PURCHASING A CRIB
From the Consumer Reports Crib Guide….
A crib is one baby item you definitely want to buy new. That's the only way to be sure you'll get one that meets the latest safety standards. We recommend you purchase a JPMA-certified, full-sized crib with stationary sides. This guide will help you find the perfect one so the whole family can rest easy.
Basic is Best
The safest cribs have simple lines and no scrollwork or finials. Infants can strangle if their clothing gets caught in such detail work. Following this advice will get you a safer crib and save you money. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for full-sized and portable cribs as of 2011 required the elimination of drop-side models, which have been connected to at least 32 deaths during a few years prior. (Drop-side cribs let parents raise and lower one side to get the baby out. They are no longer considered safe.) The standards also include rigorous new durability testing and require improved warnings and labeling. Consumer Reports' tests, which are based on the new mandatory safety standards, address such issues as mattress support, slat strength, and structural integrity.
If possible, avoid buying or accepting a used crib. Older models might not meet current safety standards or might be in disrepair. By law, the production date of a crib must be displayed on it and on its shipping carton.
Still, be on the lookout for safety hazards. Even when you're buying a new one, bring a ruler with you when you shop to check the spaces between the slats and other places on the crib. If they're greater than 2 3/8 inches wide, they're too far apart. If you buy a crib online, measure any openings immediately when it arrives at your home.
Check for sharp edges and protruding screws, nuts, corner posts, decorative knobs, and other pieces that could catch your baby's clothing at the neck. Buying a new crib could protect your baby from such hidden dangers as drop sides, slats, or hardware that might have been weakened by rough use, as well as loose hardware or glue joints caused by changes in humidity during storage.
Check Construction and Workmanship
One or more stabilizer bars—metal rods fastened to both end boards beneath the crib—can help to make the frame more rigid. The simplest in-store test is to shake the crib slightly to see if the frame seems loose. But be aware that display models aren't always tightly assembled. Without applying excessive pressure, try rotating each slat to see if it's well secured to the railings. You shouldn't find loose slats or spindles on a new crib, or any cracking if they're made of wood.
Buy the Mattress at the Same Time
Pair the mattress and crib you plan to buy to make sure they're a good fit. (Mattresses are typically sold separately.) By law, a mattress used in a full-sized crib must be at least 27 1/4 inches wide by 51 5/8 inches long and no more than 6 inches thick. Still, do a quick check. If you can place more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib frame, the fit isn't snug enough.
Make sure to check all the hardware carefully when your crib is assembled, and periodically tighten or replace anything that's missing or loose. Missing and loose parts are a leading cause of accidents and death, because they can create gaps where a baby can wedge his head and neck and suffocate or strangle. Tighten all nuts, bolts, and screws. Check mattress support attachments regularly to make sure none of them are bent or broken. If you move a crib, double-check that all support hangers (which hold the mattress up) are secure.
Use the Proper Sheets
When buying a mattress, make sure you also buy crib sheets designed to fit tightly. If a sheet isn't the correct fit, your baby might pull it up and become entangled. Hand-me-down sheets can be great, but make sure the elastic at the corners is still strong. Test the sheet, whether new or used, by pulling up on each corner to make sure it doesn't pop off the mattress corner. You can buy sheets separately, but you'll find that many bedding sets come with bumper pads. If you get a bumper, toss it right in the trash because they can be a suffocation hazard for your baby. Resist the urge to put those adorable stuffed animals in the crib for the same reason. Blankets, quilts, and pillows also pose a suffocation hazard and should not be used in the crib. Instead keep your baby comfortably warm and safe in a swaddle wrap or wearable blanket.
Arrange for Assembly
Cribs are shipped not assembled, so if you're not sure you can put one together correctly (it's usually a two-person job that requires up to an hour from unpacking to complete assembly), ask a handy friend or relative for help or see if the retailer can send people to assemble it in your home. The latter can cost an extra $70 or more, but it can give you peace of mind. Besides saving tempers and fingers, having people sent by the store to set up your crib allows you to inspect it on the spot and reject it if you discover flaws. Assemble the crib or have it assembled where your baby will be sleeping initially. (We think it's safest for babies to sleep in the same room as their parents for the first 6 months.) Once the crib is put together, it might not fit through a small doorway, and you might need to disassemble and reassemble it in your baby's nursery 6 months later. That's inconvenient, but you'll have the reassurance that your baby is sleeping in the safest possible place.
