Our Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing a Crib Mattress (Without Losing Your Mind)

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How to Choose a Crib Mattress – Without Going Crazy. If you’re overwhelmed by all the choices and wondering what to consider when buying a crib mattress, we’ve got you covered with this guide!

When I was a pregnant, soon-to-be mama, choosing a crib mattress was one of the most difficult decisions I made. I was paralyzed by the fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Not to mention all the crib mattress options on the market. I had no idea where to start.

I researched. And then I researched. And then I researched some more. And I finally found a crib mattress for my baby.

Then that mattress arrived at my house, and I sent it back. Once I actually saw it in person, it wasn’t up to my standards.

So I researched some more and finally found the best mattress I could afford for my daughter. 

Hopefully with this guide, we can make your mattress search a little easier than mine was. We want you to be able to make an informed decision and choose what is best for your family.

How to Choose a Crib Mattress

Below, we’ve outlined what to look for when buying a crib mattress. We’ve also highlighted some additional factors to consider.

Step 1: Decide on Your Budget

There are hundreds, if not thousands of crib mattresses to choose from. Deciding on a budget can help you narrow down your options considerably.

Many crib mattresses fall in the $100-200 range. However, some of the “cleaner” and more high-end options can run you upwards of $500. 

Your baby will spend upwards of 50% of his/her life on their mattress, especially in the first year. Because of this, we recommend buying the best mattress you can afford. 

Step 2: Choose Which Type of Crib Mattress You Want

The two traditional types of crib mattress are foam and innerspring coil. These days, there are other natural and synthetic options to consider as well.

Innerspring Crib Mattresses

Innerspring mattresses are made of metal coils combined with other materials like latex, cotton, or polyester. Innerspring crib mattresses may also use foam in addition to the coils. However, it’s the coils (not the foam) that make these mattresses firm. 

Innerspring mattresses provide even weight distribution and are typically very firm (good for infants). They’re also very durable, and are typically more breathable than foam. 

However, they tend to be more expensive and heavier than other options. 

Foam Crib Mattresses 

Foam crib mattresses are generally cheaper and lighter than innerspring crib mattresses. Even though they’re lighter, it’s worth noting manufacturers use a firm, dense foam in crib mattresses. Memory foam is not safe for babies.

However, foam crib mattresses are less breathable and might not hold up as well as innerspring mattresses. You’ll probably save money by buying a foam mattress initially. That said, you might spend more over the long term if you need to buy a second crib mattress.

There are also some safety concerns with foam. Lower quality foam might form an indent after a while, which can be dangerous to your baby.

Many (but not all) foams emit potentially harmful Volatile Organic Compounds and/or use fire retardant chemicals. Worth noting, cribs made with manufactured/composite wood and glues can also emit VOCs, which is why we also recommend choosing a non toxic crib.

Look for foam that is Greenguard Gold and CertiPUR-US certified. While these programs don’t eliminate all problems with polyurethane foam, they’re a good start.

You might also consider looking for a soybean foam crib mattress, or a mattress made from other plant-based foams. Our research suggests the manufacturer’s touted benefits of these plant foams are vastly exaggerated. However, they’re likely somewhat better from a toxin point of view than “normal” foam.

Natural & Non-Toxic Mattresses

These days, there are more natural, organic and alternative “non-toxic” crib mattresses on the market than ever before.

These manufacturers use plant and unprocessed animal materials( eg., coconut coir, natural latex, cotton, wool) in their crib mattresses. Some also use alternative materials like recycled PET/PETE bottles.

With these natural and non-toxic mattresses, manufacturing is done without harmful chemicals, and the mattresses emit no or low VOCs. They use natural rather than chemical flame barriers, and are relatively sustainable/eco-friendly. They also use “safer” plastics for waterproofing, eliminating the need for PVC, which is destructive to our health and the environment and a source of phthalates.

Many natural mattresses also come with third party certifications to ensure they are what the manufacturer says they are. CertiPUR-US certified foam, GOTS or GOLS certified organic, GREENGUARD Gold certification, and Oeko-Tex certification are a few to look for. 

