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Get Smart! Why You Pay $99 For a Baby Changing Pad

PVC. PEVA. Vinyl. Polyurethane. Polyethylene. Organic Certifications. Two-Sided Contoured. Know exactly what goes on inside your baby changing table pad.

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In this issue of Get Smart! we lay out everything the manufacturers won’t tell you about baby changing table pads. 

Table of Contents:


Shopping Psychology 101 

We’ve all been there. Browsing Amazon for shoes, for a color printer, or for something as banal as bathroom tissue. Overwhelmed by the choice, we set the filter to a desired price point and mentally rank the results. A lower price marks an urgent bargain (grab it quick!), or else we perceive the product as being “not so good”. We make our peace with the affordability vs. quality formula and hit the Buy button. Similar is true for pricey items: we either evaluate it as an indicator of luxury or as a gross rip-off.  

Manufacturers and retailers know this consumer psychology all too well. Value-Based Pricing is a central marketing strategy that prices products not necessarily according to their costs but according to consumer perceptions. Not surprisingly, the baby goods market is particularly prone to triggering this strategy because new parents are deeply and emotionally invested in their purchases. Behind every baby purchase we have that niggling voice in our minds, “Is this safe for my baby? Can I give my baby something better?” Heck, even diapers! I recall the pangs of remorse in buying cheaper Luvs over elite Pampers. Insider scoop: Baby came out just fine, buttocks and all. 

Get Smart! Baby Changing Pads 

Today on Get Smart! we are exploring baby changing pads. Changing pads are a crowded market filled with many brands spanning a broad price range, anywhere from less than $19 to over $99. We will sift through the features and benefits of these products, explaining the industry in layman’s terms so you can be a savvy consumer. Say goodbye to spending cash using that knee-jerk cost vs. benefit vs. parenting-guilt rubric; henceforth, you will buy with discrimination. 

Back to Basics: When’s a Changing Pad not a Changing Pad? 

At its most structural level, a changing pad is a surface used for diaper changing. Sometimes this surface is a foldable plastic sheet that fits neatly into your diaper bag; other times this surface is a hefty, bed-like entity. The one constant feature all changing pads is the ability for it to be cleaned easily (after all, we’re dealing with poopy diapers…) As we’ll see, manufacturers use an array of washable materials, each one with their unique benefits. Branching out from this core value, changing pads have many structural differences, which effect the product’s usability, longevity, safety and more. 

Baby Changing Pads: The Outer Cover 

The critical component of a changing pad is its exterior: the outer cover. If you’re not using an additional sheet, this surface has direct skin contact with your baby. It must be easily cleanable, preferably stain-resistant and water-resistant. Not least, the tiny details of this outer construction will make all the difference between a quick clean or a laborious scrub.  

Outer Cover: Fabrication 

Budget brands [Summer Infant, Safety 1st] construct the cover from vinyl – either from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or from a less toxic vinyl variant called PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate). Vinyl is that slippery, plasticky, crunchy material used for shower curtains or cosmetic bags. It’s cheap, it washes down easily, but it has that sticky feel, could have toxic or chemical odors, and if it’s too flimsy, can be prone to tearing.  

Mid-range brands [Moonlight Slumber, The Ark] steer away from the vinyl and instead use polyester and other synthetic fibers to produce a waterproof surface that has the suppleness of fabric. Tightly woven, these fabrics are hypoallergenic and won’t crinkle loudly when baby wriggles–but will still wipe clean easily.  

Premium brands [NaturapedicComfortpedic] that only use natural or organic materials will construct a non-waterproof, textile cover, but then spray a synthetic waterproof backing to the cover to make it cleanable – because after all, that pad’s gotta get clean.  

Get Smart! Tip:  

If a manufacturer is claiming that their product is both 100% organic and waterproof, then take a closer look! It can’t be both! The cotton itself could be 100% organic, but there must be an additional material that is contributing to its resistance to water.  


