A memory foam crib mattress isn’t safe for babies. Baby crib mattresses should be firm to prevent suffocation, and memory foam is soft. Babies need a cool sleep surface because they can’t regulate their own body temperature, and memory foam is warm to sleep on.
There are a few other reasons why memory foam crib mattresses are a bad choice for babies. Keep reading to learn more.
Why a Memory Foam Mattress is a Bad Choice for a Crib Mattress
A Memory Foam Crib Mattress is a Suffocation Risk for Baby
One of the reasons so many adults love sleeping on a memory foam mattress is because of its elasticity. When you lie down on memory foam, it conforms to your body. While this makes for a wonderful sleep as an adult, it makes it dangerous for a baby.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Soft mattresses, including those made from memory foam, could create a pocket (or indentation) and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone [tummy] position.”
Generally speaking, you don’t want there to be any sort of gaps or pockets your baby could get trapped in. This includes small indentations, as can happen with memory foam. However, it’s also one of the reasons you shouldn’t try to make a pack n play more comfortable, why you shouldn’t put a Montessori floor bed up against the wall, and one of the reasons you need to follow pack and play weight limits, too.
Once your baby starts standing in the crib, a soft mattress will make it harder to keep their balance, and introduce more changes of falls and injury.
Indeed, when it comes to baby crib mattresses and pack n play mattresses, softer isn’t safe.
Babies need a firm crib mattress – no compromises. This also applies to memory foam crib mattress toppers.
Memory Foam Retains Body Heat and is a Warm Sleep Surface
Even for adults, and big kid mattresses, one of the main complaints about memory foam mattresses is that they’re relatively warm to sleep on. Memory foam tends to retain body heat.
Traditional memory foam is the worst in this regard. However, even newer iterations, such open-cell and gel-infused memory foam, tend to be warmer than non-memory-foam mattresses.
This can be uncomfortable for adults, but it can be deadly for babies.
According to the National Institute of Health:
“Infants are sensitive to extremes in temperature and cannot regulate their body temperatures well. Studies have shown that multiple layers or heavy clothing, heavy blankets, and warm room temperatures increase SIDS risk.”
There’s a well-documented link between SIDS and SUDI (Sudden Unexplained Death of an Infant) and overheating.
“[A]voiding overheating has been one of the strategies to reduce the risk of SUDI (source).”
This risk doesn’t just affect the youngest babies. In fact, babies older than 3 months of age may be more at risk of the SIDS-overheating link than younger babies. According to a peer-reviewed Canadian study, “High ambient temperature may be a novel risk factor for SIDS, especially at ≥ 3 months of age.”
With this in mind, it’s important to do everything you can to keep your baby from overheating at night and during naps, including older babies.
That includes choosing the best crib mattress or mini crib mattress – and avoiding memory foam for a crib mattress. It also means dressing your baby appropriately for sleep, and using a multipurpose thermometer to make sure their nursery is the right temperature.
Memory Foam Stinks! It’s also Known for Off-Gassing
In addition to being relatively warm, another common complaint about memory foam is the smell.
Memory foam contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Because VOCs are volatile (unstable), the bonds holding the compounds together break apart overtime. As the bonds deteriorate, they produce gaseous byproducts: off-gassing.
Memory foam may include VOCs including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons.
Generally speaking, you can expect the smell – which comes from the chemicals used during manufacturing – to last about a month.
As parents ourselves, the VOCs listed above aren’t exactly the stuff we want our kid coming in close contact with.
Research into the respiratory effects of mattress off-gassing in mice found that traditional crib mattresses caused upper-airway and lower-airway irritation in the mice, as well as decreases in mid-expiratory airflow velocity.
“The largest airflow decrease (i.e., affecting 26% of the breaths) occurred with a polyurethane foam pad covered with vinyl” (emphasis ours). Further research into all children’s mattresses (not just memory foam) concludes that materials used in conventional mattress production has the potential to be a significant threat to children’s health, and that mattress covers in particular can result in babies breathing a high concentration of phthalates.
(If your baby is peeing through their diaper at night, there are some safer mattress pads and other solutions you can try).
To be clear, these studies don’t apply to memory foam specifically, but to crib mattresses more broadly.
However, it’s also not an endorsement of memory foam crib mattresses, and is a solid case for choosing an organic crib mattress or organic mini crib mattress, such as those from Naturepedic, over conventional, when it comes time to transition your baby to their crib.
After all, we take great care to reduce the amount of potentially harmful chemicals our kid comes into contact with, by choosing non-toxic products wherever we can. After bathing our baby in a non-toxic tub, washing the tub without using chemicals, and putting her down in a non-toxic crib, we don’t want her lying right up against a mattress filled with gunky chemicals.
Safe Alternatives to a Memory Foam Crib Mattress
Memory foam isn’t a safe option for crib mattresses. We avoid it in our own family, and urge you do the same.
This applies to ALL memory foam crib mattresses and mattress toppers. Some manufacturers make memory foam products specifically for babies. However, until an independent child health and safety organization weighs in on these products, we avoid them.
As long as leading pediatric organizations recommend avoiding memory foam crib mattresses, it’s what we plan to do, too.
Parenting is hard enough as it is, and is filled with plenty of worry and sleepless, sleep regression filled nights. By choosing to avoid memory foam for your baby, it’s one less thing to worry about!