Resting beneath layers of beautiful bedding, hidden from the eye, the ingredient to safe and sound slumber - the mattress!
It’s usually an afterthought, but the mattress that your baby sleeps on—whether in her crib, cradle or bassinet—is an important part of the nursery. Not only can it determine the quality of sleep your baby gets, but it can potentially pose safety concerns if it’s not chosen well. Firm, well-fitting mattresses are the key to a happy, healthy baby.
Aren’t all baby mattresses the same?
Just like with adult mattresses, there are many different styles and types of mattresses for babies. The big difference is what the mattress is made of, either foam or innersprings. One of the best ways to ensure your baby’s safety is to pick a firm mattress, and there are methods for selecting a firm mattress in both materials. With foam, it’s tempting to choose a thick mattress, but you need to look for density instead. A density of 1.5 pounds per cubic foot is a good bet. When looking for a mattress, especially a round mattress, make sure it’s not flimsy; look for five inches of high-density foam. When purchasing an innerspring mattress for a full-size crib, consider one with at least 150 coils.
When selecting crib mattresses, look for ones that are fire retardant, waterproof, and have sealed seams. Always look for a reputable manufacturer to be sure the inside is the quality you expect. It’s good if your baby crib mattress is non-allergenic or antimicrobial and is vented so unpleasant smells don’t stay in the mattress. Organic crib mattresses are becoming a popular choice with parents who want to avoid pesticides and chemicals.
Bassinet and Cradle
Similarly, when shopping for cradle mattresses and bassinet mattresses, safety features such as flame resistance should be top priority. A baby cradle mattress or bassinet mattress should be available in multiple sizes to assure a good fit for your furniture. More parents are going with a natural baby cradle mattress or organic bassinet mattress for health reasons. Look for a latex bassinet mattress if you’re concerned about environmental sustainability.
When it comes to changing table pads, shape is the key to safety. For traditional changing tables with rail guards, you can choose a flat or contoured pad. But for dresser-style changing tables, look for a contoured or four-sided pad.
How do I know what size mattress I need?
“After the crib mattress had done its job not only on the crib, but also on the toddler bed of our oldest son, it was time to pick out my first kid’s mattress. I thought about going with a fairly cheap mattress to save a little money (by that time I had two kids and was expecting #3!), but then I realized that it may be even more important for children to have a good mattress than anyone else. Even though it seems like kids can sleep on any surface, they’re growing by leaps and bounds every day, and they need a good quality mattress that supports them through those years of intense growth.”
Traditional, four-sided cribs typically come in a standard size of 28 x 52 inches, which make crib mattress selection easy and safe. Round mattresses also come in standard sizes. And with round cribs becoming more popular, it’s easier than you think to find cheap round crib mattresses. Whether you go high end or budget, consider a round crib mattress with two different levels of support (one on each side) for maximum convenience.
Whether you’re measuring a crib, bassinet or cradle, the same safety measure applies; no more than one adult finger should fit between the mattress and bed. When determining what size mattress you need, measure the interior length and width (or diameter for round structures) of the crib, bassinet or cradle first. Then measure the height so you can choose a mattress thickness that is suitable for your baby. Depending on the crib/cradle/bassinet design, you may be able to decide whether you’d like square or slightly rounded corners. Remember that square corners are the best way to ensure a tight fit for most baby furniture.
I can’t find the mattress size I need in stores
That’s a common problem if you have an antique or heirloom cradle. The solution is to have your cradle mattress custom-made. Custom mattresses also work well if your crib is handmade or a special order. When purchasing a custom mattress, make sure you can tailor your order when it comes to height, length, and width. With your custom foam mattress, which is the most widely available, look for the same fire retardant foam with vinyl covering as you would in traditional foam mattresses. It’s especially important that you measure correctly when ordering a custom size mattress—you probably won’t be able to send it back! Also, make sure you can purchase custom sheets and bumpers in the same place if you are dealing with custom sizes.
What enhancements might be good for the mattress?
Mattress pads protect your mattress, improve comfort and back support, and help your baby get a better night's sleep. Mattress pads often offer a degree of allergy relief because they use hypoallergenic materials that naturally resist dust mites and bacteria. If you have a custom cradle, you’ll need a custom baby cradle mattress pad. Cradle mattress pad covers, as well as bassinet pads, ensure that leaks stay on the pad and not on the mattress.
For your baby’s comfort, you’ll probably want to purchase mattress toppers for your crib, cradle and bassinet. A memory foam mattress topper offers your little one great support. They are lightweight but are usually not breathable, so they may raise your child’s body temperature at night. Look for one with an optional zippered encasement to protect the pad. As with everything else, make sure it’s fire retardant and non-allergenic.
The Bottom Line
Whether you need a mattress for a crib, bassinet or cradle, keeping your child safe means choosing a firm, good-fitting mattress. Custom-made mattresses are a great way to make an heirloom cradle usable or to fit a special order piece of baby furniture.
Our Mom Expert
Caron Webber, 37, is the mother of five children, ages 2 to 12.