What is a baby mattress?
So you’ve chosen a bed for your baby... now what about a baby mattress? There are many different options to choose from, in terms of style and whether you need something to fit a Moses basket, crib, cot, cotbed, travel cot or a pram/carrycot. There are even baby mattresses for hanging cradles.
Once you know what type of bed you’re buying the mattress for, you can choose from different fabrics and construction. The main baby mattress types are foam, sprung, pocket sprung, natural fibre, or even a combination of any of the above.
You may find that the bed you buy already comes with a mattress, but don’t feel obliged to use that one just because it’s included in the price.
It’s important that you buy a mattress that you are really happy with, given how many hours your baby will spend on it.
Should you buy new or secondhand?
It’s best to always buy a new mattress for your baby, and that includes when more baby brothers and sisters come along. Your baby needs a firm, clean and supportive mattress.
The danger with a secondhand mattress is that it can have lost its shape and may contain hidden bacteria and dust mites. It will also probably be less comfortable. Sadly, there’s evidence to suggest that SIDS, or cot death, is linked to secondhand mattresses.
The Lullaby Trust’s Sleep simple sleep safe resource states, “Ideally you should buy a new mattress for each new baby. If you are not able to do this, use the one you have, as long as it was made with a completely waterproof cover and has no tears, cracks or holes. Clean and dry it thoroughly.”
Make sure that any mattress you buy conforms to both BS 1877 Part 10 1997 for safety and performance and BS 7177 1996 for flammability.
Mattresses that meet the relevant BS standards give you the confidence that what you’re buying for your baby is safe.
What size do you need?
It completely depends on the bed your little one will be sleeping on – but the great news is that baby bed mattresses come in all different shapes and sizes to suit.
- Moses basket mattress – generally around 28cm x 75cm, but can be slightly larger or smaller to fit individual brands, or custom made
- Travel cot mattress – 65cm x 95cm
- Small cot mattress – 54cm x 90cm
- Cot mattress – 60cm x 120cm
- Cot bed mattress – 70cm x 140cm
Some retailers refer to ‘standard’ and ‘continental’ size types for baby cot mattresses, but there are a wide variety of dimensions out there so it’s vital that you make sure you buy the correct size.
The gap between the mattress and cot sides and ends should not be more than 4cm when the mattress is pushed tightly to one side or there’s a risk that your baby’s limbs could get trapped.
There may be a sticker with your cot or basket that recommends the ideal size, whilst some shops list their mattresses by brand of cot or pram. If you’re not sure, accurately measure the interior length and width of the basket or cot base once it’s assembled.
Generally, the depth of the mattress should not exceed 10cm for cots and it will be thinner for Moses baskets. There are plenty of companies out there online who will supply you with a made-to-measure mattress if you can’t find the exact size you are looking for.
What type do you want?
Whichever type of mattress you choose, it needs to be firm. Imagine if your baby turns over – he can’t easily move himself if his face sinks into a squishy mattress, so he needs a more solid sleep surface than us grown-ups. Squeeze the edges and the centre of the mattress to ensure that support is there. You can choose from the following types, which generally increase in price:
- Foam – the cheapest option providing a core of foam, often encased in a wipeable, waterpoof cover (look for non-toxic PVC). Choose a high-density foam providing good support and comfort. Some foam mattresses also have ventilation holes.
- Sprung – made with sturdy coils offering firm support.
- Pocket sprung – constructed from individual steel springs sewn into small fabric pockets. Each spring can then individually respond to the contours of your baby’s body.
- Natural fibre – such as coir, coconut, latex, mohair, lambswool, cashmere or silk, which are recommended for their properties of moisture absorption.
- PurFlo - a hollow mattress, made by PurFlo, that has good air circulation and is similar price to a pocket sprung mattress.
Depending on the type of mattress you opt for, turn it regularly to maintain its shape and/or rotate it head to foot so both ends are used equally.
Do you need a cover?
All baby mattresses are covered with an outer fabric layer. FSID’s recommends that the outside of the mattress should be waterproof, so most covers have a waterproof side and a fabric side. But not all of these covers will be removable for washing. If it isn’t removable, do remember to frequently wipe clear the PVC surface and vacuum or sponge-clean the bottom cotton cover of the mattress base. You can also buy a separate spare mattress cover to make it easier to keep your mattress clean and deal with those inevitable nappy explosions.
Ideally, choose a mattress with a removable cover that can be washed at 60 degrees as that is the temperature needed to kill the dreaded dust mites. Some mattresses also come with moveable waterproof sleeves (within the cover) to protect the core.
Specialist baby mattress manufacturers will allow you to select different types of fabric covers, such as:
- ‘Intelligent’ or ‘moisture-management’ fabrics (look for labels such as CoolMax® or CoolPlus) that help prevent your child from overheating
- Anti-fungal fabrics that help protect against allergies (Amicor ®)
- Anti-bacterial (Silpure)
- Organic, fair trade or even scented fabric
What you choose will depend on personal preference, how long you plan to use the mattress and your budget.