A Parent’s Guide to Choosing a Crib Mattress
Not many parents think about the mattress in their baby’s crib. After all, it’s usually covered up by the bedding, and let’s face it: purchasing a baby mattress usually isn’t a very exciting thing. Choosing between car seats and strollers and even the crib itself can be fun and exciting, but a mattress is… well… not so much. However, getting a safe crib mattress is a very important part of purchasing baby gear, no matter how uninteresting it may be.
Having a good crib mattress is very important for two main reasons: it makes the crib much comfier for your baby, and most importantly, it provides a good support for their delicate growing bones. The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development reports that using a hard mattress, as opposed to a soft mattress, is one of the key factors in helping prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It’s important to use a specialized baby crib mattress; a mattress that is meant for adults or older children will likely not be the correct size for a crib, nor will it be firm enough.
Babies will spend up to 70% of their life on the crib mattress. When you think about that, it’s easy to see why it’s important to choose the best baby mattress for your crib.
Foam Mattresses vs. Innerspring Mattresses
There are two main types of crib mattresses: foam & innerspring. When it comes to purchasing a good crib mattress, many parents have the same question: “Which is better: foam or innerspring?” The fact of the matter is that there really is no “best” type of crib mattress — one is not necessarily better than the other. There are both great foam and innerspring mattresses and not-so-great foam and innerspring mattresses. The main thing you should be concerned about is whether the mattress is quality or not.
Although the best foam mattresses are just as good as the best innerspring mattresses, you should know about the few key differences between the two.
Foam Crib Mattresses
If you’re familiar with foam crib mattresses from the 80′s or earlier, you might remember low-quality foam which would break down and become brittle over time. You might be glad to know that this is no longer the case; there have been many advancements over the years, and a properly-manufactured modern foam mattress should not have this issue. However, it’s important not to skimp out and get a cheap foam mattress from an unknown manufacturer. While foam mattresses that use foam that is specifically-designed for mattresses are fine, some low-cost foam mattresses use cheap packing foam to minimize costs, which will lead to deterioration over time.
Foam crib mattresses are generally less expensive than innerspring mattresses, which can sometimes be a factor when it comes to deciding on any baby product. Foam mattresses are also, in general, lighter than innerspring mattresses — about 8 pounds for the heaviest foam mattress, or close to 25 pounds for the heaviest innerspring mattress. However, some memory foam mattresses might be just as heavy as an innerspring mattress.
If you’re going to buy a foam crib mattress, there are a few things to look out for:
- The denser, the better — In general, the heavier a foam mattress, the more dense and firm it is. The more firm a crib mattress is, the better. Unfortunately, not all mattress manufacturers list this in the product information.
- The weight — While a heavy foam mattress is generally better than a lighter one, don’t forget that you have to lift it to change the crib sheets. You wouldn’t want a mattress that is too heavy & cumbersome, so it’s probably best to strike a balance between weight and the ease-of-use for parents.
Innerspring Crib Mattresses
Innerspring mattresses are the type of mattress you are probably used to sleeping on yourself. They contain springs or coils, and are a lot more complex than foam mattresses. These mattresses are usually more expensive and heavier than foam mattresses
One of the biggest misconceptions about innerspring mattresses is that the more coils it has, the better. This has been so ingrained in people’s minds that even other websites will tell you that this is most important. While the number of coils does somewhat reflect on the density of the mattress, there are many other factors that come into play, as well. Generally, the more metal in a innerspring mattress, the better. According to Consumer Reports, you should look for a crib mattress with around 135-150 coils, with a gauge of 15.5 or lower.
Remember that an innerspring mattress is generally more expensive than a foam mattress. On top of that, they tend to be a lot heavier.
If you’re going to purchase an innerspring crib mattress, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- More expensive is not always better — Innerspring mattresses can be pretty expensive on the high end. The most expensive mattress is not always the best, so just keep that in mind.
- Coils — Look for a mattress with around 135-150 coils with a gauge of 15.5 or lower.
Foam vs. Innerspring: The Conclusion
For most parents, a foam mattress will be just fine. They are generally less expensive, lighter, and all-around easier to use. The best foam mattress will be just as good as the best innerspring mattress, so I don’t think there is any important reason to go with an innerspring over a foam mattress.
A Guide: What To Look For in a Crib Mattress
When shopping for a crib mattress, there are a few features and qualities that you should be looking for. Here are some things to watch out for, and some things to consider while you are shopping.
- Foam vs. innerspring — As detailed above, this isn’t really a big deal. Go with whichever type seems more appealing to you; one type isn’t really any better than the other.
- Check the mattress size — Although this should be obvious, be sure to get a mattress that fits your particular crib. Most mattresses and cribs come in standard sizes, but it’s always good to double-check and make sure that the mattress you choose is going to work with your crib. The perfect crib mattress will fit snugly against all four sides of the crib without leaving any noticeable gap.
- The more firm, the better — While a soft mattress might seem to be more comfortable from your perspective, a safe baby mattress has to be firm. A soft mattress might be prone to causing your baby to sink slightly into it, making it difficult them to adjust their position.
- Cost — This is an important factor when it comes to buying any baby product. The good thing is that even if you’re on a tight budget, baby crib mattresses aren’t very expensive. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer. If you can budget around $100, you can get one of the best crib mattresses. However, if you need a specialty crib mattress, you will probably have to spend a little more money.
Don’t Buy a Used Crib Mattress
One thing I would stress about almost any type of baby product is this: never buy used or accept a hand-me-down mattress. While you might be okay if you know exactly what you’re looking for, some studies have linked the use of older crib mattresses with an increased risk of SIDS. A study published in 2002 by the British Medical Journal concluded that there was a “…valid statistical associated between sudden infant death syndrome and the use of an infant mattress previously used by another child…” and I would therefore never recommend letting your baby sleep on a used crib mattress.