In today’s industrial world full of “space age” materials, Infants and toddlers are often exposed to all sorts of chemicals and engineered substances. Most of these chemicals found in products we use on a daily basis have never been scientifically tested for toxicity to babies, so parents should practice extreme caution in their use to protect their children from exposure.
You are probably cognizant of the chemicals found in many of today’s best selling nursery items such as cribs, rockers, swings, baby crib mattresses or mattress covers and are searching for a safe and healthy alternative. You already know how important it is to have an organic crib mattress and other baby essentials.
You are correct in believing that being organic is a priority, but the primary factor to keep in mind is if the organic crib mattress is also non-toxic. Even the most high-end and trendy organic baby mattresses can contain trace elements of potentially toxic chemicals and unsafe materials.
Your little one’s exposure to anything within the crib mattress is as close proximity as you can get, pervasive, and can last for years. Your baby spends more time sleeping on her organic or breathable crib mattress than anywhere else, twelve hours or more a day, during the initial and vital development years where she is at risk by lying directly on a crib mattress, inhaling and absorbing any chemicals or gasses released over time by her baby mattress.
Honestly, when it comes to the well-being and safety of your child, no amount of exposure toxic materials and off-gassing is acceptable.
Research and Testing
I have looked into just about every standard and organic baby crib mattress on the market in terms of safety and the potential toxicity to find the best and safest organic crib mattress. The following guide should be used to help you differentiate the truth from the avalanche of marketing mumbo-jumbo you will come across while researching the best organic crib mattress for your baby.
In the guide below you will find:
- Why you should never lay your baby down to sleep on a regular crib mattress with made with standard industrial materials and components
- Why it’s vital to keep your baby’s crib mattress clean and dry
- What I believe to be the perfect crib mattress
Finding the Safe Options: Baby Crib Mattress 101
What’s in a Typical Baby Crib Mattress and Why Does It Matter?
Toxicity – What To Lookout For In the Mattress Material
The absolute number one offender is Polyurethane foam. This is a very common filling material used in many of the brand name baby mattresses. This is a petroleum-based material and is highly flammable. Depending on the manufacturing process, polyurethane foam may contain a plethora of chemical additives, which include formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and many other long known toxic chemicals.
Waterproofing – Is the outer Cover Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) with Phthalates?
It is quite common to find crib mattresses with a vinyl covering to aid in waterproofing. At first glance, this seems fine but a closer look at the vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) uncovers some alarming facts. Polyvinyl chloride is widely considered to be a most toxic and environmentally hazardous plastic in use in today’s manufacturing processes. Vinyl chloride, an integral component of the manufacturing process for PVC, is a combination of petroleum and chlorine and is listed as a human carcinogen.
PVC , being a hard plastic, must be further treated with chemical plasticizers to make it malleable enough to then be formed into a soft and flexible covering. These plasticizers, typically known as phthalates, are responsible for 30%-40% of the total weight of the vinyl surface of a standard crib mattress. They are not chemically bound to the vinyl and overtime escape from the cover onto whatever is touching it or off-gas into the surrounding air.
Infants and toddlers are then exposed to these particles and absorb these toxic plasticizers through the membrane of their skin and breathe them into their lungs. The serious effects on a child’s health that are associated with exposure to chemical plasticizers are listed below:
- Early Puberty
- Kidney Damage
- Liver Damage
- Reproductive System Damage
It’s important to remember that even though certain phthalates have been banned or regulated in the US, alternatives now being used, while technically legal, may still be harmful as these chemicals have not undergone thorough testing to ensure they are not just as toxic as the banned substance.
It may require years of studies and ongoing research before their safety can be properly determined. There are only three forms of phthalates banned from use in mattresses, so it is legal for manufacturers to substitute with a chemically similar but non-banned phthalates. In fact, the phthalate (DnHP), classified as a reproductive toxicant, is still allowed for use in crib mattresses.
It’s Not the Substance… It’s the Dose That Makes It Poison
There is no definitive answer to the question of what amount of exposure to the additives in vinyl is safe for babies. You must be on high alert for product descriptions with non-toxic vinyl or phthalate-free vinyl and recognize the high probability that it’s far from “non-toxic.”
Stringent U.S. Flammability Regulations
Any mattresses made with polyurethane foam and PVC are extremely flammable and will torch quickly if set alight. When these mattresses burn, highly toxic and hazardous gases are chemically formed and released into the air. Due to these dangers, the U.S. government requires by law all mattress manufacturers to adhere to stringent flammability regulations. Unfortunately for our health and well-being, most these imposed standards are met by adding even more toxic chemicals.
The number one offenders, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), historically have been the primary fire retardant chemicals used in mattresses. These chemicals have properties which break down and seep out into the surrounding air. Research conclusively shows that molecules from fire retardant chemicals found in our mattresses, having escaped into the surrounding air, then pollute and befoul the dust particles floating in our house, air ducts, walls, and floors.
Infants and toddlers are exposed to fire retardants in three specific ways:
- Breathing in the air while sleeping on the crib mattress
- Absorbing these toxins through their skin
- Household dust which can be ingested by babies in multiple ways, after the dust contacts their hands and subsequently goes into their mouths, by crawling on the floor or playing with their toys.