Outer Cover: Fixed or Removable 

Now that we have nailed the cover, the next step is to understand how it encompasses the pad. As the cover folds over the pad, it creates pleats or seams which directly impacts your ability to clean it effectively. Furthermore, some covers are fixed while others are removable and can be tossed into the laundry. Once again there are variations across the board.  

Budget brands [Munchkin, Summer Infant] have a fixed cover with exposed stitching down the corners. These seams have tiny nooks and crannies that can become an entrapment for dirt – or even worse, bed mites 

Mid-range brands [The Ark, Moonlight Slumber] will construct the cover with zippers so it can be laundered, or with specialized drop seams that conceal the stitches and minimize those grimy crevices.  

Premium brands [Keekaroo] bypass the cover issue completely by molding the changing pad out of one solid piece of foam that is eminently smooth, entirely washable, with zero moving parts.  I’m wondering if you could even dunk the whole shebang in the bathtub!  

Get Smart! Tip: Do you plan to use your changing pad together with a sheet? If yes, then you have more wiggle room when choosing the outer construction. If you don’t want the extra laundry, then select a pad with easy-to-clean details. 


Baby Changing Pads: The Inner Construction  

Typically, the body of the changing pad is made from supportive polyurethane foamPolyurethane is a synthetic polymer, somewhat similar to plastic, but jammed with air bubbles to create that spongy but supportive texture.  This resilient foam keeps baby safely and comfortably nestled during diaper changes.   

Budget brands [Summer Infant, Munchkin, LA Baby] will form their changing pads entirely from petroleum-based polyurethane. They will use a softer foam, but supplement the support by inserting a cardboard base [Summer Infant] or fiberboard [Colgate] underneath the foam core. Mid-range brands [Moonlight Slumber] will use a denser foam that is inherently supportive. They may also substitute 20% of that petroleum with soybean oil. This allows them to label their product as being plant-based foam, which does indeed have a lower risk of toxicity. Additionally, brands [Moonlight Slumber, Keekaroo] will invest in certifications, such as UL Greenguard or CertiPUR or JPMA, that recognize the foam as having low VOC emissions and free of known toxins, fire retardants and formaldehyde.  

Niche brands will alter the processing of the polyurethane to create a memory foam pad [The Ark] that continuously reshapes around baby’s body. Other niche brandswho strive to be completely organic [Naturepedic] will use an organic cotton filling, but incorporate a sturdier variant of polyurethane, called polyethylene, to give the pad that necessary support.   

Get Smart! Tip: Despite the hype, there aren’t 100% natural changing pads, but there are a range of healthy choices once you understand the industry terminology.  

Polyurethane is often used in healthcare settings, so manufacturers will label this material as being medical-grade 

Polyethylene is often used in contact with food, such as yogurt containers. These manufacturers will label this material as being – you guessed it – food-grade. Whichever you choose, ensure that the foam is certified by the best independent laboratories. The industry standard is the Certi-PUR certification. Read more about certifications below.  

Baby Changing Pads: Form + Design  

A baby changing pad is a rectangular thing–right? Why would it possibly differ from brand to brand?! Have you checked out the toothbrush aisle recently? But I digress…  

The most common structural difference between pads are the contoured edges along the sides. Some models [Naturepedic, Summer Infant] are raised on all four sides, ensuring the baby is fully stabilized and won’t roll off. Other brands [Poopoose, Moonlight Slumber] are dual-sided, and contoured only on the two longer sides. These brands deliberately leave the top and bottom edge open-ended giving room for baby’s legs as they grow into toddlerhood. Creating a niche, there’s also a three-sided contoured model [Colgate] that keeps all parties happy. Designer brands [Keekaroo] defy the angular shape and opt for organic curves, eliminating any hard edges, and are manufactured in an array of nifty colors.  

Size-wise, check the dimensions of the pad before you buy. Some pads are quite compact while others are considerably larger.  

Get Smart! Tip: Think ahead. Do you want this changing pad to be functional thru infancy or extend until your child is toilet trained? 