One of the biggest disadvantages of a natural or organic crib mattress is the price. You’re going to be paying more, but you get what you pay for. 

It’s also worth looking out for “greenwashing” – when companies say something is better for the environment, without backing it up with proof.

Step 3: Safety Check (and Check Again)

This is crucial! Once you’ve decided your budget, and have started to narrow down your choices, check the mattress you’re considering for safety.

Any mattress you consider should be certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission at the very least.

Some other factors to consider include:  

Firmness

If this is your first time shopping for a crib mattress, you’ll probably be a bit shocked at how firm they are. For both developmental support and safety reasons, the firmer the better.

I recently lay down on my daughter’s crib mattress and it felt extremely uncomfortable. While this seems counterintuitive, that’s exactly how it should feel.

Researchers have found that soft bedding is associated with an increased risk of SIDS for infants. Specifically, beds associated with SIDS were “softer and limited CO2 dispersal to a greater degree” than beds not associated with SIDS. Softer crib mattresses might lead to infants re-breathing their own exhaled air (which is filled with CO2). 

For coil mattresses, more and thicker coils indicate a firmer mattress. For foam mattresses, a heavier weight typically indicates a denser, firmer mattress. 

Crib Mattress Fit

You’ll also need to do some comparison between the mattress you’re considering and your crib.

Your baby’s crib mattress should fit snugly in the crib with no more than two finger widths gap in any area.

While most mattresses and cribs meet standard sizes, you should still measure the inner dimensions of your crib to make sure it fits with mattress dimensions. The minimum size for mattresses is 27.25 inches by 51.25 inches, and the mattress should be no more than six inches thick. 

Breathability

The more a mattress allows for air to flow through the fibers, coils, or mattress material, the more breathable it will be.

A breathable crib mattress may help with your baby’s temperature regulation (overheating is a risk factor for SIDS). It also may help prevent suffocation.

Worth noting, no studies to date have proven that more breathable crib mattresses are safer. However, they likely aren’t worse than less breathable options. At the very least, a breathable crib mattress should help with mold and mildew prevention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say about “breathe-through” crib mattresses (emphasis ours):

“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…

An Extra Safety Note

Baby blankets, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, and other accessories are cute, but they’re dangerous to your baby – especially during his or her first year – and should be kept out of the sleeping environment.

Once you choose your mattress and put it in your baby’s crib, stop! That’s the only thing that should be in there (other than your baby, of course) for the first year.

And always put your baby to sleep on his/her back.

Step 4: Decide Which Additional Factors are Important to You 

If you’ve made it through the first three steps, good job! You probably have your crib mattress narrowed down to a few options. Making a final choice might be the hardest part!

Considering these additional factors – and deciding which are important to you – should help you find your baby’s perfect crib mattress.

Single Sided or Dual Sided

Many crib mattresses are double sided, with a firmer side for infants and a relatively softer side for toddlers.

If you have a crib that converts into a toddler bed, this type of mattress is a great option to extend its life. When I recently tested out my daughter’s mattress for myself, I found the toddler side to be much more comfortable than the infant side.

If you choose a double-sided mattress, wait until your baby is at least 12-months-old before flipping to the toddler side. I flipped my baby’s mattress when she was 14-months-old. 

Waterproofing

Some mattresses are waterproof while others are water resistant. If the mattress you choose doesn’t have any degree of water resistance, you might want to get a mattress cover to protect the mattress from getting damp and moldy. If you plan on always using a mattress cover anyway, you might not care as much about finding a waterproof mattress. 

Sleep Guarantees and Warranties

Many mattress manufacturers offer lifetime warranties against manufacturer defects—this is pretty standard.

An additional guarantee to look out for is a “sleep guarantee.” These guarantees let you test out the mattress for a certain number of nights and allow you to return the mattress if you aren’t satisfied. 

Conclusion

No mattress is going to guarantee your baby will sleep through the night (if such a magical thing exists, please let me know!), but the right mattress will keep your baby safe on his/her own sleeping surface through the night.

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