PBDE exposure has been associated with many adverse health effects:
- Altered or Changed Behavior
- Delayed Development
- Hormone Distribution
- Immune System Suppression
- Learning Deficiencies
- Memory Problems
Just like the plasticizers mentioned above, some U.S States have banned and regulated the use of some brominated fire retardants, but manufacturers have easily managed to replace them with other PBDEs or other chemicals that may be just as or even more toxic. While I believe manufacturers should have the responsibility and ethical standards to only use safe materials, they have no legal requirements to test these chemicals for negative effects on health and there is very little data available to show they are safe.
All Mattresses Must be Flame Resistant
It is impossible to buy a mattress in the U.S. that does not pass the fire-proofing standards set out by law unless you have a prescription from a licensed physician. This holds true for all mattresses: infant, toddler, youth and adult and includes both organic mattresses and other breathable crib mattresses. So if you purchased a mattress without some kind of authorization from your physician, it will contain some sort of fire retardant materials. If you bought any mattresses, including crib mattresses, in 2005 or before, it most likely contains pentaBDE, a banned form of PBDEs.
Because of the huge public awareness and outrage against PBDEs (particularly pentaBDE), and because states have already begun to ban it, mattress manufacturers are shifting away from the use of PBDEs.
However, regardless of what the public wants they are still required to follow government flammability regulations, and their mattresses are still filled with petroleum-based polyurethane foam or so-called soybean foam, which as we have pointed out is highly flammable. Manufacturers are simply swapping out these PBDE chemicals with other fire retardants, in the form of additives or barriers. Typically, mattress manufacturers do not disclose the specific chemicals being used to meet the government flammability standards. While not terribly comforting these omissions are perfectly legal.The law does not specify HOW a baby mattress meets the standards or even what chemicals can or can not be used, only that the flammability standard IS met.
A common flame retardant utilized in many new mattresses is chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), which frighteningly enough has been found to alter the DNA of people exposed and is listed as a known carcinogen. Amazingly, this is the same fire retardant chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas back in the 70s because studies were linking its use to a much greater risk of cancer. As it was never legally banned, as clothing manufacturers voluntarily stopped its use, it is now found its way into our couches, chairs, and crib mattresses. This toxin is absorbed through the skin – obviously why it was removed from children’s sleepwear. Even scarier is It’s also now in the household dust of most homes.
Healthy and Organic Baby Crib Mattresses
You would think if a crib mattress is organic then it is also non-toxic. That really is not an unreasonable assumption. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are many organic crib mattresses being sold today that consist of an organic cotton filler but have an outer cover of vinyl or another potentially toxic and unsafe material.
Then you must also consider the fire retardants and chemicals that could be added or applied to the organic cotton and the crib mattress cover. Obviously, you are first checking to see if the organic baby mattress is actually made with organic materials but you will also want to ensure that the organic crib mattress and its cover is non-toxic and safe.
Your baby’s crib mattress MUST be organic AND non-toxic.
What To Look For In A Truly Organic Crib Mattress
To start, we should define what it really means to be organic. When talking about agricultural products (anything that is grown weather edible or not), the term organic refers specifically to the methods in which those products are grown, raised, and processed. So in the context of an organic crib mattress, only the fibers used in the baby mattress, such as cotton or wool, is allowed to be considered organic (according to the agricultural standards) because these are the only agricultural products in the crib mattress. Any other materials in an organic crib mattress, such as a plastic covering or the inner springs are not agricultural, therefore by definition cannot be considered organic.
For cotton to be labeled organic, it must be grown without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. This is important to remember because cotton, in our modern day and age, is treated with all kinds of toxic pesticides and the residues of these sprays can persist within the cotton fiber after it is processed into products for everyday use.
Wool can only be considered organic if the sheep are kept on a strict organic diet and never administered synthetic hormones or pesticides. In addition to the dietary requirements, organic wool farmers are also required to comply with ethical and humane animal treatment regulations that protect the health of the animal as well as the environment. Finally, the wool must be sheered, cleansed and then processed without the use of any toxic chemicals.
An organic crib mattress in and of itself is not an agricultural product, so to assure consumers the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) have been developed and become the gold standard for processing standards for organic textile products such as clothing, fabrics and crib mattresses.
The GOTS mandates that all fiber and fabrics used within an organic crib mattress must be made from National Organic Program (NOP) certified materials and the manufacturing process must be in conformance with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
All other components making up the organic crib mattress must meet stringent non-toxic standards. With a baby mattress, it is both the final product along with all of the singular materials used to make up the crib mattress that we are concerned with.
What about Eco-Friendly or Plant-Based Crib Mattresses?
The hot new trend in organic crib mattresses is the so-called green and eco-friendly mattresses produced with plant based materials. These baby crib mattresses are often labeled with marketing descriptions such as Eco-foam, Soybean Foam, or Bio Foam. It is a ploy by manufacturers where they replace a portion of the polyurethane foam with plant based ingredients so they can then label the materials green and eco-friendly.
