Choosing the right mattress for a young child’s crib requires thorough research and consideration. Generally speaking, a crib mattress should be designed to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and also help prevent deaths and injuries due to falling or becoming stuck. The federal government regulates the size and thickness of crib mattresses, but shoppers still have plenty of options when it comes to choosing the right mattress model.
Most crib mattresses belong to one of three construction categories: foam, innerspring, or organic materials. Additionally, mattresses may be designed for certain age groups, such as infants or toddlers; dual-sided mattresses may accommodate both age groups. Shoppers are also urged to compare mattress performance based on factors like support, firmness, breathability and temperature regulation, ease of cleaning, and price. Certification of materials is also crucial.
This page will look at the major considerations for crib mattress shoppers, as well as the top-rated models in different categories.
Considerations for Purchasing a Crib Mattress
When comparing mattress models for a child’s crib, here are a few key factors to consider.
- Mattress Size: According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), mattresses used in cribs must be at least 27 1/4 inches wide and 51 1/4 inches long, and must also be at measure no more than six inches thick. CPSC standards also call for mattresses that snugly fit inside the crib with little to no space on the sides; for slatted cribs, the slats should not be spaced more than 2 3/8 inches apart.
- Cover: Also known as the ticking, the cover is the outermost layer of material on a mattress. Some crib mattresses feature waterproof vinyl covers, either single- or multi-layer, which are ventilated to prevent a buildup of leakage when accidents occur. Other covers are made from cloth fabrics like cotton; these are not usually waterproof, but covers with nylon layers offer more fluid resistance. Be sure to check the cover for certification labels; some vinyl materials may contain phthalates, or plasticizers, which can be harmful to a child’s health. A high-quality mattress should be phthalate-free.
- Support: Babies and infants should sleep on their backs in order to prevent SIDS, which can occur when they lie on their stomachs and suffocate or become overheated. A supportive mattress helps babies and infants remain on their backs, while mattresses that lack sufficient support may lead to the child rolling onto their stomach.
- Firmness: Firmness is another mattress factor that impacts risk of SIDS. Firmer mattresses are considered the safest option for infants; softer mattresses that conform to the baby’s body may lead to them sinking too deeply and/or rolling over and suffocating. For this reason, soft mattresses may be more suitable for toddlers. Some mattresses sold today offer different firmness levels on each side of the mattress, typically a firmer side for infants, and a softer side for toddlers.
- Weight: Models that are on the heavier side may be more difficult to remove from the crib for cleaning. Most crib mattresses weigh less than 20 pounds. Memory foam mattresses tend to be the lightest, followed by innersprings.
- Edge Support: Some crib mattresses lack reinforced support along the edges. This can cause the edges to sink when a young child rolls over, which elevates the risk of physical injury, as well as suffocation. For this reason, shoppers should not only make sure their mattress snugly fits inside the crib, but also that the edges don’t sink too deeply.
- Breathability and Temperature Regulation: Overheating is a leading cause of SIDS, so it’s important for parents to look out for mattresses that help control body temperature. Temperature regulation is often tied to how breathable the mattress materials are, particularly in the cover. Cloth covers, for example, retain more heat than vinyl covers. However, cloth tends to be more breathable; many vinyl covers are perforated or aerated to make them more breathable.
- Noise: Vinyl covers for crib mattresses may produce squeaking sounds when the child rolls around, which can lead to sleep disruptions. Cloth covers tend to be much quieter. By the same token, foam mattresses are fairly quiet compared to spring-based mattresses.
- Ease of Cleaning and Resisting Stains: Because accidents often take place inside the crib, a mattress with a washable cover and core is generally recommended. Multilayered vinyl covers can help resist leaks and stains, as can mattresses with removable cloth covers. A mattress that resists stains and is easy to clean can be helpful for parents, and also create a more sanitary sleeping space for the child.
- Price: The price-point of a crib mattress may vary by mattress type, but generally speaking these models are priced much lower than standard mattresses. Foam crib mattresses, for example, are often priced lower than $100, while innerspring crib mattresses typically cost between $75 and $150. Crib mattresses made of natural or organic materials are usually more expensive — as much as $300 to $400, in some cases. The cover material may also impact price; vinyl covers are often more expensive since they are considered more breathable and easier to clean than cloth covers.
- Odor: Most mattresses emit smells known as off-gassing when they are removed from their original packaging. These odors can be unpleasant, but they usually dissipate within a day or two, especially in well-ventilated rooms. Foam mattresses tend to produce more off-gassing than innersprings. However, crib mattresses are designed to emit minimal odor, and they must be certified as such (see next entry).
