Find a Better Crib Mattress: The Surprising Key to Baby’s Deep Sleep

Deciding on nursery curtains and bedding sets sounds a lot more exciting than buying a crib mattress, but finding the right crib mattress is important for your baby to sleep comfortably and safely through the night.

Next to picking out the perfect crib and the cutest bedding, buying a crib mattress may seem like an afterthought. Yet, crib mattresses ensure that your baby not only sleeps comfortably, but also that he’s safe while sleeping. The mattress should be firm so that if your baby curls up next to the side of the crib, he can’t become stuck between the crib parts and an ill-fitting mattress.

Keep in mind that this mattress will lull your baby to sleep and most likely stay with her through her toddler years (envision her bracing herself against the crib while jumping on the mattress). You may also choose to transfer the mattress to a kid’s bed. When you think about how much use you will get out of your baby’s mattress, you may not be so casual about deciding on the right one. Not to worry! Follow our guide to find the best mattress for your baby.

Crib Mattress Basics

When it comes to crib mattresses the most popular models come in two varieties: innerspring and foam. As the name implies, with an innerspring, metal coils are padded in the interior, similar to an adult mattress. Foam models are stuffed with—you guessed it—foam padding. There are varying degrees of firmness within both models. For instance, the coil count can be anywhere from 150 to 600 with an innerspring (often the more coils in the mattress, the more durable and supportive the innerspring unit). Foam mattresses come in high-density and regular varieties.

The standard size for a mattress is 51 5/8 inches by 27 1/4 inches, with the mattress thickness of no more than six inches. Most models come in four-, five-, or six-inch thicknesses.

The exterior makeup of crib mattresses is all about durability. Most mattresses are covered in vinyl, with higher-end models offering quilted vinyl or even several layers of vinyl. Fabric binding seals the vinyl encasing. Side vent holes keep the air balanced so that as the baby moves the mattress stays level. The vents have the added benefit of allowing odors to escape.

Other features include hypo-allergenic, waterproof, flame-retardant, and bacteria- and stain-resistant properties in the exterior covering.

Choosing a Mattress

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a crib mattress—the first thing is to check your store’s return policy. While cribs and mattresses normally adhere to standard sizes, you can’t be sure you have a perfect fit until you give it a try. According to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), “crib mattresses should fit snugly with no more than two fingers width between the edges of the mattress and the crib side.”

Along with the finger check, test the mattress for firmness. You’re not looking for the cushy feel you may prefer in your mattress; you want something that will holds its shape and stay flat. Push down on the center and sides of the mattress to test that the mattress holds its shape under weight. You can try this in the store, but plan on doing a more thorough test at home.

Don’t hesitate to return a mattress if you don’t think it fits correctly in your crib, or if it’s not firm enough. Some 150 coil-counts are firmer than others, while some high-density foam mattresses might appear a better fit for your particular crib. Try before you buy! Several reliable brands offer models that adhere to both federally mandated and stricter voluntary standards. Look for the JPMA seal on the package.

Innerspring Mattresses

Most parents opt for innerspring mattresses based on their durability and firmness. Innersprings come with layers of padding between the coils and the exterior. As an added bonus, the exterior covering of most innerspring mattresses is waterproof.

Some disadvantages to innersprings are that the springs tend to be noisier than their foam counterparts. Innersprings weigh more and are often more expensive than foam.

Foam Mattresses

If you choose a foam mattress you’ll probably be spending less on the mattress, but it may not last as long. Heavy toddler jumping may leave permanent lumps. But many parents find foam a comfortable—not to mention lighter—alternative to innerspring mattresses. When you’re changing your baby’s bedding in the dark, in the middle of the night, you might be grateful not to be lifting too much.

But be aware, foam mattresses have a history of exterior problems like leaks and tearing.

Greener Alternatives

Looking to explore ecologically friendly mattresses for your family? You’ll be happy to learn there are a growing number of choices to consider. You can find organic cotton and wool innerspring mattresses. A growing number of companies are manufacturing natural rubber (in place of foam) mattresses as well. These products don’t off-gas and offer families all-natural, hypoallergenic, chemical-free options for baby beds.

Safety Issues

Again, look for firmness when deciding on a mattress. Firm mattresses prevent your baby from becoming trapped between the mattress and the crib sides. Consumer Reports suggests that parents spend a little more money on a sturdy crib mattress versus opting for a flimsy, cheap model. That doesn’t mean buy the most expensive mattress. In fact CR advises parents that labels can tell you only so much. You have to get the mattress out of the package and test it to determine its firmness and that it fits properly in your baby’s crib.

While you’re testing your mattress’s firmness, also check its height. Most mattresses are six-inches tall, but some models are shorter. Ill-fitting crib sheets can come loose and potentially strangle or suffocate a baby. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) admonishes parents to pick a tight-fitting crib sheet that overlaps the mattress and can’t be pulled aside. Again, testing is key. Try out the crib sheet on the mattress in your baby’s crib. Make sure that the sheet can’t be pulled off.

You may also want to consider a fire-resistant exterior fabric. Serta offers what it calls FireBlocker protection so that if a fire does reach the crib mattress, it won’t spread, allowing parents time to get a baby out of the crib. Serta uses this fabric in all of their crib mattress models, both foam and innerspring.

Ready to Shop?

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to start shopping! In general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $200 for a standard mattress (foam or innerspring) and up to $600 or more for a custom-sized mattress or model with more deluxe features. And while it’s not as much fun deciding on innerspring or foam as it is to decide between Winnie-the-Pooh or teddy bear–themed comforters, in the end, the more important purchase will be what your baby sleeps on. The right mattress will keep your baby safe and snoozing—so that maybe you can catch a few Zzzs yourself.

Crib Mattress Buying Checklist

  • Firmness is key. Test the inside and the edges of the mattress.
  • Look for exterior fabric that can withstand tears, spills, and jumps like multi-layered or quilted vinyl.
  • Check that you can’t put more than a two-finger width distance between the crib mattress and the crib.
  • Make sure that the crib sheet fits snugly and can’t be pulled off the mattress.
  • Consider buying a mattress with fire-retardant fabric.
  • Don’t buy a crib mattress at a store where you can’t return it if it doesn’t fit right.

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