In this issue of Get Smart! we lay out everything the manufacturers won’t tell you about 2-stage infant/toddler crib mattresses.
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Did you know? Your baby spends as much time in a crib as you spend on your phone…
Your baby’s crib and crib mattress are right up there, at the top of essential baby purchases, alongside strollers and car seats. For those parents living vicariously, you could improvise a dresser drawer or lined cardboard box for several dazed days after birth — but you will need a crib! In no other location will your baby occupy as much time in her first early years.
I remember placing my tightly swaddled newborn into her bed and feeling blown-away at the tininess of that pink bundle amidst this vast sea of a mattress. Yet… she grew into it. As baby develops and grows, she will explore the farthest edges of her crib mattress leaving nothing for the imagination. She will chew on any protruding seams, stick her little arms through narrow gaps between the mattress and crib frame, and eventually stand on her tippy-toes on the mattress edge waiting impatiently for mama or papa to release her from her sequestered chambers. As baby transitions into toddlerhood, that trusty mattress will bear witness to a fantastical amount of horseplay, too: tumbles, jumps, stomps and all those irrepressible movements that toddlers are programmed to do.
Back to Basics: The Composition of Dual-Sided Mattresses
With all this in mind, choosing the right mattress from the get-go is especially important—with safety, durability and comfort being key factors. In this issue of Get Smart! we will investigate dual-sided crib mattresses. Also known as 2-stage or double-sided, these are mattresses pointedly designed for both infancy and toddlerhood. One side of the mattress is extra firm for infants while the second side is less firm for toddler’s comfort. Once you see that your baby is ready for the next stage of crib mattress – around the 12-18-month mark – you simply flip over the mattress and use the underside.
The construction and design of dual-sided mattresses will differ from their single-use counterparts. We will literally and figuratively dissect the dual-mattress market with an in-depth look at how these mattresses are built and what you’re buying for your buck. We will parse through the buzzwords and marketing jargon so you can be an educated consumer—because that’s our passion. Interestingly, once you dig beneath the hype, even the most natural-oriented brands will still incorporate synthetic components.
Get Smart! Tip:
Be aware of brands who will advertise their mattress as being “dual-sided” or “two-sided” when it simply means that you can flip it over onto an identical surface. More shrewdly, brands will label their mattress as being “2-stage” implying that the mattress changes from infancy to toddlerhood, whereas in truth there is no change at all – it simply fits in both a crib and a toddler bed. Read the product descriptions carefully!
Digging the Brands
In rudimentary terms, mattresses have two components: those that contribute to its structural support and those that contribute to its comfort, all while adhering to strict federal safety guidelines. We will start our analysis from the structural core and work outwards to their comfortable exterior, focusing on the double-sided infant and toddler feature.
The crib mattress market is highly saturated with many brands offering multiple models. The dual-sided mattress feature is a niche within the market, nonetheless it’s still quite broad, with many choices even within single brands. These mattresses are certainly not the most economical buy, with models ranging from under $100 to over $300 ,with a crowded cluster at the $200 mark. Because of the higher price and competitive market, many models offer other premium benefits. For example, no crib mattress in our analysis were covered with that thick, crinkly vinyl that you’d associate with budget mattresses. We have interspersed a variety of styles in our analysis, so you can get a good picture of the choice that’s out there.
2-Stage Crib Mattress: Inner Construction
Some dual-sided mattresses are simply comprised of two differing densities of foam, sandwiched together to form a multi-layered unit. We will delve into the composition of this model several paragraphs down, when we discuss the dual-sided components. For now, though, we are inspecting mattresses that have a distinct core – a center that provides shape and support. There are two options: innerspring or a synthetic polymer.
An innerspring mattress will range in the 15 -25 lbs. for weight, while a foam core mattress will weigh as low as 8 lbs. If you are a newbie to crib mattresses, here’s why weight matters: Picture your baby crying in the middle of the night. You stagger into the nursery, reach into the crib and feel warm, wet pajamas and a very wet crib sheet. You buckle your baby elsewhere while you lean over the crib rails, with one hand wedged under the mattress on one side while the other arm spans across the crib, fingertips grabbing up the other end as you tug up the mattress for a wipe down and sheet change… Now, lightness matters! Factor in an overtired, grumpy baby and you want that mattress to be light and easy to jostle in and out of the crib.
