shredded coconut shells. Fiber-wrap pads (also called "rag" or "shoddy" pads), are made from pressed scraps of cloth. Coir-fiber pads are more expensive than fiber-wrap ones, but either works well. The lowest-quality insulator pads are made from woven polyester. Because they're less durable, they tend to form pockets over time. They also become concave where most of the baby's weight rests, creating a safety hazard.

Schuetz says some manufacturers also use hard felt as an insulator, which is similar to carpet padding but compressed (and a bit less expensive than coir fiber). In addition to woven polyester, he says some mattresses have low-quality, plastic-mesh insulator pads.

Cushioning layers

The next layer above the coils in the mattress sandwich is the cushioning, which is made of foam, cotton, or polyester. Foam and cotton are signs of quality, and they add to the price. Polyester, which is less expensive and increasingly pervasive because the cost of mattress components has been rising, isn't ideal because of its tendency to form pockets.

Don't buy a mattress unless you know what the layers are made of. There should be a description in the store, on the mattress tag, or online at the manufacturer's website. If you can't find out what's inside a mattress, don't buy it.

Cover

A fabric or vinyl cover surrounds the entire mattress. Fabric breathes more than vinyl, but ventilation holes in a vinyl cover can help air circulate. A multilayered vinyl cover resists punctures, tears, leaks, and stains better than fabric. Look for at least a triple laminated (three-ply) cover, which will give a mattress a tougher shell, adding to its longevity.

Convertibility

If you're planning to convert your baby's crib to a toddler bed, consider dual-firmness convertible mattresses, which are in the middle to top price range. They're extra firm for infants on one side and cushier for toddlers on the other. Some have standard foam or springy memory foam for the toddler side. (You can flip the mattress after your baby's first birthday, when the risk of SIDS decreases.) The Sealy Posturepedic Springfree crib mattress, about $180, has a side made of soybean foam for infants and a softer latex foam side with a water-resistant soft fabric cover for toddlers.

Put convertibility in the "not necessary" category. Your baby will still be happy with a firm mattress when he becomes a toddler. If he's exposed to a more-forgiving mattress, he probably won't want to go back. So if you buy a dual-firmness mattress, be sure not to flip it too soon.

Airflow pockets

If a mattress is completely waterproof, it won't "breathe" through the surface. If this is a concern you can get a mattress with ventilation pockets.

Waterproof cover

A waterproof cover that you purchase separately is a good idea, even if the mattress you select is leakproof, because it will protect the mattress from stains. Mattress covers are not a suffocation hazard– they go under the sheet–and will make your baby's sleeping surface cozier. Without one, the chill of the mattress's vinyl cover is apt to make her uncomfortable, no matter the thread count of the fitted sheet. A waterproof cover will also protect the surface of your baby's mattress from diaper leaks (it can be thrown in the wash). But it's still a good idea to wipe down a crib mattress with a damp cloth and mild soap when it gets wet or soiled.

Antimicrobial covers

Manufacturers say these covers can slow the growth of odor-causing mold and bacteria, though they won't prevent them. Do you need this trendy feature? Definitely not. In fact, there's concern about what some people think is an overuse of antibacterials in consumer products. To prevent the growth of bacteria, keep your baby's mattress clean by wiping it down with soap and water after any leaks. When you're done with it, put it in a snug-fitting crib mattress storage bag, preferably one you can see through (light inhibits bacterial growth). Then store it in a cool, dry place, not a damp basement or stuffy attic.

Organic


See Going organic for more info.

Brands


Colgate

Founded in 1955 by Sol and Anne Wolkin in Atlanta, the company is now run by second- and third-generation family members. Along with innerspring, natural and organic, portable crib, and custom mattresses, the company also manufactures changing table pads, rectanglular and oval cradle pads, mattress covers, protectors, and comfort wedges. See website for a retailer near you.
www.colgatekids.com

Dream On Me

Family owned and operated since 1988, the company’s mattresses and bedding are made in the U.S., including the patented Convoluted Foam mattress, and the patented Innerspring Convoluted mattress. Other products include portable and full-sized cribs, strollers, toddler beds, bassinets, and other juvenile products. Available at most juvenile retailers.
www.dreamonme.com

