Once your little one has had their first birthday, you might be wondering whether it’s time to flip that baby mattress from “infant” side to “toddler” side.
What is a Two Stage Crib Mattress?
When shopping for a crib mattress, you have the option to buy either a single-sided / one-stage crib mattress, or a two stage mattress.
One stage crib mattresses have the same level of firmness on both sides of the mattress, and may not be suitable once your baby grows into a toddler with opinions and words to express them!
Two stage mattresses, on the other hand, have different levels of firmness on either side of the mattress, meaning you can offer your toddler something a bit softer and plusher, once they’re ready for it.
In a two stage mattress, one side of the mattress is extra firm. This infant side is designed to be used as an infant mattress throughout the first year of life, at minimum.
The other side of a two stage crib mattress is the toddler side. It’s softer and more plush, and is meant to be used as a toddler mattress in your crib, as well as being used in a toddler bed once you transition your child to their first big kid bed.
When is the Best Time to Flip the Crip Mattress from the Infant to the Toddler Side?
You can flip your baby’s crib mattress when your baby is a minimum of 12 months old and hits certain developmental milestones.
While some sources suggest 12 months old is an ideal time to flip baby’s mattress, I recommend considering your own baby’s needs and development to keep them safe.
In particular, your baby should be able to roll over completely (back to front, and front to back) before flipping the mattress. Likewise, they need to have complete control over their head and neck (i.e. can move their head from side to side).
While many parents seem to think the infant side of their baby’s crib mattress is too firm to be comfortable, most baby’s and toddlers don’t seem to mind. My daughter slept on the infant side plenty of times throughout toddlerhood when we mistakenly put the wrong side up. She didn’t seem to care (or even notice), and a firm mattress really does provide more support for their developing muscular-skeletal systems.
Note, you may be tempted to introduce toddler pillows around the same time you flip the baby mattress. In my experience, toddler pillows come a bit later – somewhere between 18 months and 2 years old.
Why is the Infant Mattress so Hard?
A firm crib mattress is an essential part of safe sleep guidelines for babies under 12 months old.
Very young babies aren’t able to reposition themselves should they find themselves in a dangerous situation in their crib.
Hypothetically, if a baby is placed face-down on a soft mattress (never do this!), their head could indent into the soft mattress surface, posing a suffocation risk.
Because babies can’t move their own bodies very well, it’s essential their caregivers ensure their safety by following safe sleep guidelines.
Place your baby on his or her back, on a firm infant-safe mattress, in a bare crib. A well-fitting and firm crib mattress with a tight fitted sheet is all that’s needed – no stuffies, no crib bumbers, no blankets or pillows, etc.
Worth noting, if you buy your baby’s mattress brand new, from a store, in the United States, it must meet firmness guidelines set out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Why Flip Your Baby Mattress?
With two stage mattresses, the other side of the mattress (stage 2) is basically a softer mattress for an older baby or toddler (12 months+ only).
Once your baby has outgrown the SIDS stage (the first year of life) and has enough muscular and bodily control to move independently and freely in their crib, they may start to find the infant side of the mattress is too firm, and want something softer, plusher, and cozier.
Instead of buying a new mattress, you can simply flip the one you have to the softer side (assuming you bought a two stage – not all crib mattresses are designed to be dual stage).
Do You Really Need a Two Stage Baby Mattress?
Whether you’ll find the toddler side an absolute necessity or not probably depends on your child (whether they mind the firm side or not as they get older) and your family (in particular, how long they will sleep in a toddler-style bed before transitioning to a twin bed or larger).
However, two sided mattresses are so common now, I generally recommend families buy a dual stage crib mattress just in case. It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
How Can You Tell Which Side is Which on a Crib Mattress?
This depends on the brand of crib mattress you have. Some brands make it really easy to distinguish (Naturepedic and Lullaby Earth, for example), whereas other brands haven’t really cracked that problem, and it’s a bit tricky to figure out which is the firm mattress side (infant), and which is the softer mattress side (toddler).
Unfortunately, many crib mattress manufacturers also put this information on the labels of the crib mattress, which are very easy to get ripped off with daily use.