Adjust the Mattress to the Right Height
Most cribs let you adjust the mattress height; some have three levels, some have more. The higher levels make it easier to take your infant out of the crib, but they're dangerous when your child is able to pull herself to a standing position. Before your child reaches that stage—about 6 months—the mattress should be at its lowest setting. Bumper pads and large toys can help your little escape artist climb out, which is another reason they don't belong in the crib.
Place your baby's crib away from windows, window blinds, wall hangings, curtains, toys, and furniture so that he can't get to anything dangerous. Make sure any baby monitors (and cords) are also out of reach.
For safety's sake, watch your child's development closely and stop using a crib as soon as he can climb out. At that point, consider a toddler bed with child railings or put the mattress on the floor. Don't put your child back into the crib after the first "escape," regardless of his age. A child attempting to climb out of a crib can fall and be seriously injured.
Some features are important for child safety, while others might make things more convenient or aesthetically pleasing, depending on your style.
Do Not Buy Drop Sides
Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for full-sized and portable cribs require the elimination of models with "drop-sides" that can be lowered for taking your baby out. Drop sides have been linked to at least 32 deaths over the past decade. The standards also include rigorous new durability testing and require improved warnings and labeling. If you used a drop-side for a child and had planned to reuse it for a younger sibling, don't. Your child is safer in a crib with stationary sides.
Single Drop Gates
A single drop gate, also called a single folding side, lets you lower a small portion of the crib's side instead of the entire side. This avoids the safety hazard of a full drop side, while still making it easier to get your baby out.
Full-sized cribs have at least two mattress-height positions; some even have three or four. To prevent your baby from falling over the side of the crib, adjust the mattress support to its lowest height as soon as she can sit or pull up, usually between 6 and 8 months of age. Many models don't require tools for adjusting mattress height, while in some models screws or bolts may be hard to reach. The distance between the mattress support (in its lowest position) and the top of the crib rail should be at least 26 inches. Check before using the crib.
Most mattress supports consist of a metal frame suspended by stiff springs. In some cribs, the mattress support is a one-piece board; in others, it's just metal hangers screwed into a wooden frame that support a spring-wire grid frame, or a grid of wood slats.
The mattress supports are adjustable so the mattress can be raised or lowered for the child's safety. Mattress supports should be held securely in place so they can't be dislodged when you're changing a crib sheet, if baby starts bouncing, or when a child or large pet pushes up from underneath.
Sides and Railings
Crib sides are comprised of bars (or spindles or slats) fitted into holes in the top and bottom rails, then secured with glue and often one or two nails. The small holes made by the nails are usually filled and covered with a finish to make them almost invisible. A mandatory safety standard requires that crib slats be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. You should measure with a ruler before buying or using a crib to be sure it meets that standard. Corner posts or finials should be either less than 1/16 of an inch high or more than 16 inches high to avoid the possibility of a child's clothing catching on it.
These are smooth, plastic coverings for the top of the side rails to protect the crib and the gums and teeth of little ones who like to gnaw on the crib's rails. Teething rails should be built to stay in place and not crack or break.
Many cribs come with plastic or metal furniture caster wheels that swivel and make it easy to move the crib around. But if you have your eye on a model without wheels, don't change your mind just because you're planning to move the crib out of your room into a nursery when your baby turns 6 months. Cribs are too wide to fit through standard doorways, so you're going to have to disassemble it anyway to make the move.
If you'll be using a crib with casters on a bare wood or tile floor, be sure to buy a model with casters that lock. This will prevent the crib from "walking" across the room from baby's momentum and also keep other children from taking your baby on a joy ride.
A convertible crib can come in handy when you want to transition your child to a toddler bed. Many of them can be switched to a toddler bed by simply removing one side and adding a rail.