Natural Mat

A division of Kastel International, Natural Mat’s mattresses are made in Devon, England, of natural, organic materials such as lamb’s wool, natural latex foam, coir, mohair, and cotton. Organic top mats and bedding are also available on the company website.
www.naturalmatusa.com

Naturepedic

All Naturepedic natural and organic mattresses have been designed with the help of pediatricians, orthopedic specialists, chemists, and engineers. Research and design is coordinated by G.E.M. Testing & Engineering Labs in Cleveland. Also available are organic bassinet, cradle, and portable crib mattresses, organic twin, full, and queen mattresses, organic changing pads, sheets, and pillows.
www.naturpedic.com

Priva Snoozy

Priva, now a division of Fiberlinks Textiles Inc., is a manufacturer and distributor of branded and private label programs specializing in waterproof and absorbent textiles. The company offers waterproof sheet protectors, organic cotton flannel bedding, 100% cotton knit sheets, and organic cotton bedding. Available on Amazon and other online retailers.
www.priva-inc.com

Pure Rest Organics

Founded in 1992, this 100% organic company (which claims that even its facility is painted with zero-VOC paints) is based in San Diego. The company produces organic baby products such as clothing, bedding, diapers, furniture—even organic pet bedding. Visit the company website for purchasing information.
www.purerest.com

Sealy

In Sealy, Texas, in 1881, Daniel Haynes, cotton-gin builder, filled a request for a cotton-filled mattress. His business grew exponentially, which led to several patents—among them, a machine that compressed cotton. Its crib mattresses are sold under the name Kolcraft.
www.sealy.com
www.kolcraft.com

Simmons

The Atlanta-based Simmons Company is one of the world's largest mattress manufacturers, with a range for adults that includes the Beautyrest, BackCare, Olympic Queen, and Deep Sleep mattresses. Children's mattresses include Simmons Kids, BackCare Baby, and BackCare Kids. Available wherever mattresses are sold and at juvenile retailers.
www.simmonskids.com

Going organic

If you are concerned about the safety of chemicals used in the manufacture of your baby's bedding, or if buying eco-friendly products is important to you, you'll find plenty of options for crib mattresses labeled "natural" or "organic." Unfortunately, there are no legal standards for the claim. "Organic" might mean something (the cotton used on the covering might be grown organically) but there's no guarantee.

We haven't tested organic mattresses, so we can't say whether they're safer for your baby. If you're concerned about chemicals used to prevent fire damage, there are natural materials like wool that might not require additional chemicals to make them flame resistant.

Eco-friendly

Colgate claims that eco-friendly foam and innerspring mattresses tend to be made with fewer chemicals, plastics, and PVC (vinyl), and a greater percentage of renewable and sustainable materials, such as cotton, fast-growing bamboo, coir, plant-based foam, and natural latex (rubber from tree sap that's been injected with air). Plus, "the manufacturing process for some eco-friendly crib mattresses tends to produce fewer carbon emissions," says Dennis Schuetz of Colgate.

There are some industry associations that have set their own standards. Schuetz says the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute is a reputable group that tests products for harmful emissions. But there's no industry standard for what constitutes a "natural" mattress. Parents should ask specific questions about each component of a mattress to determine whether it meets their expectations.

For example, a mattress labeled organic might have a cover made from 100 percent organic cotton while everything inside the cover isn't organic. It's possible to buy a "natural/organic" crib mattress made of just 5 percent organic or natural materials. "One of the newest mattresses on the market is probably 85 percent plastic but advertised as ‘organic'," Schuetz says, noting that it has one layer of organic cotton, and adding that it's not a Colgate mattress. "The consumer is being fooled by this."

You can also get a mattress that's supposed to be all natural but has a vinyl or plastic covering on top. If that's enough for you, that's fine. But shopping in this category will require extra research, and it's still possible to wind up with something that's not quite what was advertised.

"If a mattress is waterproof, it is not natural or organic because of whatever is being used to make it waterproof," Schuetz notes.

Shoppers might find the USDA logo on organic textiles, but it applies only to how the fiber was grown, not necessarily how it was processed. Another textile label shoppers can look for comes from Europe and Japan. That label, called Oeko-Tex (from the International Oeko-Tex Association) means that testing was been done to screen for harmful substances. It also takes processing into account, including any dyes or other components used in making the mattress.

Some mattresses sold in the U.S. carry the Oeko-Tex label, but in many cases the label only relates to part of the mattress, not the whole thing. For example, the Colgate Natural I mattress has a 5-inch layer of coir fiber with natural latex that's certified by Oeko-Tex. Ask about each component to find out whether it's more organic or natural. It's also helpful to know what's typically used so you can gauge the difference in value.

Another standard you might see mentioned is GOTS, or the Global Organic Textile Standard. But it hasn't been universally adopted. It's a processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70 percent organic fibers can become certified, according to GOTS.

What's available

In general, prices for eco-friendly mattresses are higher than regular mattresses. Here's a look at some of models on the market.

The Pure Rest organic innerspring crib mattress (cotton and wool), which sells for $280, uses organic cotton on its cover. It also has a "chemical-free wool layer" made from organically raised sheep, according to the manufacturer, and meets federal flammability requirements.

The Naturepedic No-Compromise Organic Cotton Classic 150 crib mattress shown here has a "U.S.-grown organic cotton filling" and a polyethylene plastic waterproof surface that, the manufacturer says, is free of vinyl/ PVC, phthalates, lead, or antimicrobial biocides. It sells for $260. The outer cover of this mattress might limit the exposure to toxins.

Some eco-friendly foam mattresses are made with soybeans or oils from other plants. For example, the Sealy Posturepedic Springfree has a "soy-enhanced foam core." The manufacturer says the fabric cover is "wet-resistant," and the mattress weighs just under 12 pounds. The Colgate Eco Classica I crib mattress ($190) uses foam "made with plant oils," has a damask cloth cover with a waterproof backing, and weighs 8 pounds.

Here are some features to look for in an eco-friendly mattress:

Cloth cover

Many "green" mattresses don't have vinyl covers. (Vinyl has been used for conventional mattresses for years because it's durable, easy to clean, and inexpensive.) Instead you'll find cloth covers in cotton; 100-percent unbleached, undyed, organic cotton; or bamboo yarn. Bamboo is fast growing and quickly renewable, and the fiber is naturally antifungal and antibacterial.

The downside is that cloth covers won't stop diaper leaks from soaking into the mattress, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria unless there's a waterproof layer, usually made of polyurethane or polyethylene plastic. Even if the natural mattress you buy is labeled waterproof, you should still use a waterproof mattress pad.

The 2 in 1 Organic Cotton Ultra by Naturepedic shown here has a quilted, organic cotton cover on one side for toddlers and a waterproof and antimicrobial surface on the other for infants. It sells for $400. The manufacturer also makes a crib mattress that's not coated for waterproofing. The Quilted Organic Cotton Deluxe sells for $360.

Organic, waterproof mattress pads

These usually have an organic cotton layer, but most still use a layer of polyurethane if the pad is truly waterproof. An example is the Snoozy Organic Cotton Waterproof Crib Mattress Pad, which sells for $25. It's made with organic cotton, but the manufacturer says the waterproof polyurethane protective layer is "lead and phthalate free."

Wool mattress pads

If you don't want to use a product made with chemicals but still want to protect your baby's mattress, you can opt for pads made with wool to absorb leaks. Be careful, however, since some parents find that wool pads seem to be merely "water resistant" and not truly waterproof.

The crib organic moisture pad by Pure Rest in a fitted cover style retails for $195. The Natura Puddle Pad mattress protector, another wool pad, is about $70.

Cushioning layers

Sealy Posturepedic Springfree Soybean & Latex Foam-Core Crib Mattress weighs less than 12 pounds, and the manufacturer says its fabric cover is "wet resistant."

Instead of foam cushioning, some mattresses are made with natural latex rubber, which comes from a liquid extracted from tropical trees. (Some babies are allergic to latex, but because it's tucked into the mattress core, it might not pose a problem. If you have any doubts, avoid a mattress made with latex.)

Coir

Until the green movement came along, coir--shredded and woven coconut shell husks bound with latex adhesive--was typically used as an insulator pad on top of the coils of better-quality innerspring crib mattresses. Now you'll find it in other "natural" mattresses, both foam and innerspring. The Colgate Natural 1 ($370) and the Coco Mat from Natural Mat ($400) use coir as the chief filling instead of foam or innersprings, surrounding it with cotton cushioning, lamb's wool or mohair fleece. Coir is renewable and sustainable, but it also makes a mattress heavy.

   

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