Crib Mattresses 101

Crib Mattresses 101

No doubt you’ve bought mattresses before so buying one for your new baby can’t be too difficult, right? But babies have concerns adults don’t: SIDS prevention, leaky diapers, constantly changing sheets. What’s a parent to do? Read on for our primer on buying a crib mattress:

Types of crib mattresses

There are basically three types of crib mattresses: foam, coil and combination coil/foam. Foam mattresses are lighter than those with coils, making it easier to change the sheets in the middle of the night when Junior reenacts the Great Flood in his crib. Foam mattresses typically weigh less than eight pounds, while coil mattresses can top 20 or 30 pounds! Another plus: foam mattresses are less expensive, usually $100 to $160. Coil mattresses can be pricey, with some models running $200+. Two-in-one mattresses (foam on one side, coil on the other or firm foam on one side, softer foam on the other) are also expensive at $200 or more.

Most adults sleep on coil, so new parents often think that’s the best mattress for baby. Plus many baby stores (and even chains like Babies R Us) only sell coil mattresses, claiming that coil is superior to foam. One salesperson even told a parent that foam mattresses aren’t safe for babies older than six months! Another salesperson actually told a parent they should expect to replace a foam mattress two to three times during the two years a baby uses a crib. Neither of these claims are true.

Bottom line: either foam or coil mattresses are fine . . . but we prefer foam because they are lighter in weight. And hence it is easier to change sheets in the middle of the night.

What about “natural” mattresses? These are mattresses that claim to use a variety of natural ingredients like coconut fiber, horse-hair and organic cotton filling in their mattresses. They also tout organic cotton covers or food grade polyethylene covers. And still others may be “all natural, organic” but use non-toxic food grade foam filling. Most of the time, you’re paying a lot more for the all natural and organic mattresses.

We have found no credible scientific evidence that natural or organic crib mattresses are any safer for your child to sleep on than conventional mattresses. That said, we realize many parents are trying to reduce their baby’s exposure to environmental toxins—and considering how much time a baby spends sleeping, going organic for a mattress may make sense. There are a few reasonably priced options we’ll mention in our review of recommended mattresses.

Which one is right for you?

The key goal you want for any mattress is a firm surface. Babies who sleep on a too soft mattress (think futon) can be at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Some stores pitch 2-in-1 mattresses, with a firm foam side for babies and a softer coil side for toddlers (the risk of SIDS drops after one year of age for various reasons).Our take: these aren’t necessary. A toddler can sleep on a foam mattress just as easily as a newborn. Once they transition out of a crib into a twin bed, then you can switch to a coil mattress.

The take home message: we recommend foam crib mattresses in most instances. They make midnight sheet changes easier since they are lighter. With today’s new foams, appropriate firmness doesn’t require the use of spring coils.

If you are determined to have a coil mattress, or can’t find a foam mattress at a local store, don’t buy based on the number of coils. Have a strong guy (significant other or friend) come to the store with you and try to compress the center of the coil mattress samples on the floor. The harder it is to compress, the better. The same really goes for foam mattresses as well.