After about 3 days of research, we finally figured out what kind of mattress and mattress cover our little angel will be sleeping on. I think my husband and I have done more research on baby stuff in the past 7 months than either of us did in four years of college! The good news is, I’m going to share all this good stuff with you! Even if you don’t have children, this is an important read in order to keep chemicals and toxins from harming you while you sleep.

Studies have shown that crib mattresses contribute to one of the highest causes of chemical poisoning among babies. Regular (and sheepskin) mattresses contain phosphorous, arsenic and antimony. These elements are naturally occurring in some sheepskins and are added in via the manufacturing process of regular mattresses. Arsenic and antimony are used as preservatives in mandatory flame retardants and phosphorous is a plasticizer used in matters covers. Most baby mattresses contain filling material called polyurethane foam, which is made from petroleum and contains chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, pigments and more. Manufacturers listed on the material safety data sheet (MSDS) that exposure to polyurethane foam can cause: possible cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision and more. Considering infants spend an incredible amount of time sleeping, this is a huge concern for me.

Adding to that, a common household fungus known as Scopularioupsis Brevicaulis gets established in the mattress from the baby’s sweating, spitting up, urinating, etc. Once it’s there, the fungus feeds off of the phosphorous, arsenic and antimony. The result is a production of three nerve gasses: phosphine, arsine and stibine, all of which can be very deadly, especially to infants. Enter SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). It has also been proven that the risk of SIDS increases with the birth of each child, potentially because mattresses are re-used, allowing the fungus to become more established with the addition of each child.

Although it is not 100% scientifically proven, many scientists believe that toxic gases released from crib mattresses can cause SIDS when inhaled or absorbed by the baby. A large study in New Zealand had a 100% success rate in crib death prevention for the past 13 years. Parents were strongly advised to wrap their mattresses with a specially formulated polyethylene cover. Out of 170,000 (22%) New Zealand babies, not one single SIDS death was reported, compared to 860 reports of crib death prior to this study. To be clear, scientists agree that low density, food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available for waterproofing a crib mattress, since it does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives.

So how do you make sure nerve gasses aren’t reaching your baby?

Well, you either buy an organic mattress or you cover the one you have with a low-density food-grade polyethylene sheeting. It is the safest plastic available for waterproofing a mattress. It has a simple molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Unlike the production of vinyl, dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during the production of low-density polyethylene.

If you’re buying a new, organic mattress, make sure it’s actually organic (as opposed to it having just one organic material and abusing the term “organic”). It depends on all materials used. Even an organic cotton filled mattress can be filled with a vinyl covering, which then likely adds in chemical fire retardants. Check out company ratings in this buying guide. Once you’ve decided on a couple you’re interested in, check them against the tips above to see if any red flags come up. There’s also a very helpful chart and key included in that guide.

A few comments about the buying guide’s recommendations:

Though boric acid is considered by some to have a low toxicity rating, it’s also a roach killer. Also, antimony is listed as a “chemical of concern” but arsenic and phosphorous are not. Double check with manufacturers on whether they contain these two compounds before making a final decision on a purchase. Also, avoid any mattresses that have an un-waterproofed surface. Wool/latex as the surface material is okay, un-waterproofed cotton is no good, because it can get wet and mildew. (Enter S. Brevicaulis). Removable cotton pads/wool pads that can be washed are fine, but make sure they aren’t too cushy, especially if your baby is going to sleep on his/her stomach, as this can interfere with breathing. On that note, a firm mattress is a must-have if you are buying for an infant.

If you are going to continue using the mattress you have, be sure to cover it properly.

  • Cover the top, all sides and most of the underside of the mattress with a polyethylene sheeting that is at least 5 mil thick and free of phosphorus, arsenic and antimony. Leave several venting holes on the underside of the mattress cover so that the gas can escape.
  • Use fleecy pure cotton mattress cover over the polyethylene sheeting and tuck it in securely.
  • Make the bed using pure cotton sheets.
  • Do not use any of the following as baby bedding: sheepskin, moisture-resistant mattress protector, acrylic under blanket, sleeping bag or duvet.
  • Clean mattress covers by wiping with pure soap and water. Do not use chemical bleaches or sterilizers.

If you made it through that entire post, congratulations. If you didn’t, I don’t blame you. Regardless, here’s a quick recap:

Buying for Baby:

Mattress: Should have waterproofed cotton or wool/latex as the surface material. Mattress should be firm.
Cover: Use a low density food grade polyethylene mattress cover or a pure cotton cover if the top of the mattress is waterproofed.
Sheets: Pure cotton sheets. Organic is great, but make sure they’re at least 100% cotton.

For Adults:

These same nerve gasses that could harm an infant could harm you too. Although we have a mattress that is just 6 months old, I do not know what it is made out of and don’t want to take any chances. Especially knowing that if it is emitting nerve gasses, I will absorb them and they will be passed through my breastmilk to my child. Needless to say, we just bought an adult-size low density food grade polyethylene mattress cover here. Although it makes a plastic-y sound when you get into bed, I don’t mind! A small price to pay for better health and my child’s safety.

And lastly, if you’re wondering what mattress and mattress cover we went with for our baby, we went with Naturepedic. Here is the mattress we purchased (or will be purchasing) and here is the mattress pad (waterproof).

Sources:
http://www.cleanhealthyny.org/2011/11/mattress-matters-report.html#more
http://www.cleanhealthyny.org/MattressMattersReport-Jan2012.pdf
http://www.mommypotamus.com/do-sheepskins-cause-sids/
http://www.mommypotamus.com/how-to-buy-a-non-toxic-mattress/
http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/bedding.asp
http://www.simplybabybedding.com/safety-facts-dangers-crib-mattresses.html