Some parents report that the change from a crib to a toddler bed is so small that toddlers have an easier time making the transition. Also keep in mind that some convertible beds require parts that sometimes aren't included in the original purchase, such as bed rails, stabilizing rails, or support rails (for converting to a full-sized bed).
A key difference between converting a crib into a daybed vs. a toddler bed is the rail for toddlers, which helps keep them from rolling to the floor. If you want to stretch your investment, some models will even convert to a full-sized bed frame. But you'll still need to buy a full mattress, and as we said, possibly other rails and supports. One long side of the crib will become the headboard, and in some cases the other long side will become the foot board.
Some models include a drawer or two under the mattress support structure. Most roll out from under the crib. Some cribs have a set of drawers attached to the short end of the unit. Before buying, pull any drawer all the way out to inspect its construction. You might find that it has a thin, cardboard-like bottom that could bend and give way when loaded with linens or clothing. A bottom made of a harder material, such as fiberboard, will hold up better.
Most cribs are made of wood, but other types of materials are used as well. Dark wood finishes are available, but you can also find cribs in lighter stains such as natural woods, oaks, maples, or classic white. Painted finishes include off-whites, washed whites (revealing the wood's grain), and pastel green, blue, pink, or yellow. A little roughness in the finish isn't a problem as long as there are no serious defects, such as splintering or peeling paint.
Never use an antique or used crib or bassinet.
It may be missing pieces and could collapse or fail in some other way. Some older cribs have ornaments like finials or cutouts in the headboard or footboard that could entrap a child's head, neck, arms, or legs, or snag his clothing. And that heirloom crib may look lovely but could contain lead paint.
Even if an old crib is in good shape, more-stringent safety standards put in place in 2000 and 2010 mean that the safest cribs are the newest ones. A crib should be the one place you feel comfortable leaving your child alone. As a result of many reported infant deaths, the federal guidelines from 2010 have banned all drop-side cribs from being sold. If you have one, we strongly recommend buying a new crib. If you absolutely must keep a drop-side crib, don't use the drop-side feature.
Check slat spacing.
The slats in a crib or bassinet should be no farther apart than 2 3/8 inches. If you can fit a can of soda between them, the opening is too large. You are more likely to find this problem in an older crib, but you can't be too safe when it comes to your baby. Check any crib you're thinking about buying or even one you plan to use for just a night. If you find you've purchased a crib that's unsafe, you should return it and report it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at www.cpsc.gov.
Check the condition of the crib's paint.
If your crib is painted, make sure the paint isn't chipped or peeling.
Check the crib for splinters.
Look for cracks, splinters, rough edges, exposed nails heads or points, or other hazards that could harm your baby.
Remove decorations. If your bassinet has ribbons or bows, remove them. Any decoration your child can put into his mouth is a choking hazard.
Check corner posts.
If you're considering a crib that has corner posts or finial knobs, they should stand at least 16 inches above the crib's end panels so that a child can't reach the top and get her pajamas caught. If the corner posts or finials are shorter than this, they should be no more than 1/16 of an inch higher than the crib ends or side panels. If you are using an older crib, unscrew or saw off the corner posts, then sand the crib to eliminate splinters and sharp corners.
Bare is best.
Keep your child's crib free of loose fabric and cushy or puffy surfaces, including blankets, pillows, comforters, quilts, crib bumpers, and stuffed toys. The crib should contain just a tight-fitting mattress with a snugly-fitted crib sheet, and your child, dressed in sleepwear that's appropriate for the season. Don't overdress your baby; if you find the room temperature comfortable, your baby should, too, if he's dressed in similar-weight clothing.
Don't use crib bumpers. Many people use them because they come with crib bedding sets and because they worry about infants hitting their heads on the crib railing. Your child can't hurt himself if he comes in contact with the railing, but he can suffocate in bumpers (or any excess bedding) if he nestles his face up against it. If this happens, the child can "re-breathe" his own carbon dioxide rather than breathing in oxygen-rich fresh air. The lack of oxygen can cause death.