Similar to adult mattresses, these models gain their support from a grid of steel coils. Coil-based mattresses have withstood the test of time, are well-trusted by the consumer, though they are considerably heavier than other variations. Most brands will quickly tout their coil count. A greater density of coils will translate into a more supportive mattress while a sparser coil count will be less responsive to your baby’s contours. A coil count of 150 is recommended, yet even the most budget double-sided mattress on the market [Sealy Cozy Rest] has 204 coils compared with premium brands [Naturepedic] with a crammed 252 coils.
However, the thickness of the coils – or the coil gauge, to use the technical term – will play a significant role, too. The thicker the diameter of the coils, the firmer the mattress; conversely, the thinner the coil diameter the springier and softer the mattress will be. Coil gauge ranges between 12–15 where, counterintuitively, the lower the number the thicker the gauge. Bear in mind though, that coil count and coil gauge can complement each other. A high coil count and a thinner gauge could provide a more refined support than a mattress comprised of scant, thick coils. For example, Colgate EcoSpring 2-n-1 has 190 coils at a 14-gauge.
Who likes feeling steel coils poking their bodies while they sleep? Not me, and surely not our babies. That’s why the layer encasing the innerspring core is so important. This tier acts as an insulator, cushioning the coils from protruding outwards.
There is considerable differentiation between brands. Budget models [Sealy Cozy Rest] opt for a polyester wrap which can deteriorate over time. You know how a mattress feels great once you first use it and a year later you start feeling those springs? That’s because the insulation has worn thin. Mid-range models [Sealy Cozy Cool Hybrid] may use the economical polyester, but also include additional foam layers to ameliorate the wear and tear. Premium models will use durable fibers that are already highly compressed, so they don’t thin further even with continuous use. Ingeniously, that fibrous husk inside coconut shells are one of the best insulators in the market. Coir fiber [Colgate EcoSpring] is super strong and dense and creates a fabulous barrier. However, it’s quite weighty too so it’ll add more load to the already heavy steel springs. Natural niche brands [Naturepedic] uses an organic cotton batting as this insulator, but then wraps that in polyethylene (a synthetic polymer) as a durable shield.
Synthetic Polymer Core
The contemporary alternative to coiled springs is a robust, synthetic polymer. In plain language, a synthetic polymer is another term for a derivative of the plastic family. Sometimes these plastics are machined to be a soft foam, other times a pliable vinyl or a hard plastic, still other times it can be a fibrous polyester. More importantly though, synthetic processing does not necessarily equate to harmful toxic emissions. Conscientious brands [Moonlight Slumber] work to create synthetic materials that don’t require harmful additives, like phthalates and formaldehyde. Additionally, where possible, they source their ingredients from natural, plant-based sources. The advantage to a synthetic core over an innerspring core is its lightness. It can be precisely manufactured to have a specific density and yield, yet still be lightweight. Even more so, it does not require that additional shield around the coils, keeping the mattress light.
Moonlight Slumber’s Baby Bluebird is structured with a woven-nest core, which is an extremely durable, food-grade polyethylene that maintains a rigid shape but is also fully breathable and provides some flex. The budget buy [Sealy Everlite] uses a thermo-bonded core, which is a hyper-technical description of the plastics used in laundry detergent bottles or milk jugs. This is essentially a molded plastic, a uniformly rigid substance that does not flex easily.
Get Smart! Tip: Innerspring mattresses will feel more traditionally mattress-like to you, but fully-foam mattresses, or those that have an airy core, will be so much lighter.
Double-Sided for Dual Density
When you think of newborns, your mind conjures up calming pastels, fluffy stuffed animals and baby-soft skin. The hard truth (pun intended) is that firmer is better and safer. To reduce the risk of SIDS, that mattress must be super hard and free of plush bumpers, quilts or any possible obstruction to baby’s nose and mouth. A dual mattress will have an appreciably hard surface for infants and a somewhat-softer yet supportive surface for toddlers.
