Like a car seat, a crib mattress is a baby essential important enough to research — baby’s sleeping place needs to be safe! You can’t go wrong buying one from a highly-reputable company that’s been around for a while — ask a store clerk if you’re not sure which brands are most trusted. Go online and read what other parents say about the mattresses they’ve purchased. Then, visit a few stores and get a feel for the variety of models out there.
While you’re at the store, look for mattresses that are firm but also comfortable (read: no coils poking up through the top or foam that’s hard as a rock). Remember: Firmness can help prevent SIDS. In general, all crib mattresses are firm enough for baby if they’re made using steel springs or have a high-density foam core. “Find the balance by squeezing the center of the mattress and ensuring it bounces back into shape,” says Andrea Ostapa, senior marketing and product manager for crib mattresses at Kolcraft Enterprises, Inc.
Though both kinds of mattresses—innerspring and foam—are considered safe, there are major differences in shopping for the two.
What to look for: A higher coil count means the coils are closer together, which creates a firmer surface. You can also look for a lower gauge of steel, which means the steel is thicker.
Cool feature: The standard cushioning layers of an innerspring mattress are made of PET, polyester recycled from plastic water bottles, which acts as a hypoallergenic cushion, says Ostapa.
Upgrade with: Border rods (a steel frame attached to the perimeter of the mattress); weight distribution bars; corner protectors and steel clips. They’ll all help make the mattress’s core more durable.
What to look for: A high-density polyurethane foam core that holds 1.5 pounds per cubic foot. The higher the number of pounds per cubic foot, the heavier the core. The lower the number, the softer the core. “There are also bonded polyester fiber cores that tend to be a lower-cost alternative to foam, but they are not considered a ‘high-density’ foam,” Ostapa says.
Cool feature: Foam mattresses are lightweight; they typically weigh between 8 and 13 pounds.
Upgrade with: High-density edges that help protect the sides where a toddler sits.
You’ll be changing the bed regularly—sometimes bleary-eyed in the middle of the night—so you should be able to pick up the mattress fairly easily. Any mattress that’s 10 to 20 pounds should be fine for you and baby.
Even if you plan on using a sheet saver and crib mattress pad— both smart ideas, since there are bound to be diaper blow-outs— you should also make sure your mattress is waterproof. Having that extra layer of protection means that accidents can’t seep inside the mattress.
Your kid is going to spending a lot of time on the mattress, so it makes sense to want safe materials against his or her skin. One certification to look for is GREENGUARD, which measures the chemical emissions from the mattress. If a mattress has been certified, that means an outside laboratory tested it to see whether it poses any air-quality risk to your baby.
Two things to know off the bat: You’ll pay more for an organic mattress, and most crib mattresses aren't actually composed of all-organic material, since many also contain steel and plastics. Still, having organic cushioning or covers gives peace of mind to some parents. When shopping for one, Ostapa says to check that the mattress contains another, firmer material to help keep it in shape (organic cotton cushioning doesn’t bounce back as well as other fibers). Also, organic cotton covers aren’t waterproof, so look for an eco-friendly treatment for extra protection.
A high price tag doesn’t necessarily mean better quality; sometimes you’re just paying for extra features that you may not even care about. “Some manufacturers have been making crib mattresses for so long and have conducted so many quality tests that even the lowest-priced mattress is of the highest quality,” Ostapa says. “The lower-priced mattresses will not have as many features, but they certainly are tested for safe use with children.”
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