A study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, analyzed three Consumer Product Safety Commission databases for deaths related to crib bumpers from 1985 through 2005. It found that 27 children from 1 month to 2 years died from suffocation or strangulation related to bumper pads or their ties (this database is from the U.S as I could not find data in Canada).
Don't use a sleep positioner or wedge.
Some positioners are meant to keep a baby from rolling over so they can only sleep on their back. Experts don't consider these safe. Some babies can roll over even when they're propped up by a positioner.
There are also wedge-shaped pieces of foam intended to help babies sleep on their backs or to keep their heads and backs slightly elevated. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that no sleep position apparatus has been tested sufficiently to show that they are effective or safe.
Some parents consider wedges because their babies have acid reflux and they want to prop them up. "The FDA and the CPSC have a ban on using anti-reflux wedges, but they are still on the market," cautions Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist at York Hospital in Pennsylvania, who's on the American Academy of Pediatrics' SIDS Task Force. "It's unfortunate, because there is a danger with positioners and wedges." A baby can slip out, Goodstein points out, or put his face up against one, which can lead to suffocation.
Parents concerned about congestion or reflux should talk with their pediatrician about alternative ways to remedy the condition.
Routinely examine the screws and bolts in your baby's crib to ensure that nothing is loose, missing, or damaged. Crib hardware can loosen over time and might need occasional tightening. If anything is missing or broken, contact the manufacturer for replacement parts. Never try to make due with a temporary fix.
Check mattress supports.
Make sure the components that support the crib mattress aren't bent, broken, or coming apart. Be sure the mattress is secure and isn't in danger of falling. If it's suspended on hangers attached to hooks on the end panels, check regularly to make sure they're still connected. A handy time to look is when you're changing the crib sheet.
Use the proper fitted sheet.
They should be made to fit the mattress in your crib, bassinet, or play yard. If they aren't the correct fit, your baby may pull them up, become entangled, and even suffocate. Test sheets by pulling up on each corner to make sure they don't easily pop off or come off.
Make sure the mattress fits.
Put your baby to sleep on her back on a firm mattress that fits tightly into the crib. There shouldn't be any gaps or openings between the crib and the mattress because a baby can get trapped in the smallest of spaces. A full-sized crib has interior dimensions of 28 inches by 52 inches, and the mattress should be 27 1/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches and no more than 6 inches thick. If you can place more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib frame, the fit isn't snug enough and there's a risk of head entrapment.
Michael Goodstein, a Neonatologist and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University, says parents shouldn't worry about their baby's mattress being too firm. "We don't want to see people put pillows under the mattress," he says.
"People feel like the mattress is too hard, but it is supposed to be hard. People are worried about comfort. But you shouldn't put a different mattress in that creates a gap where the baby can get entrapped." Goodstein says you should never add a mattress to an existing one either.
Adjust the mattress to the right height.
Most cribs offer between two and four levels. The higher levels make it easier to take your newborn or very young infant out of the crib, but they become dangerous when your child is able to pull herself to a standing position. Before your child even reaches that stage—around 6 months—the mattress should be down to its lowest setting. In addition to being suffocation hazards, bumper pads and large toys can help your little escape artist climb out, another reason they don't belong in a crib.
Avoid recalled cribs.
PURCHASING A CRIB
From the Consumer Reports Crib Guide….
Choosing a crib mattress might seem like a boring task but it's one that warrants careful consideration. The mattress is as important as the crib, and we recommend buying the best one you can.
Why does it matter? For one thing, your baby will spend a lot of time in his crib. It might seem hard to believe, especially when you're getting up to feed a fussy baby in the middle of the night, but infants sleep up to 18 hours a day.