Of the different crib mattresses I currently own:
- My Naturepedic and Lullaby Earth crib mattresses are very easy to tell, and the labels have stayed on over time
- On my Colgate Eco Classica III mattress the label ripped off, so I have to feel it to figure it out. Thankfully, it’s very easy to tell which is which just by testing each side with my hand.
- My Nook Sleep Air mattress is difficult to tell, and I generally have no idea which is which. This is a common complaint that I’ve seen with this brand – it’s not easy to distinguish!
- My Newton Wovenaire isn’t a two stage crib mattress, so I don’t have to worry! Newton says both sides are ideal for both babies and toddlers.
If there isn’t a clear label, and you can’t figure it out, lay the mattress on a flat surface and press down on one side with your hand.
The firm side designed for infants should feel very firm (like a 9/10 or 10/10 for firmness). When you press down and then take your hand away, the indentation should snap back immediately.
The toddler side, on the other hand, should feel softer, with less resistance when you’re pushing down on it. It also may take a little longer to snap back to the initial position.
Best 2 Stage Crib Mattress to Consider
Note, of the 4 mattress brands listed below (Naturepedic, Avocado, Lullaby Earth, and Colgate), I own crib mattresses from three of them, and have personal experience with them. I bought all of the crib mattresses myself (i.e. the companies did not send free crib mattresses in exchange for review). The only mattress I don’t have personal experience with is the Avocado brand.
Made in the USA, with Greenguard Gold, Formaldehyde free verified, and MADE SAFE certifications, we use Naturepedic in our own house. My daughter slept on the Naturepedic Breathable as her crib mattress, and we choose a Naturepedic 2-in-1 for her twin mattress and big kid bed. Naturepedic makes several waterproof mattress models, including the Classic, the Breathable, and the Breathable Ultra. The two Breathable models come with a breathable and removable cover. All 3 models are waterproof, as well as flame retardant free while still being fire resistant.
Note, not all Naturepedic crib mattresses are two-stage by default. It’s an option you need to choose on some of the models:
- Naturepedic Classic: Available as a 1-stage lightweight mattress, or a 2-stage in either lightweight or Innerspring/Coil.
- Naturepedic Breathable: Only available as a 2-stage mattress, in either Lightweight or Innerspring/Coil
- Naturepedic Breathable Ultra: Only available as a 2-stage mattress, in either Lightweight or Innerspring/Coil
Importantly from a user perspective, it’s very easy to tell which side is the firm side and which side is the toddler side if you have a Naturepedic 2 stage crib mattress, as it’s clearly marked and the tag is well attached.
Avocado Mattress makes 2 different dual stage baby mattresses – their Organic Crib Mattress and their Luxury Organic Crib Mattress. Their Eco Organic Crib Mattress is a one-sided crib mattress, not two!
Another GreenGuard Gold Certified, Formaldehyde Free verified, and MADE SAFE certified two stage crib mattress. The Lullaby Earth tends to skew more affordable than Naturepedic or Avocado, while still having the same non-toxic credentials. If you’re concerned about breathability, check out their Breathe Safe 2 stage crib mattress, which has a removable, breathable cover.
A two-stage foam crib mattress that uses Colgate’s CertiPUR certified EcoFoam® (i.e. made with some plant oils, in this case it appears to be soy), this is a classic two stage foam crib mattress. It’s another one I have personal experience with, and the firm side is wonderfully firm, and it fits very well in our current toddler bed (toddler beds and cribs have to follow the same standardized rules for dimensions and measurements). This one is also Greenguard Gold certified, and it’s waterproof, although that system does leave a little to be desired in my opinion (see my full review here).
Final Thoughts on When to Flip the Mattress
While age is a good guideline (12 months+) when trying to decide when to flip baby mattress , you should also consider your baby’s development.
Ensure they have enough control over their body and muscular strength before flipping the mattress from the ultra firm side designed for infants in the first year of life, and the softer side designed for older babies and toddlers.
When in doubt, it’s fine to keep your little one on the firmer side for a bit longer before you flip the mattress. Children can use the extra support.
Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about nursery safety or your baby.