Is a breathable crib mattress worth the hype? This guide breaks down the pros and cons of buying a breathable cot mattress so parents can decide what’s best for their baby (and their budget).
Our Top Breathable Crib Mattresses for 2021
Year after year, the Newton Baby Wovenaire continues to win us over as the best breathable crib mattress overall. It performs well when it comes to value for money, breathability, recyclability, and complete washability – a huge plus for busy families. We think Newton Baby’s crib mattress is going to be the best choice for most families, and have laid out our reasons below.
Best Breathable Baby Mattress
Disclosure: the Newton Baby mattress has won “best breathable crib mattress” every year I’ve written/updated this article. In December 2020, Newton reached out and asked me if I wanted one of their most recent mattresses to try out in my own home. I said yes, and received a complimentary mattress for review, which allowed me to add more information to this article, take some of my own photos, try out the breathability and washability for myself, and generally get a better feeling for the mattress based on our experiences using it. Opinions remain my own, and it’s worth noting the Newton was my pick for winner before they sent me this mattress, as well as now.
Our Pick: Best Overall Breathable Mattress for Infants and Babies
The Best Breathe Through Crib Mattress
There’s a lot to love about the Newton Baby Crib Mattress, making it an easy pick for the best breathable crib mattress for most families.
Sure, it’s not perfect. But it has loads of “pros.” For the average family, and for newborns and infants 0 to 12 months in particular, I think the pros outweigh the cons by a considerable distance.
The mattress part of the Newton crib mattress is made from patented polymer called Wovenaire®. Imagine dry ramen noodles from a package, and you have a good idea of what this material looks like.
The space between the “noodles” is air, and this crib mattress is actually made up of 90% air! This explains why you can stick your face right up to the mattress, take a deep breath, and still get air.
Yes, this makes the mattress firm and breathable, but also makes it super lightweight – great for changing the sheets or pulling it out for a clean.
Speaking of cleaning, this mattress is 100% washable – you can literally put it in the shower or bath tub and give it a rinse.
When talking about any kind of baby gear, being easy to clean is a huge deciding factor. It’s also a pro for health – by opening up the Newton Baby to it’s core, and washing to your heart’s content, you can ensure no mold or mildew in your baby’s mattress!
As a con, when I tested this feature out by sticking the mattress core in my shower and blasting it with water, it took awhile for the mattress core to completely dry. This makes it tough when you’re trying to clean up from an overnight pee accident and get the mattress ready for nap time.
To me, time to dry is a small price to pay for the breathability of this mattress, and peace of mind that comes with that, especially for newborns, and for slightly older babies who are able to flip onto their tummies. As your baby turns into a toddler, however, the breathability may seem less important to you (speaking from experience, it did become less of a worry for me, which is why I use the Naturepedic for my toddler daughter. If I had an infant, it’d be a toss up for me between the Naturepedic and the Newton. Frankly, they are both excellent choices).
Other features I love is the fact that it’s a 2-stage crib mattress, meaning you’ll be able to use it for years, with an infant or toddler. Because you can use this for both infants and toddlers, you won’t have to go out and buy a toddler mattress in two years (it should be good until they outgrow a toddler bed, around 4 years old). My daughter is currently 2.5 and sleeps in a toddler bed, and this mattress fits perfectly.
The Newton Baby is also Greenguard Gold certified, and when you are done with it, it’s 100% recyclable.
Newton offers a 100 night trial with free shipping and returns, which makes it easy to test this bed mattress out to ensure it works for your family, and a lifetime limited warranty.
Naturepedic mattresses are a trusted name when it comes to organic mattresses that are non-toxic and free from mystery materials. They’re made in the USA, and have impressive certifications such as Greenguard Gold and Madesafe.
The breathable series consists of an organic crib mattress that is made waterproof using Naturepedic’s unique sugarcane derived PLA fiber, plus a removable breathable cover on top.
To be clear, the breathable cover of the Naturepedic is not “breathe through” like the Newton is. That said, it does offer some great airflow for comfort and safety.
We love that the crib mattress cover can go into the washing machine, and that the mattress itself is wipe clean.
Newton Baby Mattress vs. Naturepedic Breathable
- Newton Baby is the most breathable of the two, by far. The “breathe through” nature of the Wovenaire design is hard to beat, especially for babies under one, and especially as they get older and start to flip onto their tummies in the middle of the night. I remember this stage of parenting, and it was definitely a bit nerve wrecking seeing my little one with her face smushed into the mattress. The breathability of the mattress is also helpful in keeping babies cool when sleeping, so I would think this would be a great choice for hotter climates, too.
- The Naturepedic Breathable is easier to care for in my opinion. I have both mattresses in my house (I purchased the Naturepedic, and Newton Baby provided a mattress for me to review), so am speaking from experience. The Naturepedic Breathable mattress core is waterproof, so there’s no need to wash it. Whenever there’s an accident, I wash the cover, and wipe down the mattress surface with a cloth. Because of the waterproofing and general design of the Naturepedic, it’s not as breathable, although the quilted cover does give it some airflow around your baby.
Bottom line? I think they are both excellent mattresses.
If you’re purchasing for a newborn and are particularly nervous about suffocation or temperature control, the Newton might be the peace of mind you need as a parent!
