Is a breathable crib mattress worth the hype? This guide breaks down the pros and cons of buying a breathable crib mattress so parents can decide what’s best for their baby (and their budget).
What is a Breathable Crib Mattress?
When adults talk about a breathable mattress, we’re really talking about comfort, temperature regulation, and whether the mattress allows some airflow.
But when we talk about a breathable crib mattress, we’re actually talking about something totally different.
With breathable crib mattresses, babies can literally breathe through them. Even if their baby’s noses are smushed, face-down in the mattress.
Breathable crib mattresses are air permeable.
And according to manufacturers, this means your little one can breathe through the mattress if they end up on their tummy.
Researched: The Best Breathable Crib Mattresses 2019
Back Sleep is Safest, But …
Despite parents’ best efforts to get babies to sleep on their backs on a firm crib mattress, it doesn’t always work.
Some babies are natural tummy sleepers. Even more worrying for parents, some babies like to sleep face down, with their tiny noses squished into the mattress.
If your baby is a face-smushing tummy sleeper, breathable crib mattress manufacturers claim to have the perfect solution.
But are the claims too good to be true?
Without exception, child safety experts agree that back sleeping is safest for baby. But what if you have a baby that refuses to cooperate?
Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back – even if you’re using a breathable crib mattress. While breathable crib mattress manufacturers may be working to make it safer for babies who roll onto their tummies during sleep, virtually all health professionals recommend back sleeping is safest. Besides suffocation risk, some studies find there is still potential for babies to re-breathe their exhaled carbon dioxide when sleeping on their fronts or sides.
Why You Might Get Swayed by a Breathable Crib Mattress
SIDS is terrifying. When my daughter was a newborn, I checked her chest regularly to ensure she was still breathing.
When she learned to roll from back to front, I worried when she slept.
At nine or 10 months, she started waking up with mattress indentations on one side of her head. She’d started to experiment with tummy snoozing, but was still mostly a back sleeper. Much to our relief.
If she had insisted on tummy sleep from the get go, I would have gotten even less sleep in that first year.
And I would have absolutely considered buying a breathable crib mattress. Even though the message from experts is decidedly tepid.
Do Breathable Crib Mattresses Work?
What Does The Evidence Say?
Whenever possible, we think it’s important to listen to the scientific evidence around product safety. Unfortunately in the case of breathable crib mattresses, the evidence paints an unclear picture:
(PRO) A 2010 article published in Pediatric Pulmonology found the Numu mattress, which consists of a net pulled taught over a frame, did indeed prevent CO2 accumulation and allowed for better disbursement, as well as being better at preventing overheating.
(PRO) A 2002 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health found that some mattresses are indeed better a diffusing CO2 than other mattresses, and noted this finding “may have implications for vulnerable infants at risk of sudden infant death syndrome.”
(CON) A 2000 study in published in Pediatrics compared a conventional, firm baby mattress with 5 mattresses specifically designed to prevent CO2 rebreathing. It found all but one of the products failed to decrease CO2 levels.
What Do The Experts Say?
The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes extensive safe sleep guidelines. In these guidelines, they acknowledge there’s no evidence breathable crib mattresses reduce the risk of suffocation or SIDS.
However, they also indicate there’s no known disadvantage to using these types of crib mattresses:
“Recently, special crib mattresses and sleep surfaces that claim to reduce the chance of rebreathing carbon dioxide when the infant is in the prone position have been introduced. Although there are no apparent disadvantages of using these mattresses if they meet the safety standards as described previously, there are no studies that show a decreased risk of SUID/SIDS.”
They go on to say:
“Certain crib mattresses have been designed with air-permeable materials to reduce rebreathing of expired gases, in the event that an infant ends up in the prone position during sleep, and these may be preferable to those with air-impermeable materials… although rebreathing has been hypothesized to contribute to death in SIDS, particularly if the head is covered or when the infant is face down, there is no evidence that rebreathing, per se, causes SIDS and no epidemiological evidence that these mattresses reduce the risk of SIDS. The use of “breathable” mattresses can be an acceptable alternative as long as the other manufacturing requirements are met, including being designed for a particular crib, having a firm surface, and maintaining its shape even when the fitted sheet designated for that model is used, such that there are no gaps between the mattress and the side of the crib…” (emphasis ours).
“May be preferable” isn’t exactly a rousing endorsement. But it’s not an indictment, either.
What Do the Cynics Say?
It’s no secret crib mattress manufacturers have a vested interest in getting you to buy their product.
Personally, I’m not a cynic, but it is worth looking at baby products with a critical eye.
Many of the companies leading the way in innovative crib mattresses are parents, too. Naturalmat, My Green Mattress, Newton, and Nook Sleep – these companies were all started by parents who want to keep their kids safe.