Unfortunately, a large number of these organic crib mattresses are far from healthy and can be quite toxic for something be touted as an organic and healthy alternative for your baby.
The typical soybean foam used in many organic baby mattresses consists of polyurethane foam with a mixture of approximately 15% soybean oil. These crib mattresses are still primarily petroleum and chemical based, highly flammable, and still require fire retardant chemicals to comply with the U.S. regulations and laws.
It is easy for a company to label their organic crib mattresses as green, healthy, or eco-friendly since there are no regulations which say they can’t. Don’t be duped by these unethical baby mattress manufacturers. You are probably buying a crib mattress full of toxic chemicals and off-gassing with these so called green baby mattresses.
Another thing to look out for is crib mattresses with fabrics made from bamboo fibers. This seems harmless enough at first glance until you look more closely at the manufacturing process of this bamboo. Harsh chemical agents are used to process the bamboo into a cellulose fiber similar to rayon. Bamboo crib mattress covers are usually a synthetic fabric with little to none of the original bamboo plant left in the final product.
For obvious reasons, organic cotton is an ideal filling material for a baby’s crib mattress. Because it is a natural, non-toxic, firm and breathable material you will find organic cotton in many of the top selling organic crib mattresses. It has the added benefit in that it will not burst into flame (like polyurethane foam) or release toxic chemical fumes when burning.
Wool, also a very prevalent filler in organic baby mattresses, is naturally fire resistant, provides a hostile environment to dust mites, and is resistant to the ill effects of moisture. However, despite being an exceptional filler for organic crib mattresses. Wool can be allergenic and an irritant. Although not very common, some babies are allergic to the natural animal wool fiber and these allergies can also slowly develop over time with exposure.
Latex, also called natural rubber, is another commonly used filling in organic crib mattresses. Searching for a latex crib mattress can be difficult because even natural latex may contain harmful chemicals which are added during the manufacturing process.
Surface Material (Covering)
Because wetness and babies often go hand-in-hand you may be looking for a waterproof crib mattress. Waterproof baby mattresses protect from mold, mildew, fungi, and bacteria by blocking moisture and preventing growth in the crib mattress.
Mold and fungi can be hazardous to the health of your baby, so it is vital to prevent moisture from seeping into the crib mattress and providing an ideal environment for mold, fungi, mildew, and bacteria to propagate.
If you must have a water proof crib mattress then you must also find a non-toxic covering which helps to eliminate wetness and dust mites. Plastic is really the only workable solution to make a baby mattress completely waterproof. As we have discussed earlier some plastics are extremely dangerous and toxic. When looking for a waterproof crib mattress it is of the utmost importance that the plastic waterproofing also is non-toxic.
Wool is Not Waterproof
Wool resists the effects of moisture and is fast drying, so wool baby mattress pads are often used with organic crib mattresses that are not waterproof. These wool pee pads can often have synthetics in them, such as polyester, so keep an eye out for pads made only with certified organic wool.
Scientists and environmentalists agree that low density, food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available. It consists of a basic molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other harmful additives. In addition, the production process of food-grade polyethylene does not release toxic chemicals into the environment. Food-grade polyethylene is the same material used in organic crib mattress covers designed to prevent SIDS with great success in New Zealand.
Can Organic Crib Mattresses Even Pass U.S. Fire Standards?
In order to meet federal fire safety standards, many organic crib mattresses contain chemical fire retardants. These baby mattresses are so called organic only because the cotton filling is certified as organic cotton. Retailers and marketers may claim these organic baby mattresses are free of fire retardants or label them as PBDE-free, but the reality is there must be something that allows these organic crib mattresses it to meet the fire standards. The most common method is for manufacturers to simply replace the PBDE chemicals with other non-tested fire retardants. It is often next to impossible to verify this information with retailers and manufacturers as there are no laws requiring them to disclose the specific chemicals used.
The most common method is for manufacturers to simply replace the PBDE chemicals with other non-tested fire retardants. It is often next to impossible to verify this information with retailers and manufacturers as there are no laws requiring them to disclose the specific chemicals used.
Wool is fire-resistant and is the most common fire protection used in all natural, organic crib mattresses. If a wool mattress has been proved to surpass the U.S. fire and flammability standards then manufacturers are able to sell these organic crib mattresses without special permissions. There are baby crib mattress brands that use pure wool exclusively for this very reason.
The Best Organic Crib Mattress
Newton Baby Wovenaire Organic Crib Mattresses
Every inch of the Newton crib mattress was designed with your baby’s health, safety, and comfort in mind. This is my choice for the best organic crib mattress. The innovative design allows air to flow freely for optimal breathability and temperature regulation. The washable material prevents bacteria growth – and allows you to rinse off any less-than-adorable moments. Newton’s perfect level of cushy firmness helps your baby stay asleep. Newton’s core is made of 90% free air and 10% organic food-grade polymer. It’s all wrapped up in a breathable, three-dimensional fabric that provides comfort and unzips for easy washing. Newton contains no off-gassing foam, latex, springs, glue, or allergens and is 100% recyclable.
Please also check out my last post about techniques for soothing a crying baby.