Crucially, it’s quite difficult to create this level of firmness using only natural fibers—or at least without adding a burdensome weight or height to the mattress. This is where foam will play a part. In most cases, manufacturers use polyurethane foam, which is a synthetic polymer, somewhat similar to the composition of plastic, but jammed with air bubbles to create that spongy but supportive texture. This resilient foam can be formulated into specific densities which makes it ideal for the purpose of a dual-sided mattress.
Sealy uses a blended-fiber batting on the infant side to give it a touch of softness on an otherwise hard core.
Get Smart! Tip:
When blended fibers include cotton, even if it is not the primary fabric but only 30% of the blend, for example, the manufacturers will jump to advertise a “cotton cover” … notice how they don’t say 100% cotton?!
Sealy Everlite adds a thin layer of foam to the blended-fiber batting on the toddler side. As the price-range goes up, so does the quality of these foam layers. Similar to lesser models, Sealy Cozy Cool Hybrid also has foam on the toddler side, but the foam is a cool gel memory foam which not only conforms to your child’s contours, but conducts and releases heat leaving the mattress cool and comfortable. Moonlight Slumber’s mattresses substitutes 20% of the petroleum used in standard polyurethane with soybean oil. This allows them to label their product as being plant-based foam, which does indeed have a lower risk of toxicity.
Going up the ladder, Baby Bluebird, from Moonlight Slumber uses a super dense plant-based foam on the infant side and the cool gel memory foam on the toddler surface. Natural niche brands, that strive to be completely organic [Naturapedic] will use a sturdier but thinner variant of polyurethane, called polyethylene. This plastic polymer is food-grade, meaning it is FDA-approved to be in contact with food, for example, yogurt cups. It’s thin, rigid and non-toxic and is used to give the dual-sided mattress that necessary supportive density. In another necessary compromise, Colgate Ecospring mixes organic cotton with polyurethane. Come to think of it, that’s quite an inspirational sentiment, the mixing of two opposites! Facebook meme, anyone?
Get Smart! Tip:
Brands will write PE or Food Grade Polymer or Foam-Free. These are all ways to avoid writing the word Polyethylene… which is the technical term for the plastic used for your yogurt containers. It’s not a harmful substance especially when it is GreenGuard Gold certified, but it can cause consumers to panic… hence the play on words.
As mentioned earlier on in this piece, some manufacturers [Stitch & Cradle, Little Dreamer, Colgate Eco Classica] construct the mattress entirely from two distinct densities of foam without a structural core at all. In these cases, the quality of foam is especially important. Read reviews carefully, particularly by those who’ve used the mattress for a while, to verify that it won’t sag after extended use.
Get Smart! Tip: If you can get your hands on a mattress, do the finger test: push down, pull up, and ensure the mattress immediately springs back to shape.
What do babies do while they wait for mom or dad to carry them out their crib? Stand on the edge of their mattress and toss each one of their stuffed animals over the rails and onto the floor. Goodbye to bear, piggy, lamb… And when that’s done, they bang-bang their pacifier on the headboard – and chuck that overboard too. Then, with nothing left to play with, time to let loose and vocally demand a swift release!
Long before baby can stand – really as soon as baby is able to wriggle around – it’s vital that the edges of the mattress be absolutely supportive, without sagging along the sides or drooping around the corners. Sealy aligns six vertical rods around the perimeter of the mattress, one on each corner and one in the middle of the longer edges. While this suffices, a continuous support system is far superior. Moonlight Slumber, with its trademark attention to fine details, inserts quad rails all along the perimeter assuring that the mattress is just as hefty on its peripheral as its center. Innerspring mattresses are designed with border rods that keep the edge firmly upright. Ensure that these border rods have a low gauge.
Exterior Material and Seams
Until now, we’ve dissected what’s beneath the surface. It’s time to get tactile and touch that outer fabric, run our fingers across the seams and check out what happens when baby leaks her diaper onto the surface.
As mentioned in our introduction, dual-sided mattresses aren’t bottom-tier purchases. Therefore, none of the mattresses in our research had those institutionalized vinyl covers. Notwithstanding, that cover must wash easily – since we’re talking about babies and their bodily fluids!