Baby Changing Pads: Buckle + Attachment Hardware 

The two pieces of hardware that are most prevalent in the world of baby changing pads are the safety straps and the attachment system.  

Babies have busy lives! They don’t want to spend unnecessary seconds as mom or dad fiddles with the safety buckle. Most brands use a quick release safety strap that unlatches with a quick pinch so you can scoop out a freshly-cleaned baby in no time. Niche brands [Poopoose] sport a thick swaddle-like belt, with hook and loop enclosures, that act as a calming restraint during diaper changes. 

Attachment hardware is another consideration. Some parents want a pad that fixes firmly onto their changing table, while others want the versatility of a pad that’s easily removable. Hardware could consist of screws [Moonlight Slumber] that affix onto your changing table, a security strap [Summer Infant] that ties around furniture, or velcro strips [The Ark] that you align on your changing table enabling you to detach the pad without hassle. Many models also showcase rubber grips [Munchkin] on the underside of the pad to prevent it from slipping.  

Get Smart! Tip: Think about your lifestyle. Will you always change your baby’s diaper in their nursery—or will you resort to changing your baby on your living room couch, hallway floor or bathroom counter  (as this author was prone to do).   


Baby Changing Pads: Federal Guidelines and Third-Party Certifications  

Surprisingly, there aren’t the stringent federal safety regulations over baby changing pads as there are over crib mattresses. This means that it’s really up to individual brands how much they want to invest in ensuring their products meet independent standards.  When you visit their websites, you may see some authoritative safety logos – but what do they really mean? 

The standard most used by changing pad manufacturers is the Greenguard Gold certification. This stringent testing procedure includes inspecting for over 10,000 volatile organic compounds and requires that products meet a low chemical and particle emissions for safe indoor use.   

Manufacturers who incorporate foam in their products will also opt for another third-party regulator called Certi-PUR. This procedure inspects the sourcing and processing of the foam itself to ensure that no formaldehydeheavy metals or ozone depleting substances were used at any stage in the manufacturing.   

When shopping for a foam changing pad, look out for both the Greenguard Gold and Certi-PUR certifications. A pad with only the Certi-PUR certification may have safe foam, but could still use spray-on fire retardant or other additional toxic components. Moonlight Slumber and Colgate include both these safeguards, while Keekaroo uses an alternative certification overseer, called JPMA 

Organic brands, such as Naturepedic is certified by the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) which ensures that the product contains a minimum of 70% organic fibers. Be aware though, even when you do see this certification, the pad could still contain polyethylene for that necessary waterproofing and support.  

Get Smart! Tip:  

Know your marketing gimmicks!   

If a brand advertises a list of scary-sounding toxins that its pad does not contain, but it also has a Greenguard Gold and Certi-PUR certification, it’s actually repetitive. A different brand with the same certifications will likely be of the same quality. Look for other benefits instead to help you choose what’s best for you.   

If a brand only has Certi-PUR and not Greenguard Gold, then they could use a quality foam, but then add other toxins to the construction, such as spray-on fire retardants.  

Here’s another gimmick: the GOTS certification could imply that the whole mattress is organic when really it only refers to one specific element, for example the sheet, or the filling, or another fairly minor element. Be sure to check which part of the changing pad the symbol is certifying.   

Baby Changing Pads: Sheets + Accessories 

Freebies! Who doesn’t love these? Brands love throwing exciting accessories into the bundle, enticing you to purchase. Moonlight Slumber includes an organic cotton fitted sheet that is made-to-fit around the contours of the pad. Disclaimer: We are knowingly plugging our awesome changing pad.  

Get Smart! Tip: Do your research. You want one changing pad that will stand the test of time and many, many diaper changes. 

There you have it! We hope you enjoyed this demystifying article from Get Smart! Please add your comments below, we’d love to hear from you. 

Download the Get Smart! Changing Table Pad Brand Analysis Chart and Worksheet for an easy guide of all the above! 

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