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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.

Browse dozens of cribs.

Types of mattresses

Foam mattresses are 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 mattresses are 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 mattresses are 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.”

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.

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