You'll want to make sure the mattress fits properly in the crib you've selected without gaps that could pose a danger to your baby. And the mattress should be firm. A soft one can conform to the shape of your baby's head or face, increasing the risk of suffocation or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There are two general types of crib mattresses: foam and innerspring. Both types—if they're good quality—will keep their shape well and provide excellent support for infants and toddlers. There are differences, though. Foam—usually made from polyurethane—tends to be lighter (about 5 to 13 pounds) compared with an innerspring mattress (about 15 to 30 pounds). So although you'll probably be lifting just a corner at a time when changing your baby's sheets, it might be a bit easier with a foam mattress. Foam is also less springy and therefore less likely to be used as a trampoline when your child is older. Still, innerspring crib mattresses are more popular in the U.S., possibly because most adults sleep on inner springs, too.
Look for Quality
Whichever type of mattress you chose, look for quality. The cheapest foam and innerspring mattresses have thin vinyl coverings and edgings that can tear, crack, and dry out over time. As prices increase, coverings tend to be thicker, puncture-resistant, reinforced double or triple laminates, or very fine organic cotton. An innerspring mattress that has more or better-gauge steel and better-quality cushioning will weigh more. The same goes for a foam mattress that's made of denser, better-quality foam.
Still, you don't have to spend a fortune or try as many mattresses as the Princess and the Pea to get a good-quality one. A mattress that costs between $90 and $200 will generally serve your baby well. Prices for foam and innerspring mattresses are comparable, ranging from $50 to $400 and up. (The more expensive ones are made with organic cotton or natural latex.) Low-priced models (less than $90) might be too soft and flimsy. Higher-priced models tend to be firmer and therefore safer.
You Can't Tell a Mattress by Its Cover
With a mattress, almost everything that matters is on the inside. Some crib mattresses feel great in the store but begin to falter once your baby starts to use it. We've learned that you can't depend on sales staff, even at reputable retail outlets, to give you accurate information
One told us, quite convincingly, that innerspring mattresses were better than foam because foam tends to "break down" after 18 months. Twenty-five years ago that may have been true, but not anymore. "A top-quality foam crib mattress will hold up just as long as an innerspring crib mattress with normal use," says Dennis Schuetz, director of marketing for the Colgate Juvenile Products Company, a manufacturer in Atlanta. That's because foam crib mattresses have become much more durable.
Hit the Stores
Once you get a sense of options in different price ranges, you should go to a store to see what a quality crib mattress looks and feels like. One place to start? The label. Manufacturers are required by law to reveal what a mattress is made of. Don't buy one from a manufacturer or retailer that doesn't tell you this with in-store information, displays, or online specifications. In fact, you should be able to find out the components of each layer.
And when you push down on a mattress, your hand should spring right up. Schuetz says the biggest mistake parents make is picking a mattress that's comfortable for them. It's better to pick a crib mattress that's harder than you would like it to be. "If it feels good to you, it's too soft for your baby," he says, adding that babies need more support than adults.
Buy a new crib mattress, if possible. For one thing, it ensures that the mattress is sanitary. If you buy a used mattress or accept a hand-me-down, you won't know for sure how it was cared for or stored. Mold can grow in improperly stored crib mattresses, and bacteria can fester on the surface from liquids (diaper leakage, spit-up) that weren't properly cleaned up. If you buy a new one for your first child and keep it clean, you can use it for your next child if you store it in a dry environment and it stays firm.
Use a Cover
Use a tightly fitting, washable waterproof mattress cover to protect the mattress and keep the baby's sleeping environment as clean and sanitary as possible.
Test the Fit
By law, all full-sized crib mattresses must be at least 27 1/4 inches by 51 5/8 inches, and no more than 6 inches thick. If you can, shop in a store that displays crib mattresses on the selling floor, and check the fit by putting it inside a sample crib before you buy it. If you can squeeze more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib, the mattress is too small.
Don't Worry About Warranties
Some mattresses offer warranties for one year, seven years, or even a lifetime. Don't be swayed by a long warranty, and don't pay extra for a mattress with a warranty. "Warranties are mostly a marketing tool to entice the consumer to spend more," Schuetz says. In general, you can expect a quality crib mattress to last as long as you're going to use it as long as the cover doesn't rip or tear.
TYPES OF MATTRESSES
Either type of mattress—innerspring or foam—is fine as long as you choose a good-quality model. Both will keep their shape well and provide excellent support for your infant or toddler.
