Why a non-toxic crib mattress is really worth it
Setting up your nursery is one of the most fun (and adorable!) parts of nesting. It means you have the opportunity to design a whole room of tiny baby items that will be full of baby's firsts. While that's exciting, we also know filling a nursery with everything a baby needs can be tough on the budget. And on top of that, if you're trying to go non-toxic and eco-friendly, it isn't always easy on your wallet. So, if you are going to prioritize one thing to spend a little extra on that will dramatically reduce the amount of chemicals around your newborn, make it the crib mattress. We looked at the research and found that getting a non-toxic, crib mattress is definitely worth it.
Why is it important?
Even though you may not be sleeping as much as you're used to, your baby will be sleeping a lot. In the first year, babies spend on average 228 days sleeping (1). It might take a lot of rocking, bouncing, and shhhing and it might only be in short stretches, but eventually they will sleep! And even though at the beginning they might spend more time sleeping in your arms or in other places like a carrier or bassinet, most babies will eventually spend a lot of time in their crib.
As a parent, you don't need to be told that the first couple of years is a special time for development and growth for your child because you see it firsthand everyday. It makes sense when babies are so small with rapidly developing organs that they are at a greater risk of being impacted by toxic chemicals. So, if they are going to be spending the majority of the first few (especially vulnerable) years of their lives sleeping on a crib mattress, it makes sense that this is an area where you might want to go all out and find a safe and non-toxic place for them to sleep.
So what should you look for?
Maybe you're thinking, well it's just a crib mattress. What else besides fabric, padding, and springs are in there? It turns out that there are some chemicals of concern that can show up in crib mattresses. To avoid these, we have the top three things you want to look for when shopping for a non-toxic mattress.
No added chemicals.
Chemical flame retardants, which are linked to neurodevelopment and hormonal disruption in children are often added to meet flammability standards, which can be different for children's products as compared to products made for the rest of the population. But, there are lots of ways companies can meet these flammability standards without adding harmful flame retardant chemicals. Other common added chemicals to crib mattresses are antimicrobial treatments. Even though it may sound nice, antimicrobials are not going to prevent your baby from getting sick and doesn't mean that you have to wash the bedding any less. Plus, they are linked to developmental and hormonal health issues.
No vinyl or PVC.Understandably many parents want a waterproof mattress, but one way some manufacturers do this is by covering the mattress in PVC, which is a type of vinyl. While this is effective at making it waterproof, vinyl is a known source of phthalates. Phthalates are a plastic additive that have been shown in many research studies to affect neurodevelopment and increase risk of developing ADHD in small children (7). That's not really something that sounds like a benefit to babies. The good news? There are other ways, such as a thin lining with polyethylene (a type of plastic typically used in food storage), which are safer and still achieve a waterproof layer.
As many natural materials as possible.Natural materials like cotton, wool, and natural latex are better options than standard polyurethane foam. Why? Because polyurethane foam can release gases known as volatile organic compounds ( VOCs). These end up irritating your baby's airways (their throat and lungs) and can lead to asthma, allergies, and other damage in developing lungs. Also, it's good to note that many times soy or "eco" foam are a blend of polyurethane foam and something else. We suggest avoiding polyurethane foam, if you can, and instead search for a mattress with natural latex, which comes from the sap of rubber trees. Be sure to verify that the foam is 100% natural, sometimes companies will mix part natural latex with synthetic latex to get a different firmness or meet a desired price point This isn't the best because synthetic latex is often made of styrene and a surfactant, neither of which is great for your health.
There are certifications and labels like GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard), GOTS (Global Organic Texile Standard), Greenguard Gold, or OEKO-TEX that can help you find a non-toxic mattress. You can learn more about what these certifications mean and others to look for in our label education piece.
If you want specific suggestions for crib mattresses, we have a roundup of some great non-toxic crib mattresses.