Curiously, both the upper end and lower end models followed a similar design: a cotton cover sprayed with a waterproof backing. Even organic mattresses [Naturepedic, Colgate EcoSpring] that opt for organic cotton have a polyethylene waterproof backing. However, because the sheeting is textile and porous, these models can be spot-washed and scrubbed, but don’t wipe dry quickly. Models without any synthetic backing at all could be susceptible to allergens and dust mites.
Moonlight Slumber uses 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.
Seams are another point of differentiation. Seams that aren’t smooth can become entrapments for grime – or even worse, dust mites or bed bugs. Moonlight Slumber integrates specialized drop seams that conceal the stitches and keeps the intersection flat and not creviced. Naturepedic applies heat to temper the seams creating a noticeably smoother surface.
Airflow and Temperature Regulation
A neat feature that better mattresses have is a system to allow for airflow and temperature regulation. Airflow helps evaporate any moisture that could have collected inside the mattress, thus avoiding the growth of mold or mildew. Similarly, a construction that includes temperature regulation will release heat and prevent your baby from getting hot and sweaty while lying on the mattress. Sealy inserts several side slits along the mattress edge while Colgate has a double row of eyelet vents. Stitch & Cradle and Moonlight Slumber incorporate the airflow into the actual composition of the material. They both use open cell foam that is naturally breathable and does not trap heat. Moonlight Slumber’s Baby Bluebird goes one step further by engineering an oxyflo core. This construction uses baby’s movements to release air throughout the channels on the surface of the cool gel memory foam.
GetSmart Tip: Crib mattresses have an intrinsic tension between waterproofing and breathability. On the one hand, crib mattresses must be designed to sanitarily handle body fluids; on the other hand, you don’t want a surface that traps sweat and heat. Choose a surface that feels airy – breathe in and out directly on the surface and see how it feels – but can also handle spot cleaning.
Federal Guidelines and Third-Party Certifications
All reputable crib mattress manufacturers will ensure they pass regulatory standards before selling to the public. There’s simply too much at stake. When you visit their websites, you will see many authoritative logos announcing as much – but what do they really mean?
The CPSC (Consumer Protection Safety Commision) requires by law for crib mattresses to undergo testing at independent third-party laboratories to ensure they pass chemical standards for lead, heavy metals and phthalates. The standard most used by crib mattress 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.
Foam mattress manufacturers 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 formaldehyde, heavy metals or ozone depleting substances were used at any stage in the manufacturing.
In addition, regulators require that foam mattresses include some type of fire barrier to reduce the risk of combustion. Because a chemical fire retardant would cause toxic emissions, many manufacturers reduce the risk of flammability by inserting a tightly–woven physical barrier around the foam core.
When shopping for a foam mattress, look out for both the Greenguard Gold and Certi-PUR certifications, and investigate if the mattress includes a woven fire barrier. A mattress 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 includes all these safeguards while Stitch & Cradle only has the Certi-PUR.
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 mattress 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 mattress 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 batting, or another fairly minor element. Be sure to check which part of the mattress the symbol is certifying.
And, needless to say, stay far away from any online manufacturer that does not list 3rd-party certifications.
Who doesn’t love getting a new product with added bits-and-pieces that match perfectly? Moonlight Slumber’s Baby Bluebird includes an 30 % organic cotton, elasticized, fitted sheet that is made-to-fit around the contours of the mattress. I’ve felt it and it’s oh-so-soft!
Get Smart! Ultimate Dual Mattress Checklist
There you have it – the ins and outs of double-sided crib mattresses. To better assist you, here’s a quick checklist of all the best features.
- Innerspring: High coil count + low gauge springs
- Foam: Lightweight core with durable flex
- Dual–Sided: Constructed with two densities of high-quality foam
- Edge-to-Edge Support: Continuous support
- Cover: Breathable, easy clean, water-resistant, non-porous
- Seams: Minimal crevice
- Airflow: Moisture and heat release system
- Certifications: Greenguard Gold, plus Certi-PUR for foam mattresses
- Fire Retardant: Woven layer and no chemical sprays
- Bonus: Sheet included
Need help deciding the best 2-stage mattress for you?
Download the Get Smart! Double-Sided Mattresses Brand Analysis Chart and Worksheet for an easy guide of all the above!