Innerspring With an innerspring mattress, the number of layers, what each layer is made of, and the quality of the covering add to the price and increase the comfort level.
Foam These mattresses are usually made from polyurethane.
The best foam mattresses are firm, on the heavy side, and resilient. Press on the mattress in the center and at the edges. It should snap back readily and should not conform to the shape of your hand. You don't want your baby resting on something that will mold to the shape of her head.
To assess foam density (the denser, the better), compare the weight of different models. That's not always easy to do in a store, but you'll probably find the information online. To give a mattress a density test, pick it up, place a hand on each side in the center, and then press your palms together. A dense mattress won't allow you to press very far.
If you decide on an innerspring mattress, follow this general rule: The more layers, and the better the quality of those layers, the better the mattress. The weight of inner springs tends to increase when the mattress contains better-gauge steel and better-quality cushioning.
Never buy an innerspring mattress that lacks these rods, which go around the perimeter of the top and bottom. They provide extra firmness, durability, and strong side and edge support so a mattress won't sag when your baby stands or walks near the edge.
Coil Count and Steel Gauge
Coil count—the number of springs or steel coils an innerspring mattress contains—is a popular marketing point. But a generous coil count doesn't always mean a firmer mattress. "The amount of the steel in an innerspring is how you evaluate the spring unit in an innerspring mattress, not the number of the coils," says Dennis Schuetz of Colgate Juvenile Products. The cheapest innerspring crib mattresses might have fewer than 80 coils and more expensive models might have more than 280. Still, a model with 150 coils could be firmer than one with 200. How is that possible? The gauge of the steel in those 150 coils might be thicker than the steel in the 200-coil mattress. The thickness of crib-mattress coils ranges from 19 to 12.5 gauge (the lower the number, the thicker the steel). "Look for a moderate to high coil count," Schuetz advises. "About 135 to 150 is a good midrange." Also consider a steel gauge of 15.5 or below.
The Insulator Pad
There's a thick insulator pad on top of the steel coils in an innerspring mattress, which keeps the coils from poking through. "The quality of the insulator is really a key component in a mattress," Schuetz says. "A mattress with a cheap insulator can feel good in the store but may not necessarily hold up."
The best insulator pads contain coir fiber, which is made up of shredded coconut shells. Fiber-wrap pads (also called "rag" or "shoddy" pads), are made from pressed scraps of cloth. Coir-fiber pads are more expensive than fiber-wrap ones, but either works well. The lowest-quality insulator pads are made from woven polyester. Because they're less durable, they tend to form pockets over time. They also become concave where most of the baby's weight rests, creating a safety hazard.
Schuetz says some manufacturers also use hard felt as an insulator, which is similar to carpet padding but compressed (and a bit less expensive than coir fiber). In addition to woven polyester, he says some mattresses have low-quality, plastic-mesh insulator pads.
The next layer above the coils in the mattress sandwich is the cushioning, which is made of foam, cotton, or polyester. Foam and cotton are signs of quality, and they add to the price. Polyester, which is less expensive and increasingly pervasive because the cost of mattress components has been rising, isn't ideal because of its tendency to form pockets.
Don't buy a mattress unless you know what the layers are made of. There should be a description in the store, on the mattress tag, or online at the manufacturer's website. If you can't find out what's inside a mattress, don't buy it.
Cover: A fabric or vinyl cover surrounds the entire mattress. Fabric breathes more than vinyl, but ventilation holes in a vinyl cover can help air circulate. A multilayered vinyl cover resists punctures, tears, leaks, and stains better than fabric. Look for at least a triple laminated (three-ply) cover, which will give a mattress a tougher shell, adding to its longevity.
If you're planning to convert your baby's crib to a toddler bed, consider dual-firmness convertible mattresses, which are in the middle to top price range. They're extra firm for infants on one side and cushier for toddlers on the other. Some have standard foam or springy memory foam for the toddler side. (You can flip the mattress after your baby's first birthday, when the risk of SIDS decreases.)
