Buying a mattress of any kind can be a challenging process, but it takes on even added significance when it comes to a crib mattress. Parents want the best for their kids, and given the amount of time that infants and young children spend sleeping, choosing a high-quality crib mattress takes on special significance.
Selecting the right crib mattress takes on even more importance because of the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While no crib mattress can guarantee to eliminate the risk of SIDS, choosing a mattress with certain characteristics is widely acknowledged by experts as helping to reduce the risk.
In this guide, we’ll give background about SIDS, about types of crib mattresses, and shopping tips. You can keep reading to find this information or click here to jump straight to our top picks.
Important Information About SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is the leading cause of death in children between 1 and 12 months old. SIDS happens suddenly and unexpectedly, and it occurs most frequently in children 1 to 4 months old. There is no clearly identified cause or explanation for SIDS to date.
Though doctors can’t say exactly why SIDS happens, they have identified certain things that can increase the risk of SIDS. Some of these risk factors are physical. For example, SIDS is more common in children of 1-4 months of age, in boys, in nonwhites, in babies who have had a family history of SIDS, in premature children, and in babies exposed to cigarette smoke.
Other risk factors are considered environmental and relate to where and how an infant sleeps. These environmental risk factors include an infant sleeping on their stomach or side, sleeping on a soft surface, sharing a bed with others, and being too hot when asleep.
While many of the physical risk factors — such as age, background, and sex — are beyond anyone’s control, the environmental risk factors can be managed in order to help reduce the risk of SIDS. Many of the shopping considerations discussed in this guide will take these preventive measures into account to help you identify a safe sleeping surface for your child.
Top Shopping Considerations
When shopping for a crib mattress, you’ll have a handful of different issues to think through. Some of these are more straightforward and intuitive than others, but these represent the key considerations to take into account as you begin your buying process.
Be aware that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has specific size requirements for mattresses in full-size cribs. These mattresses must be 27.25 inches by 51.25 inches, with a thickness not exceeding 6 inches. Make sure any mattress that you look at meets these requirements and know that any crib mattress should come with a consumer notice of these dimensions.
Putting your infant to sleep on a firm mattress is considered to be an important step in reducing the risk of SIDS. As a result, you’ll want to make sure to get a crib mattress that is not built of plush materials or materials that are likely to sag and let your infant sink into the mattress.
Dual Firmness Option
Some crib mattresses are built with different firmness levels on each side. One side is more firm and designed for use when your child is very young. When he or she is older, usually around 10 months old, and no longer at as much of a risk of SIDS, the mattress can be flipped to offer a slightly softer and more comfortable sleeping surface.
A firm mattress doesn’t have to mean that it feels like concrete. The mattress should still offer some comfort and support while retaining a firm surface. The dual firmness choices give some additional flexibility with regard to the balance of firmness, support, and comfort.
Temperature Regulation and Breathability
Not only is overheating uncomfortable, it can also contribute to an increased risks of SIDS. As a result, the best options are ones that are more breathable and that aren’t prone to sleeping hot.
Easy-to-Clean / Waterproof / Stain-Resistant
It’s no secret that babies can make messes happen in an instant. As a result, having a crib mattress that is waterproof, or at least water-resistant, as well as resistant to stains and easy to clean can help save a lot of headache, especially if you’re having to wake up in the middle of the night to deal with a blowout or bedwetting incident.
Since you can expect to change the sheets on a crib mattress with some regularity, a lighter mattress can help make it easier to manage. In general, foam mattresses are lighter than innerspring mattresses.
There is a tremendous price range for crib mattresses. Some are available at very low prices while others can extend to hundreds and hundreds of dollars. You can get a quality crib mattress without breaking the bank, but more expensive mattresses may have extra features. As you read through the reviews, think about which features may be worth it for you. This may be influenced by whether you are looking for a primary crib mattress or one that will get irregular use (such as at the grandparents’ house) and by how long you hope to have your child sleep on the mattress.