- Certification of Materials: Crib mattresses may be certified in multiple areas. All models should be Greenguard certified for low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or off-gassing smells; Greenguard Gold certification applies to VOCs, as well as other chemical components that carry health risks. Additionally, foam mattresses should be CertiPUR-US certified. This designation ensures that the foam doesn’t contain certain materials, such as formaldehyde or lead. Crib mattresses sold as ‘organic’ should be Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified, as well.
Types of Crib Mattresses
Next, let’s look at types of crib mattresses. The vast majority of crib mattresses sold today fall under at least one of the following categories:
Foam: These mattresses are usually made from polyurethane foam. They typically weigh less than other crib mattresses, and usually measure four to six inches thick.
- Firmness: The foam used in standard mattresses may range from very soft to very firm, but most crib mattresses are rated as ‘Medium Firm’ or higher. Infants tend to roll around on softer foams, putting them at risk of injury or death.
- Support: The supportive qualities of mattress foam are tied to its density, which indicates the foam’s weight in pounds per cubic foot (or PCF). Foams with higher densities tends to offer better support than lower-density foams.
- Other Considerations:
- Foam-based crib mattresses tend to be the least expensive models available.
- Compared to innersprings, foam mattresses usually offer less edge support.
- Crib mattresses with foam layers produce little to no noise when bearing weight.
- Mattress foam is linked to above-average off-gassing, but most crib mattresses made of foam produce minimal odor.
Innerspring: As the name indicates, innerspring mattresses feature steel coils in the support core. They also feature at least one cushioning layer of foam or cotton, as well as an insulator pad that acts as a buffer between the child’s body and the springs. Innerspring crib mattresses tend to be heavy, typically 15 to 20 pounds, and those made with organic comfort layer materials may weigh even more.
- Firmness: Most innerspring crib mattresses are firm enough for newborns and infants, and pose a minimal rollover risk.
- Support: Crib mattresses with springs offer targeted support based on how the child’s body weight is distributed. As a result, they tend to offer more support than foam-based mattresses.
- Other Considerations:
- Innerspring crib mattresses tend to be on the heavier side, but they also have above-average lifespans.
- Innerspring crib mattresses are somewhat expensive compared to foam crib mattresses, particularly those with organic components.
- Some parents say their innerspring crib mattress is somewhat noisy due to squeaking coils.
- Most innersprings produce little to no off-gassing, though models with foam layers may emit some odor.
Organic: The term ‘organic’ refers to any mattress that has been certified through the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Most organic crib mattresses are considered ‘foam’ models, but some organic innersprings are also available. It’s important to note that organic mattresses are never 100% organic; rather, the GOTS certification is given to materials that are at least 70% organic — such as organic cotton, latex, or wool — and contain polyurethane foam that has been CertiPUR-US certified.
- Firmness: Organic crib mattresses may be designed with single- or dual-firmness surfaces. In either case, at least one side should be sufficiently firm for an infant.
- Support: The support of an organic mattress will vary from model to model, but — like with foam mattresses — it is tied to foam density, as well as mattress thickness.
- Other Considerations:
- Organic mattresses tend to be the most expensive models available. Expect to spend at least $150 to $200.
- Organic crib mattresses are fairly common, but not as widely available as standard foam or innerspring models.
- Like standard foam mattresses, organic crib mattresses produce minimal noise and offer below-average edge support.
The next section will look at our top picks for foam, innerspring, and organic crib mattresses for both infants and toddlers.
Top Rated Crib Mattresses
The first table features our top three crib mattress picks for infants. The ‘infant’ age group spans from one month to whenever the child begins walking, which typically occurs between 12 and 24 months.
|Brand||Moonlight Slumber||Simmons Kids Beautyrest||Emily|
|Model||Little Dreamer||Beginnings Sleepy Whispers||Natural Crib Mattress |
|Mattress Type||Foam||Innerspring||Organic Innerspring|
|Weight||11 lbs||21 lbs||15 lbs|
|Cover||Waterproof Performance Fabric||Waterproof Woven Fabric||Natural Wool|
|Firmness||Extra Firm/Soft (Dual)||Firm/Soft (Dual)||Firm (Dual)|
|Certifications||Greenguard Gold||Greenguard Gold|
|Price||$211.89 (Amazon)||$154.99 (Amazon)||$249.00|
|Customer Rating||85% (312 Customer Reviews)||82% (256 Customer Reviews)||84% (53 Customer Reviews)|
The second table features our top three crib mattress picks for toddlers. The ‘toddler’ age group begins whenever the child starts walking, and usually spans to age three.