Put convertibility in the "not necessary" category. Your baby will still be happy with a firm mattress when he becomes a toddler. If he's exposed to a more-forgiving mattress, he probably won't want to go back. So if you buy a dual-firmness mattress, be sure not to flip it too soon.
If a mattress is completely waterproof, it won't "breathe" through the surface. If this is a concern you can get a mattress with ventilation pockets.
A waterproof cover that you purchase separately is a good idea, even if the mattress you select is leak proof, because it will protect the mattress from stains. Mattress covers are not a suffocation hazard– they go under the sheet–and will make your baby's sleeping surface cozier. Without one, the chill of the mattress's vinyl cover is apt to make her uncomfortable, no matter the thread count of the fitted sheet. A waterproof cover will also protect the surface of your baby's mattress from diaper leaks (it can be thrown in the wash). But it's still a good idea to wipe down a crib mattress with a damp cloth and mild soap when it gets wet or soiled.
Manufacturers say these covers can slow the growth of odor-causing mold and bacteria, though they won't prevent them. Do you need this trendy feature? Definitely not! In fact, there's concern about what some people think is an overuse of anti-bacterials in consumer products. To prevent the growth of bacteria, keep your baby's mattress clean by wiping it down with soap and water after any leaks. When you're done with it, put it in a snug-fitting crib mattress storage bag, preferably one you can see through (light inhibits bacterial growth). Then store it in a cool, dry place, not a damp basement or stuffy attic.
If you are concerned about the safety of chemicals used in the manufacture of your baby's bedding, or if buying eco-friendly products is important to you, you'll find plenty of options for crib mattresses labeled "natural" or "organic." Unfortunately, there are no legal standards for the claim. "Organic" might mean something (the cotton used on the covering might be grown organically) but there's no guarantee.
There are some industry associations that have set their own standards. Schuetz says the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute is a reputable group that tests products for harmful emissions. But there's no industry standard for what constitutes a "natural" mattress. Parents should ask specific questions about each component of a mattress to determine whether it meets their expectations.
For example, a mattress labeled organic might have a cover made from 100 percent organic cotton while everything inside the cover isn't organic. It's possible to buy a "natural/organic" crib mattress made of just 5 percent organic or natural materials.
You can also get a mattress that's supposed to be all natural but has a vinyl or plastic covering on top. If that's enough for you, that's fine! But shopping in this category will require extra research, and it's still possible to wind up with something that's not quite what was advertised.
"If a mattress is waterproof, it is not natural or organic because of whatever is being used to make it waterproof," Schuetz notes.
Many "green" mattresses don't have vinyl covers. (Vinyl has been used for conventional mattresses for years because it's durable, easy to clean, and inexpensive.) Instead you'll find cloth covers in cotton; 100-percent unbleached, not dyed, organic cotton; or bamboo yarn. Bamboo is fast growing and quickly renewable, and the fiber is naturally anti-fungal and antibacterial.
The downside is that cloth covers won't stop diaper leaks from soaking into the mattress, which can create a breeding ground for bacteria unless there's a waterproof layer, usually made of polyurethane or polyethylene plastic. Even if the natural mattress you buy is labeled waterproof, you should still use a waterproof mattress pad.
Organic, Waterproof Mattress Pads
These usually have an organic cotton layer, but most still use a layer of polyurethane if the pad is truly waterproof.
Wool Mattress Pads
If you don't want to use a product made with chemicals but still want to protect your baby's mattress, you can opt for pads made with wool to absorb leaks. Be careful, however, since some parents find that wool pads seem to be merely "water resistant" and not truly waterproof.
Instead of foam cushioning, some mattresses are made with natural latex rubber, which comes from a liquid extracted from tropical trees. (Some babies are allergic to latex, but because it's tucked into the mattress core, it might not pose a problem. If you have any doubts, avoid a mattress made with latex.)
Until the green movement came along, coir—shredded and woven coconut shell husks bound with latex adhesive--was typically used as an insulator pad on top of the coils of better-quality innerspring crib mattresses. Now you'll find it in other "natural" mattresses, both foam and innerspring. Coir is renewable and sustainable, but it also makes a mattress heavy.