Some mattresses come with certifications related to their materials and production. Keeping all of these straight can be confusing, so here’s a quick primer:
- Greenguard: this is a certification that relates to emissions from the mattress itself. These emissions are also known as offgassing or as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While there is much that is still unknown about the health effects of VOCs, many parents prefer to avoid them whenever possible. A Greenguard Gold certified crib mattress has been shown to meet strict limits of VOCs.
- CertiPUR-US: this certification goes beyond just emissions and also tests for other dangerous compounds in a foam product. For example, among other things, it tests for things like formaldehyde and heavy metals. A CertiPUR-US certified mattress has been shown not to include these compounds and is important for any foam mattress that you might consider.
- Oeko-TEK Standard 100: this is a testing criteria developed by an independent group of labs. The protocol that tests for dangerous substances in numerous textiles and not just foam.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS provides certification for organic fibers. It is conducted by an independent agency and is important to look for if you are focused on finding a mattress whose overall materials are produced according to standards for sustainable production and manufacturing.
Crib Mattress Types
As you begin shopping for crib mattresses, you’ll notice that they typically fall into just a few common categories. This section offers an introduction to these types of crib mattresses.
- Like with adult mattresses, crib mattresses use either polyurethane foam or memory foam (viscoelastic foam).
- Foams can be formulated to various thicknesses, though, so it’s important that any foam mattress you consider to be appropriately firm.
- Memory foam tends to be softer and to have more contouring properties, which can pose risks to infants.
- Polyurethane foams, on the other hand, are more likely to have the firmness needed to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
- A benefit to foam is that it is often lighter in weight, making it easier to lift and move when changing sheets.
- These mattresses use coils to provide a firm and resilient sleeping surface.
- A solid base of innerspring coils -- like those found in our recommended innerspring models -- help provide the necessary support and comfort for young children.
- Some models may have additional materials layered on top of the coils to provide a bit more comfort without sacrificing the overall firmness level.
- Quality models use border rods to offer more robust support, especially along the edges of the mattress.
- The downside to this type of construction is weight as innerspring models tend to weigh more considerably more than foam offerings.
- Specialty crib mattresses use alternative materials in place of either coils or foam.
- For example, they may use latex, cotton, wool, polyester, or fiber derived from coconuts.
- These materials may be promoted as especially green or organic and also tend to come at a significantly higher price point than other types of crib mattresses.
- Many of these materials also have a considerably shorter track record relative to foam and innerspring construction, and this can make it hard to compare their relative performance and durability.
In addition to the interior mattress material, another component of a crib mattress is the exterior mattress cover. Some of the types that you are most likely to come across include:
Cotton: this is the material that you’re familiar with as it is used in tons of consumer products. Cotton may also be backed with plastic or a different waterproof material. The cotton may or may not be organic.
Vinyl: these covers generally involve a few layers of vinyl in order to create a waterproof seal. Customers who are concerned about chemical exposure should look for PVC and phthalates free mattresses. While these compounds do not have clear health impacts in human studies, there is some research that points toward potential health impacts.
Some covers are listed as waterproof while others are water-resistant. The presence of a seam or zipper can also vary among different mattress models. When you are looking at the construction, make sure to look at both what’s inside and outside so that you can make a more complete evaluation of the mattress.
Our Top Picks
As a parent, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and you might find this whole process of shopping for a crib mattress to be overwhelming. If that’s the case, or if you’re just looking for some extra guidance, here are some of our favorites among the crib mattresses on the market. We’ve broken them down into several categories to further streamline your shopping process.
Editor’s Choice / Best Overall: Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer
This mattress from Moonlight Slumber, which produces a number of well-regarded crib mattresses, has received high marks from parents and from independent testers. It is built with polyurethane foam that has a different firmness level on each side, which means you’ll be able to keep using this mattress for years. An excellent warranty and customer-service reputation for the company means that if you have a problem during that timeframe, you can count on the customer service team to make things right. On top of all that, the Little Dreamer is light, easy to clean, and has the certifications that you’d look for in a foam option.
