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How to Choose a Baby Crib Mattress

By Sarah Holmes, Ph.D.

Even though choosing a mattress for your new baby is not near as exciting as picking out the baby crib and crib bedding, it is a very important decision in terms of the safety and comfort of your baby. This article reviews the issues you will need to consider when picking out the best baby crib mattress that meets your needs.

how-to-choose-a-baby-crib-mattress.jpgBaby Crib Mattress Safety Issues
A baby crib mattress should be firm and tight-fitting. You don’t want any space between the mattress and the baby crib walls. How much space is too much? If you can fit 2 side-by-side fingers between the side of the baby crib and the mattress, then the mattress is too small and poses a safety hazard. Most mattresses come in a standard size that fit standard style baby cribs. The standard size for a mattress is 51 5/8″ by 27 1/4″.

Types of Baby crib Mattresses
Baby crib mattresses vary from expensive inner-spring models to economical polyurethane-foam styles. One is not necessarily better than the other, given that they are both of the same high quality. Foam baby crib mattresses are usually less expensive than coil mattresses and just as safe provided they are of high quality. They are also usually lighter and easier to move around if you need to pick it up to change the sheets. The question is, “How do you tell whether a mattress is of high quality?” Here are some tips that might help.

Foam Mattresses
In general, weight is a good indication of the quality of a foam mattress. As the weight goes up, the quality of the foam goes up because it means that the foam is denser. A second issue to consider is the firmness of the foam mattress. Generally, the firmer the mattress the better. Remember, one easy way to check the firmness of the mattress is to pick it up, place your hands in the middle on opposite sides, and squeeze. The harder it is to squeeze the mattress, the firmer it is. Lastly, you may want to consider the resiliency of the mattress. Resilience refers to how quickly it regains its original shape when the weight is removed from the mattress. A higher quality foam mattress will regain its shape quicker than a lower quality mattress.

Innerspring Mattresses
It can get rather technical discussing the features of innerspring mattresses. But, I will try to keep it as simple as possible. It would be nice to think that it is only a matter of the number of coils in the mattress. It is not that simple. What is more important is finding an innerspring mattress with the highest amount of steel. Definitely, more coils means more steel. But, there are other factors than can add a significant amount of steel to the mattress. For example, the largest pieces of steel are the border rods which circle the top and bottom of the mattress along the edges of the mattress. Border rods provide additional edge support which is important once your baby is able to hold on the baby crib rails and walk back and forth in the baby crib. The border rods also help distribute the weight over the surface of the mattress which helps to avoiding any sagging over time. So, if you decide on an innerspring mattress, make sure it has a border rod. Ready for some math…. Here we go. Let’s consider coils for a minute. The coil count is somewhat important in determining the quality of the mattress. Another thing to consider is the quality of the coils. It doesn’t make much sense to have lots and lots of coils if they are of poor quality and will wear out quickly. To figure out the quality of the coils, you need to look at the thickness of the coils. Mattresses with 150 coils or less will usually have a 13.5 gauge steel coil or thicker. Remember, the lower the number of gauge of steal, the thicker the steel. Once a mattress has more than 160 coils, the steal has to be thinner because there isn’t enough room for thicker steel. Are you confused yet??? Let’s just say that a 150 coil mattress with 13.5 gauge carbon tempered steel coils and 9.0 gauge steel border rods is a good all-around baby crib mattress. You can compare the baby crib you are considering to this general standard to see how it compares.

There is just one more issue to consider with innerspring mattresses. It is important to consider the layers on top of the spring coils which add cushioning and softness to the mattress. This layer is called in insulator layer and will hopefully prevent the cushioning from sinking into the coils over time. The best and most expensive material used is coir fiber. Coir fiber is actually made from shredded coconut shells made into a pad. Many other materials, all of them less expensive and of lower quality, are used as insulator pads. The most common material is miscellaneous types of scraps of cloth collected from the floors of textile mills, washed, and pressed into a pad. This type of insulator pad feels just as good as a coir fiber pad but it won’t hold up as well over time. Many baby crib mattress manufactures call this material a fiber wrap pad.

Mattress Cover
Almost all mattresses have a vinyl cover. Cheaper mattresses with have only a single layer of vinyl cover or a quilted vinyl cover. Better mattresses have a double laminated cover. The best quality covers are triple laminated, nylon reinforced covers and hospital grade vinyl covers that use a thicker vinyl. Nylon is the best reinforcing material because it allows the vinyl to stretch and give without tearing. Keep in mind that some manufactures use polyester or other type of reinforcing material. Nylon is still the best (and most expensive) in terms of preventing the vinyl from tearing when a toddler is jumping on it.

There are pros and cons about vents which you will need to weigh. Most of the higher quality mattresses have vents. Vents allow the mattress to breathe and keep the mattress from bursting should your toddler decide to use it as a trampoline. However, vents also allow any airborne particles to enter the mattress. One good point is that vents are never near a baby’s face.

There are two types of vents. Eyelet vents are small and usually circle all sides of the mattress in two or three rows. The second type consists of two larger vents on each side of the mattress. One type of vent is not necessarily better than the other.

With all of this information, hopefully you will be armed and ready to find a good quality mattress that meets your needs. Remember, price is not necessarily a guarantee that the mattress is of good quality. Just because a mattress costs a lot and has a long warranty does not mean that it is the best mattress. Read the label for specifications. If it doesn’t meet your requirements, then move on to the next mattress. I hope that this article helps you to make an informed decision when you buy the baby crib mattress. If you are still in doubt, ask the salesperson. The salesperson should be able to discuss in details all of the issues we have consider here. Good luck!

About the Author
Sarah Holmes, Ph.D. quit her full-time job in order to stay home with her baby girl. She created as a free resource to other new moms and dads. Her site compares prices on hundreds of baby cribs from more than 20 online stores allowing you to find the beset price with a click of a button. Her site also offers lots of information about the different types of cribs as well as all sorts of safety information about how to buy and use your new crib safely.

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3 Comments on "How to Choose a Baby Crib Mattress"

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8 years 7 months ago

You should report an unsafe mattress to the CPSC ( I think they have been responsible for a few crib mattress recalls in the past

[…] If you buy a crib new, including the mattress and bedding you are likely to spend $300-$400 or more on this place for your baby to sleep. You can […]

kathy Benkert
10 years 4 months ago
My daughter purchased a Kolcraft pediatric 1000 mattress for my grandson. When I came to veiw the bed I saw she had rolled a blanket and stuffed it in the side of the crib to close up the gap. She had tried to return it to target but was not able to because she could not find the receipt. Being unemployed at this time she could not afford anohter matress. We have purchased a new one but I want this off the market. Target has to be aware of the problem there are numberous complaints on their website. I have… Read more »
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