What Should I Look for in a Baby Crib Mattress?

The crib mattress is one of the most important purchases you will make for your baby’s nursery since a good mattress has been shown to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

For this reason, consumers with a finite budget for a crib and mattress should consider a less expensive crib and purchase one of the better crib mattresses.

However, the difference in cost between a low cost / low quality mattress and one of the top mattresses is only thirty or forty dollars.

The mattress rated #1 by a leading consumer magazine for the past 5 years (a high density foam mattress) costs $110 while a low density foam mattress with a thin vinyl cover should retail from $49 to $60. For the safety of your newborn child, the price difference is negligible.

Crib; image source: pexels.com

The following are four primary considerations when buying a crib mattress:

1. Crib Mattress Firmness

The mattress can be soft, medium or firm. Safety experts recommend a firm crib mattress for newborns.

The reasoning is that a firm mattress coupled with a fitted sheet makes it easy to keep the crib sheet taut. This is important because a taut crib sheet significantly reduces the possibility of the baby breathing into the gathered material formed by loose bedding.

Keep in mind that a baby cannot raise his head for three or four months and should lie on a firm surface on a fitted sheet so that there is no danger that the baby will rebreathe its own air because it is lying against loose bedding.

Don’t put the comforter in the bed with a newborn and do not use a pillow.

Baby sleeping; image source: pexels.com

2. Crib Mattress Covers

The mattress cover (called “Ticking” in the industry) predetermines the life expectancy of the mattress. While the consumer can save $30 or $40 by buying a mattress covered by a single layer of vinyl, all of the top rated mattresses have covers comprised of two or three layers, one of which is nylon.

Generally these have a heavy gauge nylon bonded to a waterproof material. They also have a heavy gauge binding which stitches the top and bottom ticking panels to the panels on the side of the mattress.

By contrast, the a single layer of vinyl does not have the tensile strength of nylon and will tear more easily. Unfortunately this attribute seems to worsen with time.

The failure mode of mattresses is the tearing of the cover, generally along a side seam. (This comes about because every child eventually turns the crib into a trampoline)

A child who jumps on the mattress puts a lot of pressure on the seam and an inferior cover will split.

Our advice: Look for a mattress with a nylon reinforced cover.

3. Crib Mattress Construction

Crib mattresses can either by innerspring (Coil) or Foam.

The top rated crib mattress is the Classica I foam mattress by Colgate. This foam mattress weighs only seven pounds, has a tough triple layer nylon reinforced cover, and is very firm. There is a ten year manufacturer’s warranty.

The clear advantage of the light foam mattress is the ease with which the crib sheet can be changed. Keep in mind that the mattress ends must be lifted to pull off a dirty sheet and lifted again to put on a clean one. Clearly, lifting a seven pound foam mattress is easier than lifting a thirty-two pound innerspring mattress.

Colgate also makes the Classica III mattress which has a firm side and a medium firm side. The firm side is used initially when it’s critical for a newborn to sleep on an extra firm mattress, and then as the child grows the mattress can be turned over for a more comfortable sleep. The Colgate Classica 3 is the best selling crib mattress at Great Beginnings. It is also our recommended crib mattress choice too.

For those who are predisposed to a coil mattress, we recommend the Pali mattress line, or the Colgate Crown Imperial III.

All are firm, have nylon reinforced covers, heavy gauge coil springs and a ten year or more warranty.

If you are considering an innerspring crib mattress, check to see that it has a good edge rod. The rod is a heavy gauge wire which exists at the top and bottom of the mattress at the point where the side panels are stitched to the top or bottom panels. The rod extends the life of the mattress by keeping the jumping child’s feet from compressing a single spring far enough to stress the fabric and create a tear in the fabric seam.


During the two or more years a child sleeps in the crib, they will change from a newborn, unable to turn from side to side to a toddler capable of standing, walking, and jumping.

After they are able to move around in the crib on their own, babies will change positions frequently during sleep, even turning from end to end, sometimes sleeping at the very edge of the mattress and sometimes in the middle. Thus all areas of the sleeping surface should be consistent in its firmness. Feel the mattress to see that there are no soft spots and that is firm at the edges.

Proper use of a baby crib mattress

The three leading safety organizations, The CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission), the American Academy of pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) who are concerned with child safety have issued new recommendations for how to put children to sleep in their crib.

The revised recommendations are as follows:

  • Place the baby on his/her back on a firm crib mattress, with a tight-fitting sheet in a crib that meets current safety standards.
  • Remove all pillows, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, stuffed toys and other soft products from the crib.
  • Consider using a sleeper as an alternative for warmth to blankets .
  • If using a blanket put the baby with its feet at the foot of the crib. Tuck a thin blanket around the crib mattress only as far as the baby’s chest.
  • Make sure the baby’s head remains uncovered during sleep.
  • Do not place the baby on a waterbed, sofa, soft mattress, pillow or any other soft surface to sleep.

Learn more about the risk of SIDS

Each year throughout the U.S., an estimated 3,500 infants die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS. That’s almost 10 babies every single day. By placing your baby to sleep face up, you may reduce the risk of SIDS by as much as half.


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