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“Green” Crib Mattresses: Healthy or Hype?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am pregnant with my first child, due in April. I have been glued to your Zero-to-Forty pregnancy weekly column since I got the positive on the pee stick – thank you for providing such an honest, hysterical commentary on exactly what I have been going through!

I have also been playing close attention to all of the baby-related advice that you are providing through this forum, since I am in the midst of those all important decisions about cribs, wraps, blankets, bouncy-things, and the list that you as you know, can go on and on.

Right now, however, I am fixated on the problem of the crib mattress. I am trying to be informed, yet reasonable, when it comes to all things baby. I have been educating myself about the whole debate about vinyl and organic and “green” mattresses, and am left totally dumbfounded. It seems that there is a side that says that traditional mattresses are TOXIC, and will cause all sorts of respiratory, endocrine, cancer and probably behavioral problems for any child that sleeps on them – so buy green/organic/no-PVC! But they don’t seem to have any real scientific proof of this.

And then the other side says (reputable scientists, according to this recent NYTimes article) that since there is no real evidence that the toxic materials will leak out, we should not worry about mattresses and put our resources and energy into combating other household toxicities.

I know that you are conscious about chemicals in your home, and in your food. Where do you come down on this issue? What kind of crib mattress have you used for your first two babies, Noah and Ezra?

Thanks in advance for your wisdom!
– G

When we were shopping for a crib mattress for my first son, Noah, back in 2005, our choices were pretty limited: standard mattress or anti-SIDS mattresses, which were really high-tech expensive mattresses designed to circulate air and I think some of them plugged in and while I had one of those OMG PANIC moments at the store because WHAT IF I DIDN’T BUY THAT MATTRESS AND MY BABY DIED, the price difference between the mattresses was just too much to justify.

Our mattress does have a laminated outer layer, and thus survived Noah’s babyhood and a million and one diaper leaks and spit-up episodes. And so we are using it again for my second son, Ezra. (Unlike the IKEA mattress we bought for Noah’s not-quite-crib-sized toddler bed, which quite recently ended up out on the curb with the trash pick-up, because EW. When Ezra graduates to the little bed, he’ll be getting his own new mattress and I will try to be better about remembering the waterproof pads under the sheet.) (Noah just got OUR old bed and mattress, as WE just upgraded to a king-sized mattress, one that is complete with a couple inches of petroleum-based memory foam on top of a standard, non-organic mattress.)

I honestly couldn’t even remember the specific type of mattress we have in the crib — I just went up and yanked back the sheet and mattress cover and it’s a Serta Perfect Sleeper. “Free of phthalates,” according to the manufacturer, although as the NYT article you provided points out: No one is governing or verifying those claims, and there’s absolutely no disclosure about what’s in that top waterproof layer.

Which is exactly the problem with the “green” mattresses as well: there’s no certification process you need to go through in order to slap the word “organic” on a mattress. You’ve got passionate die-hards on one side talking about their vague, possibly psychosomatic, possibly very real health problems that just magically went away the minute they tossed out their “toxic” mattress. On the other side, you’ve got scientists pointing out that there’s really no evidence of any of this, but maybe more studies are needed, and as usual — parents who just want to do the very best for their children are stuck in the middle. “Well, maybe we should? Just to be extra safe?”

And you are the only one who can make those decisions. Sometimes you’ll be completely justified in the end — the rumblings about BPA in baby bottles were off on the sidelines when Noah was a baby, and I admit that I did not take them very seriously. Sometimes you’ll get ripped off. (Amazon doesn’t even appear to sell those fancy anti-SIDS mattresses anymore.)

My second son, Ezra, has never gotten any bottle that wasn’t glass or another BPA-free material, that’s for sure. I’ve tossed out questionable toys from China and bottles of baby shampoo and won’t use lavender oil on my boys (it’s in Vick’s Baby Rub and ironically, in a lot of “natural” or “handmade” baby soaps). (Lavender “fragrance” is different.) [Update January 2016: Amalah has been gradually changing her conservative position on lavender oil in children’s personal care products. Her latest view on lavender oils in children’s products can be found here. FYI– Her opinion from 2012 can be found here.] Noah eats an organic diet, no processed foods or high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated anything and gets a dose of mercury-free fish oil every day. I make my own baby food and just ordered my supply of cloth diapers and wipes.

Noah also gets M&Ms for using the potty and my house is still littered with a ton of primary-colored plastic crap. I am neither excessively paranoid — the human race would have died out a long time ago if we truly were such sensitive little snowflakes about everything — nor stubbornly close-minded. (Like a mother I knew who got so annoyed by all the lead recalls that she just refused to read them anymore after her favorite bib was recalled.)

It’s all complicated for me, obviously, because I can’t be one of those people who say, “My first baby was/had/used *insert questionable parenting practice or product* and he’s just FINE, so WHATEVER.” My friend could, so to this day she uses the same plastic bottles and bibs and baby lotion that she used on her first child. Who is JUST FINE.

My first baby has Sensory Integration Disorder and a speech delay and occasionally exhibits symptoms of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder. And of course, BECAUSE I AM A MOTHER, I wonder if something I did or didn’t do or use or know about could have caused it, or if it really is something that was just hard-wired into his brain by the time he hit the embryo stage. But…you can’t live like that. You will drive yourself crazy and your kids don’t need crazy. Instead, you do exactly what YOU ARE DOING. You read, research, weigh both sides of every issue and then after educating yourself….you go with what your gut says. Not the extremists on either side or a slick marketing brochure. Your gut, your intuition, your mother’s instinct. You have it already, and most of the time it won’t lead you wrong.

And it’s soooo important to realize — before you embark on this crazy motherhood thing — that none of us are perfect and we all just do the best we can with the information we have at the time, and as long as you love your kids and keep them fed and warm and relatively safe (i.e. make sure they HAVE a crib mattress and don’t let them sleep on like, the kitchen counter, next to the knife block)…you’re doing pretty okay. Really.

(And for the record, no, I am not buying a new crib mattress.)

Photo by superbez

You may also enjoy: How to Build a Green Nursery on a Non-Celeb Budget

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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