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“Green” Crib Mattresses: Healthy or Hype?

By Amalah

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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.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Nikki
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Nikki

I am currently pregnant and also just went through the dilemma of what kind of mattress to get. I ended up buying, through Amazon, an organic mattress from Naturepedic. It is thoroughly organic, yet still waterproof–perfect! And, while it was pricey ($250), I will sleep better knowing my baby is on it, even if the whole thing is total BS.
As an aside, one of the deciding factors for me was this article on crib wrapping, which is an alternative to buying a whole new mattress if you already have a standard one.
http://www.prevent-sids.org/babesafe-mattress-wrapping-success.htm

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Naturepedic is a great option but do not kid yourself poluethalene which is one of the main parts of the product is a petro based non organic product. It is non toxic as are a lot of things but not organic. Naturpedic contains a small layer of organic cotton and uses silica (the same thing that is packed to absorb moisture which say in bold print DO NOT EAT) as the flame retardant. Naturpedic does a wonderful job marketing and throwing certifications at you that if one actually reads are not that strong. Not by any means saying anything about… Read more »

Ellen
Guest
Ellen

I stressed about the mattress thing too, but then my little guy never even slept in his crib! He ended up with me in bed, and his crib mattress was never used until we used it for his toddler bed.
Is there a list of which baby shampoos contain the bad stuff? I never even heard about that!

Procrastamom
Guest
Procrastamom

Ha! I let my firstborn, who is going to college this year, sleep on the kitchen counter next to the knifeblock and she is FINE! JUST FINE I TELL YOU!!! (*shakesfist triumphantly*)

Danielle
Guest

Wow, I was so busy stockpiling green household cleaners and unbleached, organic cotton cloth diapers that I missed this entirely! But I do have to put in a plug for cloth diapering. It costs about 1/10 as much as disposables and contrary to the BS that books like the What to Expect series will try to feed you, my son has had fewer diaper rashes and leaks with cloth than with the disposables they sent him home from the hospital with (or that I stuffed in my bag when I left the hospital?). And then, just in case I thought… Read more »

Alexa
Guest

My step-mom bought us our mattress. She was looking into organic ones but after researching decided against it. She has a phD in organic chemistry and is very into clean green lifestyles, so I trust her judgment. She did buy us some organic crib sheets to go with it, and wow are they soft and wonderful. My point in writing is that my baby is two months old today and still hasn’t actually slept in the crib. For now she’s sleeping in a bassinet that is right next to my bed, or in nights like last night when she wouldn’t… Read more »

miriam
Guest
miriam

The “keep my child safe” switch gets turned to “11”, and everyone seems to take advantage of it. My good friend looked at me in horror when I said I was thinking of using my husband’s old crib for our baby. Unless it’s made of broken glass and barbed wire with lead sprinkles (and fits the standard crib and doesn’t have the slats too close together, lord knows…)– I think our baby will be JUST FINE. My preference for glass bottles stems from ease of cleaning (milk off of plastic? EW! STINKY!) I’d be interested to know what cloth diapers… Read more »

Diane
Guest
Diane

I’d be interested to see a more thorough research study on the phthalates issue. If they didn’t control for the brand of diaper or the dietary intakes of the babies/mothers, the results don’t really mean much. I’m excited you’re switching to cloth! I’m so glad I did, and wish I’d done it sooner. It’s one of those thing I want to tell EVERY MOM EVER OMG because I can’t believe how easy and wonderful it is. But to go on as such would obviously be annoying to everyone, so I don’t really ever say anything about it at all. (I… Read more »

Elizabeth_K
Guest
Elizabeth_K

Cloth diapers! Welcome! I am totally not lecturing and all of my friends use disposables, but I LOVE my cloth diapers and cloth wipes and my baby seems happy and … oh I love them. You do use a TON of water, and the rinser (you must buy one — only $10 and since you just started the stinky poops. Anyway, we use regular cloth diapers, the miraculous Snappi fasteners (NO MORE PINS!) and the Thirsties diaper covers. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T ASK, and I really hope this isn’t assvice, but … I love it! Good luck … (oh, damn… Read more »

jo
Guest

A little off topic but I totally had not heard of this lavender oil thing. Does this include lavender baby shampoo b/c I still use that stuff b/c I am convinced it calms Michael down at bathtime? Running upstairs to read the bottle. Why is this all so complicated. Michael’s bottles, the fancy schamncy, Dr Browns bottles, tested highest for BPA. I had never heard of BPA 4 years ago.
And cloth diapers? I am seriously impressed.

Sonja
Guest

I bought a crib mattress from IKEA and am covering it with all manner of waterproof pads and extra sheets and receiving blankets layered under the sheet to protect from the various spills.
A really interesting resource about the insanity of spending money on turns-out-it’s-useless-crap baby stuff is “Parenting, Inc.” by Pamela Paul. I love her!
Also, cloth diapering… how I love it!

professormama
Guest
professormama

Check out Diaper Services!
You don’t have to wash them yourselves, the service picks up the cloth diapers each week, and drops off clean ones, they out them through several rinse cycles, and many of them don’t use any harsh chemicals. Still cheaper than disposables!
Also, it makes a good shower gift, if you let people know what service you want to use….

Brandi
Guest

If you do go with a regular mattress (as I would) and you’re still concerned try and let the mattress air out for a while. Most of these problems are caused by the materials “off gassing” and that goes away in time. I would put the mattress in the baby’s room, take the plastic off and let it lean against the wall for a few weeks or days. Open the window on nice days to help some fresh air get to it and speed up the process. I learned about this stuff in my Interior Merchandising class on finishes and… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

After a ton of research into different crib mattresses I choose the same Naturepedic mattress as the first poster and for some of the same reasons (organic and waterproof). It has also won a ton of awards and is significantly less expensive than some of the other organic mattresses. Yes, it is still a little pricey but given how much time babies spend sleeping it’s worth it to me (I also chose an all organic Moses basket set to use until we get to the crib). It was delivered today and I knew I had made a good choice because… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

“I… 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).”
It isn’t ironic. These oils are completely natural. It can be organic. It can certainly be in handmade items of any kind. However, just like nearly every substance, that doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone. (To make my point: marijuana can be organic, but you wouldn’t give it to your child.)
Is there evidence that inhaling these oils can cause the same reaction? Not just topical application?

Shylo
Guest
Shylo

While it’s not a government organization, Greenguard is a third-party certification organization that I really trust. Whenever I’m shopping for “green” stuff, I always consult with Greenguard because they really rigorously screen their products. Naturepedic’s mattresses are Greenguard-certified, I know.
http://www.greenguard.org/

Gene
Guest
Gene

It’s wonderful to see how many of you love your kids and like my wife will do anything for them. I have been in the mattress industry for 30 years and was wondering about how many of you realize how many fire retardant chemicals are in mattresses today. It has been my experience that most any mattress will work fine for cribs, just not to soft, but the chemicals used to slow down fires are very toxic and in all the mattresses sold today. I read online that 8 oz. of chemicals are put into a crib mattress and a… Read more »

Gloria
Guest
Gloria

No doubt about it, it’s confusing. But one thing you should know (if you don’t already) is that the U.S. government (the Consumer Product Safety Commission) has actually banned the use of some of the toxic chemicals you’re referring to in crib mattresses, toys, and other children’s goods. You can read a report on it at http://www.naturepedic.com/info/cpsia.php, along with a lot of questions and answers that might help clear things up. It takes a lot for a government to actually ban a chemical. And the U.S. wasn’t the first country to do it – some of these chemicals have been… Read more »