Organic Crib Mattresses: A Guide To Supporting Baby's Healthy, Safe & Restful Sleep

Posted by Tommeka Semien on

As a parent, you focus on meeting your child’s every need.  Your job is to provide - at a minimum - food, clothing and shelter that is both adequate and safe.  Though this seems fairly straightforward, your “job” requires balance and a hawk-like sense of impending danger.  Ensuring that your baby is both happy and healthy means that you worry about what goes into his body and what comes in contact with it.  Many parents focus on their child’s waking environment - what they eat, where they play.  However, what about when your baby sleeps?  To help your child enjoy safe, toxin free rest; it is advisable to seriously consider organic bedding, including an organic crib mattress.  

What’s in a traditional mattress?

If you’re concerned about what your child inhales or what your child touches, then investigating what is in your crib mattress is very important.  A traditional crib mattress has many layers.  If you slice one open, you’ll see foam, batting, fabrics, coils and more.  There are also materials in your crib mattress that you can’t see such as adhesives and flame retardants. 

Organic Crib Mattress Healthy, Safe, Restful Sleep

The foam, batting, adhesives, flame retardants and other materials may be created with compounds that are not recommended for use in clean and eco-friendly environments.  Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), formaldehyde and xylene have been found in crib mattresses.  PVC is widely used worldwide and its affordability and ease of use has been weighed against its potential health impact.  For instance the vinyl chloride in PVC is a suspected carcinogen and it releases toxins that can cause nausea, headaches and respiratory issues. 

Formaldehyde and xylene are products that may be used in the processing of adhesives.  Formaldehyde is best known for its use in embalming or preserving bodies for burial.  However, it is also used in home construction.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, long term exposure can lead to flu-like symptoms such as scratchy eyes and throat.  Exposure may also cause coughing and nosebleeds.  Xylenes are used when making paint and adhesive.  Like formaldehyde, it can cause irritation to the delicate membranes of the eyes and nose as well as skin irritation.

Results from a University of Texas at Austin study confirmed that crib mattresses are a source of potentially dangerous inhalants.  The study found that the foam in newer crib mattresses emitted chemicals similar to those found in household cleaning products.   These volatile organic compounds included lesser known chemicals such as phenol and limonene (to create lemon scent).  This UT Austin study may be a launch pad for additional resource on the impact of VOCs and indoor air quality on infants.

What should you look for in an organic crib mattress?

At first look, a traditional mattress and an organic mattress are similar in regards to the layers of materials used to make the final product.  Both contain materials that provide support and cushion for sleeping babies.  However, an organic mattress is different because it is composed of materials that are considered natural and free of toxins. 

Organic Crib Mattress Non-Toxic, Chemical-Free

As you begin your search for an organic crib mattress, there are certain elements that you should look for.  First, you should look for a product that is made with organic materials.  Second, you should look for a product that uses natural flame retardants.  Third, your bedding should be hypoallergenic.  Finally, your crib mattress should not contain additives that could lead to outgassing (the release of a gas that’s dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in a material. Source:  Wikipedia).

Organic mattresses are made of layers of materials that are designed to help your baby sleep comfortably.  Some of the most common include cotton, lamb’s wool and natural latex.   Non-organic sources of these textiles is extremely common.  Consumers should review manufacturers’ labels and look for products that meet US Organics and GOTS guidelines.  Bedding and mattresses that meet these guidelines are guaranteed to be sourced from organic materials that have not been exposed to potentially dangerous toxins during processing. 

Another concern that is most certainly addressed with organics is finding products that are hypoallergenic.  Cotton, wool, natural latex and other materials used in mattresses may all be produced organically.  However, some children may be sensitive to these materials.  It is important to be aware of your child’s sensitivities.  It is also important to choose mattress toppers and bedding that is organic as well as labeled hypoallergenic.  

Traditional crib mattresses are doused with chemicals that help them to reduce combustion speed during a fire.  However, the chemicals used to ensure safety can wreak havoc on an infant’s fragile system.  The outgassing produced by flame retardant chemicals have been linked to childhood ailments.  Though newer crib mattresses limit what chemicals may be used as retardants, they are still produced with potentially volatile compounds.  Look for an organic mattress that is produced with natural and organic products that are known for their resistance to heat and fire.  Materials commonly used as natural flame retardants include wool and plant starches. 

An important term to know when you are considering a crib mattress for your baby (as well as furniture and construction materials) is outgassing.  This term refers to gases and fumes that are released from mattresses when they are unwrapped and exposed to heat from the surroundings including the body.  Traditional mattresses may contain volatile substances such as formaldehyde, ethers and polyurethane.  These substances can cause physical symptoms including disturbed sleep, headaches, and nausea.  When purchasing a mattress that claims to be natural or made with organics, review the materials and additives used during processing.  The textiles used in mattresses may be certified based on the Global Organics Textile Standards.

Current research demonstrates that traditional crib mattresses are potentially exposing infants to VOCs and other irritants.  On the other hand, organic mattresses are considered safe for use with infants as well as the entire family.  With their sensitive skin and respiratory system, it is important to expose babies to substances that are free of unhealthy additives.  Your best bet when purchasing a crib mattress is to do your research and purchase one that has been certified as being made with organic textiles and non-toxic materials including the coils and springs.