I genuinely believe the founders of the companies mentioned above and others, like Lullaby Earth, have your child’s best interests at heart. But I also understand, at the end of the day, they want to sell us all their crib mattresses.
If you want a true cynics’ point of view, this article in Slate is a good start. Some of the examples the author mentions feel borderline predatory. I’m guessing others agree: when I clicked through to the most egregious examples, I found dead links. It seems the company has gone out of business.
The author also makes a strong case about stronger regulation for products that claim to reduce the incidence of SIDS:
If a company claims that its product reduces the risk of SIDS or suffocation, then it is, by definition, a medical device and needs FDA approval. That requires evidence it actually works as claimed, and so far, for these products, that evidence is lacking. The FDA has never approved a product to reduce the risk of SIDS, so a company that makes this claim could be in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This includes claims that are direct or implied, and if an ad mentions SIDS and a safer mattress, that implication sends a message to anxious parents.
What Does This Mean for Parents Considering a Breathable Crib Mattress?
Obviously, there’s no easy or clearcut answer to whether you should get a breathable crib mattress.
Will it hurt? Probably not. As long as it meets all other safety regulations.
Will it help? The jury is out.
As a parent, you’ll need to decide what’s best for your baby. Whether a breathable crib mattress is a good solution is up to you. And possibly worth a chat with your baby’s doctor.
Whatever you decide, be sure the crib mattress you choose meets all safety regulations, breathable or not.
Shopping for a Breathable Crib Mattress
The Single Most Important Thing to Consider
As long as there’s money to be made creating products tailored to new parents’ greatest fears, consumer vigilance is required.
But the focus on reducing SIDS risks (such as CO2 rebreathing and suffocation) shouldn’t be a license to ignore other safety issues.
When shopping for a crib mattress, parents need to ensure the mattress they choose meets all government safety standards. Don’t sacrifice one safety standard for another.
A 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides a tragic example of this.
In the study, researchers found tummy-sleeping babies using ti tree bark or kapok filled mattresses had a greater risk of SIDS vs. foam mattresses. These mattresses were marketed to parents as allowing “the free passage of air.” However, when the researchers tested these crib mattresses, they found a 1Kg bag of sugar left a significant indentation on the mattress that was still present 5 minutes after the bag was removed.
In other words? The mattresses weren’t firm enough to be safe for babies. They certainly didn’t meet the FIRMS test for crib mattress safety.
Best Breathable Crib Mattresses 2019
Newton Wovenaire® Crib Mattress ($249.99 to $329.99)
The Newton breathable crib mattress is one of the most innovative baby crib mattresses on the market. Made from proprietary Wovenaire® polymer, the mattress is 90% air - making it super breathable! We also love that you can put the entire mattress in the bath or shower, making cleaning easy and helping to ensure the mattress stays free of moisture, dust mites, mold and mildew. With impressive certifications to assure you it's non-toxic, the Newton crib mattress is a top choice for parents in search of a breathe through crib mattress. It's 2-stage - ready for your baby from birth through to toddlerhood - and made without harmful fire retardants.
Lullaby Earth Breeze 2-Stage and Wisp 1-Stage Breathable Crib Mattresses ($199 to $259)
The Lullaby Earth Breeze Air and Lullaby Earth Wisp Air are the company's 2 breathable crib mattress models. The Breeze is a 2-stage crib mattress, and the Air is a 1-stage model. Lullaby Earth designs all their crib mattresses to be safe and non-toxic, manufactured entirely without fire retardants and flame barriers. Lullaby Earth also uses safe materials that don't include polyurethane foam, vinyl, PVC, phthalates, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), formaldehyde, and more.
Nook Sleep Pebble Lite Eco Friendly Breathable Crib Mattress ($309)
The Nook Pebble crib mattresses are some of the most beautiful on the market, and the Nook Pebble Lite is Nook's most breathable crib mattress. Made from certified non-toxic foam and recycled plastic water bottles, and using a certified non-toxic manufacturing process, this mattress is non-toxic and eco-friendly - great for your family and the planet. Because the Nook Pebble wrap can be used without sheets, this mattress also means less laundry and more time enjoying your kiddos. The Lite mattress is also 2-stage - good from infancy to toddlerhood, and is fire-retardant and toxin free.
My Green Mattress Emily Natural Crib Mattress ($289)
Created by a dad who wanted his allergic daughter to have a safe, non-toxic and hypoallergenic crib mattress, the Emily has a lot to love. Made of coconut coir, natural latex, and wool, it's a safe and green option that is GREENGUARD Gold Certified as well as GOTS and GOLS certified organic.