|Model||Heavenly Dreams||Pure Sleep Therapeutic 150 Crib Mattress||Organic Cotton Classic Crib Mattress|
|Weight||7 1/2″ lbs||11 1/2″ lbs||10 to 12 lbs|
|Cover||Waterproof Vinyl with Polypropylene Laminate||Waterproof, Hypoallergenic Vinyl||Organic Cotton with Waterproof Polyethylene Surface|
|Firmness||Extra Firm||Firm||Firm/Soft (Dual)|
|Certifications||GreenGuard Gold||Greenguard Gold||Greenguard Gold|
|Customer Rating||82% (1,304 Customer Reviews)||83% (289 Customer Reviews)||79% (653 Customer Reviews)|
SIDS and Crib Mattress Selection
As we’ve discussed above, SIDS is a major consideration when shopping for a crib mattress. SIDS claims the lives of nearly 20,000 newborns and infants each year, and is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. for children between the ages of one month and one year.
All newborns and infants are considered at-risk for SIDS, but according to the Mayo Clinic, the following groups are among the most vulnerable:
- Babies with brain defects, particularly defects in areas of the brain that regulate breathing and wakefulness.
- Babies with low birth weights; in most cases, their brains are not mature enough to regulate healthy breathing and heart rates.
- Babies with respiratory infections and other issues that affect breathing.
In addition to health factors, some environmental factors can also make babies more vulnerable to SIDS.
- Babies who sleep on their stomach are at high risk of suffocating, and those who sleep on their sides may roll onto their stomachs. Back-sleeping is considered the safest position for babies.
- Babies who sleep on soft mattresses. In the event that they roll onto their stomachs, a softer surface makes them more vulnerable to suffocation. This is why firm crib mattresses are universally recommended.
- Babies who share a bed with their parents, a sibling, or a pet. More bodies in the bed means the baby is more likely to roll onto his or her stomach. However, the risk of SIDS is much lower for babies who sleep in a crib in the same room as their parents.
- Babies who sleep on mattresses that do not regulate temperature, as overheating is one of the leading causes of SIDS.
The Mayo Clinic lists additional risk factors for SIDS.
- Male infants are more likely to die of SIDS than female infants.
- Most babies who die from SIDS are between two and four months of age.
- Babies are likelier to develop SIDS if one or more of their siblings or cousins has died of SIDS.
- Babies who are not breastfed are at higher risk of developing SIDS.
- Secondhand smoke puts babies at a much higher risk of developing SIDS.
- Babies are at higher risk of SIDS if their mother is 20 years of age or younger, smokes, and/or drinks alcohol.
Fortunately, parents can help reduce their baby’s risk of developing SIDS by exercising the following precautionary measures:
- Always make sure babies are put to sleep on their backs. After one year, when babies are able to roll over on their own, they may be able to sleep on their stomach.
- A bare, firm mattress is best. Parents should avoid placing their babies on thick, soft blankets or quilts. Also make sure the crib is clear of other objects, such as stuffed animals, that can cause breathing problems if the baby presses his or her face against them.
- Proper temperature regulation is critical. Babies need to be warm enough in their cribs, but overheating can also lead to SIDS. Use clothing, rather than additional layers, to insulate them against the cold, and never cover their heads or faces.
- Parents should set up their baby’s crib in their bedroom for at least the first year. This allows them to monitor their baby’s breathing and sleep position throughout the night. However, babies should never sleep in their parents bed.
- Breast-feeding babies for at least six months can dramatically reduce their risk of developing SIDS. Additionally, babies who suck on a pacifier are also at lower risk for SIDS, although parents should wait until the baby is at least three weeks old and nursing.
- The Mayo Clinic notes ‘some evidence’ that immunizing babies can reduce their risk for SIDS, and there is no evidence than any immunizations increase their risk of developing SIDS.
To summarize, the following checklist can be helpful for parents who are comparing crib mattress models:
- What are the mattress dimensions? It should measure at least 27 1/4 inches wide and 51 1/4 inches long.
- How thick is the mattress? It should measure no more than six inches thick.
- How firm is the mattress? At least one side should be firm enough to accommodate infants, but some dual-sided mattresses may also feature a soft side for toddlers.
- Has the mattress been certified for low VOCs?
- Is the cover waterproof?
- What is the price-point? Although costs vary by model, parents can usually find a suitable crib mattress for less than $300 unless they prefer organic models.
For more information, please visit our Safe-Sleeping Guide for Parents and Childcare Providers. In addition, you can learn more about SIDS and sleep safe environments by reading this journal article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.