Best Organic Mattress: Naturepedic No Compromise Organic Cotton Classic Lightweight Crib Mattress
The term “organic” is thrown around loosely for a lot of products, but the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) applies a rigorous protocol to ensuring that a textile product — and not just its raw materials — are produced according to high standards. This mattress is GOTS-Certified, which means you can trust that the term “organic” holds weight for this choice. Adding to that, it’s waterproof — rare among organic or green models — and provides the necessary firmness without weighing a ton. The biggest concern for this mattress is that it is only one-sided, so this firmness level may be uncomfortable for your child as they get older.
Best Foam Mattress: Sealy Soybean Foam Core
The Sealy Soybean Foam Core crib mattress is made with polyurethane foam that is produced using a percentage of oil from soybeans grown in the U.S. as opposed to most foams that are produced using petroleum-based foams. It comes with CertiPUR-US and Greenguard certifications and has the right amount of firmness for an infant. It also has a waterproof cover to prevent damage from spills, and at a price tag of under $100, it’s a great value. Keep in mind, though, that this is a one-sided mattress, so it may not have the useful life of our Editor’s Choice pick.
Best Innerspring: Serta Tranquility Eco-Firm
This crib mattress from Serta is constructed using a fundamental support core of strong innerspring coils. Those coils are buttressed by a border wire around the full perimeter of the mattress. It also has CertiPUR-US and Greenguard certified foam as well as cotton layers to provide additional support without sacrificing firmness. It’s waterproof and light enough to maneuver without much difficulty when it needs to be cleaned. It’s also dual-sided, which means you can keep using it even as your infant gets older and can start using a slightly less firm sleeping surface.
Best for a Newborn: Safety First Heavenly Dreams
The Safety First Heavenly Dreams mattress is not the most robust on the market, but at its price point — often at or below $50 — it’s a tremendous value for a safe and well-reviewed crib mattress. It has a polyester fill with a firm surface and a waterproof cover. This mattress is one-sided, so you shouldn’t expect your child to sleep on it for much of their youth. But when you have a newborn, you’ve got a lot of expenses coming your way, and at that time, you may not be able to invest in a dual-sided mattress. This mattress offers a safe, firm, and affordable first mattress for your baby.
Best for an Infant: Newton Wovenaire Crib Mattress
While the Newton Wovenaire mattress comes with a higher price, it offers a number of really high-quality materials and design elements and is beloved by many parents. This mattress is built using a food-grade polymer that is formed into a rectangular shape. The final material is mostly (90%) air, which keeps the mattress light and breathable. Though it’s cover is not waterproof, it is easily removable and washable. The design of this material allows the mattress to be both firm and supportive, so it can be used during infancy and beyond. For parents looking for outside-the-box options beyond a traditional foam or innerspring mattress, the Newton Wovenaire mattress is worthy of strong consideration.
Best for a Toddler: Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer (our Editor’s Choice)
As we outlined above, a dual-sided crib mattress offers parents a ton of flexibility. The softer side of our Editor’s Choice, the Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer, works well for growing toddlers. And even though toddlers have different needs in terms of firmness, as a parent, you know that your needs still include a mattress that’s easy to clean, and the Little Dreamer fits that bill. The construction of the Moonlight Slumber Little Dreamer makes it a top pick overall and for toddlers.
Finding a great crib mattress can seem like a burdensome and time-consuming process, but with the information in this guide, you can rest assured — on your own mattress! — knowing that your child will sleep tight on a safe and well-made product. Whether you opt for foam, innerspring, or a specialty material, and whether you go for a high-end or budget option, all of our recommendations have a track record of strong reviews and the firmness level your child needs.
More information about SIDS and safe sleep can be found in the links below:
- MedlinePlus: SIDS
- MayoClinic: SIDS
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: Safe to Sleep® – Crib Information Center
And if this process has only led you to realize that maybe your own mattress needs replacement or an upgrade, check out these resources: