When you buy a baby mattress, you may not think much of whether the mattress is safe for babies. After all, it is made for infants. While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has standardized the sizes and safety requirements of mattresses, picking out a baby’s mattress requires careful consideration. Your baby likely spends a considerable amount of time in her crib; therefore, you must take the time to understand safety regulations and recommendations for a safe, restful night’s sleep for your baby.
The CPSC has strict safety standards for all cribs and mattresses sold within the United States. Look for mattresses that are certified by the CPSC and American Society for Testing and Materials. Organic mattresses are not certified by the CPSC or ASTM. Look for certification from the Global Organic Textile Standard or Oregon Tilth if you’re purchasing organic.
Mattresses come in innerspring and foam varieties. Foam is more cost-effective and is available in thicknesses of 3 to 6 inches. Higher density foam -- meaning a thicker mattress -- is recommended for better support. These mattresses are heavy and range from 7 to 20 pounds. Innerspring is more durable and popular in the United States, according to researchers at Consumer Reports. Innerspring mattresses use coils under the mattress padding to provide support. Innersprings are measured by the gauge of steel used on the spring. The higher the gauge, the better quality the mattress.
Fit and Firmness
Your baby’s mattress should be tight against the slats of her crib. According to the CPSC, you should not be able to put more than two fingers between the crib and the mattress. Mattresses that are too small are a suffocation risk. Full-size crib mattresses are required to be 27 1/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches under federal law. They cannot be more than 6 inches thick. Mattresses must be firm and flat. Push on the mattress. If it quickly resumes its shape, it is firm. If it holds the shape of your hand, it is too soft.
Mattress Covers and Accessories
Plastic bags are not suitable mattress covers -- even if placed under sheets. Only use fitted mattress covers that stay snug to the mattress. Never place bedding, pillows or padding under your baby or under the sheet to soften the mattress -- this can increase your baby’s risk for suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome.
Cheaper mattresses may have inexpensive vinyl covers. These are prone to tears and cracks, and they can dry out after frequent use. Look for mattresses that have thick, puncture-resistant laminates or that use fine organic cotton instead.
Toxins and Organic Mattresses
Non-organic crib mattresses may contain materials that include vinyl, flame retardants -- also referred to as polybrominated diphenyl ethers -- polyurethane foam and latex. Some organizations feel that these materials give off harmful toxins that could suffocate a baby, while others maintain that latex may cause an allergic reaction. If you prefer an organic crib mattress, look for one with a Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification -- this means that your baby's mattress is free of heavy metals and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.
While a used mattress may be a good deal, it is not recommended by the CPSC. Just like a used crib, used mattresses can be worn, faulty or contain bacteria that expose your baby to a risk of SIDS or disease. In addition, you don’t know how long or where a mattress was stored, which means it could be exposed to dust mites, fungus or other contaminants. It is best to purchase a new mattress to avoid this.