If you’re already through the first year and need a new mattress, the Naturepedic Breathable is a great choice (this was our situation – we moved countries and needed a new crib sized mattress when my daughter was one-and-a-half. Since she was older, the “breathe through” feature of the Newton was less of a draw for me at that stage). Similarly, if you’re on the less nervous side of the scale as a parent, and would like a mattress that’s a bit easier to care for and uses organic and plant-based materials, the Naturepedic is a great option!
Best Breathe Thru Crib Mattress-Cover Combo
The Lullaby Earth Breeze is made in the USA and comes with a limited lifetime warranty and a 30-day money back guarantee.
It’s a 2-stage crib mattress, but the company also makes a 1-stage sister model. The Lullaby Earth Wisp is a great choice for families on a budget. However, because it’s a firm mattress meant for infants, you might need to replace it with a toddler mattress if your little one decides they need something softer in the future.
If you already have a crib mattress, you can also purchase the breathable cover separately.
We love that the crib mattress cover can go into the washing machine for a clean, and the fact that it is Greenguard Gold certified and earned a MADESAFE seal.
However, we wish the company was a bit more transparent about what the actual mattress is made from, so families understand whether there are any chemicals in the crib mattress they want to avoid.
Breathable Crib Mattress Buying Guide
What is a Breathable Crib Mattress?
When adults talk about a breathable bed 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, the air permeable nature of these crib mattresses means they are breathable.
And according to manufacturers, this means your little one can breathe through the mattress if they end up on their tummy. Some brands market their products as being the safest crib mattress option. And they focus on selling peace of mind.
But do they really work? And what do medical professionals say?
Fact is, there are no specific SIDS mattress recommendations. The best mattress for baby is a firm crib mattress, combined with following safe sleep guidelines.
This means you should 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. According to Paediatrician Dr. Daniel Zoller,
“It is extremely important to know that a breathable crib mattress is in no way a replacement for the safety of supine sleep, and should not be viewed as an alternative.”
In other words? The safest baby mattress is a firm mattress that meets safety regulations and is used in combination with Back to Sleep safe sleep practices.
Back Sleep is Safest, But …
Despite parents’ best efforts to get babies to sleep on their backs on a firm crib mattress, some parents argue it doesn’t always work.
“Some babies are natural tummy sleepers,” they might say. Even more worrying for parents, some babies like to sleep face down, with their tiny noses squished into the mattress.
We’ve heard parents argue their baby refuses to “cooperate” when placed on their tummy. But healthcare professionals would argue it has nothing to do with cooperation.
“Babies will sleep on their back. Parents need to put them like that. It is the only safe way. Once they roll, it is safe for them to remain in whatever position they get into. Cooperation is not a part of it!”Dr. Daniel Zoller, M.D, F.A.A.P.
Even after a baby can roll onto their tummy, it can be a bit disconcerting after so many months of seeing them on their backs all night long.
If your older baby is a face-smushing tummy sleeper, manufacturers claim to have the best baby mattress for your kid.
But are the claims too good to be true?
Without exception, child safety experts agree that back sleeping is safest for all babies, meaning you need to put your baby to sleep on their back.
So why might you consider buying one of these crib mattresses?
Why You Might Get Swayed
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 cot bed mattress.
Even though the message from experts is decidedly tepid, breathable crib mattress reviews from parents are generally quite positive.
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 baby 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.
(CON) A 2007 study in Acta Paediatrica found that infants dressed in sleeping bags and sleeping on a PurFlow mattress actually got hotter than infants sleeping on a conventional mattress.
What Do The Experts Say?
The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes extensive safe sleep guidelines. In these guidelines, they acknowledge there’s no evidence a breathable mattress reduces 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.
To parents seeking peace of mind for their infants and toddlers, we understand the draw.
If there’s no drawback, and it gives you peace of mind as a parent? To me that seems like a win. Plus, it instinctually makes sense – I’ve smushed my face into the Newton Baby mattress, and was able to breathe through it, which honestly gives me some peace of mind.
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. Newton, Naturepedic and Nook Sleep – these companies were all started by parents or grandparents who want to keep their kids safe. As such, many of these companies focus on making a super safe baby crib mattress that is free from chemicals, and use certified organic cotton and other natural, non toxic crib mattress materials.
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. (emphasis mine).
What Does This Mean for Parents?
Obviously, there’s no easy or clearcut answer to whether you should buy one of these new, breathable options, or stick with a standard organic crib mattress (I don’t recommend using a standard foam or eco foam 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 mattress is the best cot mattress for your family is really 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 in Buying a Crib Mattress
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 crib mattresses had a greater risk of SIDS vs. foam crib 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.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to ensuring your new crib mattress is firm enough and meets other baseline safety standards, we suggest considering the following:
- Look for something that’s easy to clean. Middle of the night accidents are bound to happen, and being able to throw the cover in the washing machine is a must, in our mind.
- When considering materials, we suggest looking for organic cotton and other natural fibers, where possible. By choosing organically-grown fibers, you can be sure they are free from potentially harmful chemicals.
- If your crib mattress contains synthetics and plastics, we suggest doing a bit of research to figure out if its a clean plastic or foam (aka: safe). There are a number of certifications out there which independently ensure your crib mattress is free from harmful chemicals.
Our Picks for the Best
For overall value-for-money, combined with practical considerations (like washability) and eco-considerations (like recyclability) our pick is the Newton Baby Crib Mattress and the Naturepedic Breathable. If the Newton or Naturepedic isn’t what you’re after, the Lullaby Earth Breeze and Lullaby Earth Wisp are also great choices.
We hope this article helped – if you like it, we hope you’ll share it!