Choosing a Crib Mattress: Dos and Don'ts

How to Choose a Crib Mattress for Your Nursery

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Need a crib mattress? Shopping for a safe, comfortable mattress for your baby-to-be can be a little tricky. Before you hit the bedding aisle at your local baby mega-store, take a moment to review these helpful buying tips.

Do choose a firm crib mattress made specifically for babies.

While an extremely firm mattress may seem uncomfortable, a firm foundation is essential to your baby's safety. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, soft sleeping surfaces create a suffocation hazard for infants and increase the risk of SIDS.

Never lay your baby down to sleep on an adult mattress or any other soft surface. If you are worried about your little one's long-term comfort, opt for a double-sided mattress. Designed for infant use, one side should be very firm. The other side is softer and more appropriate for use in a toddler bed.

Don't forget to do your homework.

There are several different types of mattresses available, including foam, innerspring and organic models. Take the time to learn about the benefits and potential problems associated with all three, so you can make a choice you feel really comfortable with.

Don't buy the wrong size.

Size matters. In order to be safe, your child's mattress must be a good fit. There should be no more than two fingers of space between the side of the mattress and the crib frame. Any larger and your baby may become entrapped between the two, resulting in injury or suffocation.

Do buy the crib first.

While most cribs use a standard-sized mattress, size can vary.

Before buying a mattress, make sure you have the exact measurements of your crib.

Don't buy a mattress with insufficient venting.

Mattress vents allow for increased airflow and make it easier for moisture to escape, preventing mold, mildew and odor. When choosing your mattress, look for small, reinforced holes along the sides.

The more ventilation holes, the better.

Do consider buying an organic mattress.

Growing numbers of researchers and medical professionals assert that chemicals left over from the manufacturing process of many common household items can aggravate existing medical conditions and even cause new and potentially dangerous health problems.

With any luck, your little dreamer will spend the better part of his or her days sleeping in their crib. So, if you're hoping to create a chemical-free environment for your child, an organic mattress may be the best place to start.

Don't forget to look for independent certification.

All crib mattresses sold in the United States must meet specific safety standards set forth by the CPSC and the American Society for Testing and Materials. However, independent certification can provide peace of mind, especially if you plan on shelling out a couple hundred dollars extra for an organic mattress. (All organic mattresses are certified using the Global Organic Textile Standards, but a label boasting an organic certification does not necessarily mean the item is entirely organic.) Look for mattresses marked "100% organic" that have been certified by an independent interest group, such as the Environmental Working Group.

Don't worry about the warranty.

Warranties can be comforting and may even prove useful, but don't spend more for the sake of these clever marketing tools. A quality mattress should see your little one into their "big bed" days and beyond without issue.

Don't buy a used crib mattress.

Crib mattresses can be expensive, costing as much as $300 or more, but if you're trying to save a few bucks, you'll be better off making cuts else ware.

Overtime, the surface of a once-firm crib mattress can become soft and uneven, putting your little one at risk. What's more, a mattress that appears clean may still be harboring bacteria, mold, mildew or even fungus in its core. Some studies have even suggested a link between secondhand mattresses and SIDS caused by respiratory problems associated with uncleanliness.

If you plan on saving your child's mattress for use by a younger sibling, be sure to keep it clean and dry while in use, and store it in a safe place. Before introducing it to its second owner, ensure that the mattress is in good condition and that the center and edges have remained firm and retained their shape.

Do purchase a water resistant mattress and/or cover.

Babies… well, babies leak. A water resistant cover is always a good idea, especially if you plan on trying to preserve your mattress for a second child. Some mattresses have been specially designed to survive the occasional midnight diaper crisis. These mattresses usually have a laminated nylon surface and do a decent job repelling all manner of yuck, but you may still want to use a water resistant cover as a back up.

If you're in the market for an organic mattress, you'll have a hard time finding a water resistant model. (Most waterproofing methods involve the use of chemicals.) However, some eco-friendly materials, such as wool, are more water resistant than others, and organic covers are available.