A couple of decades ago, new parents rarely gave much thought to the mattresses they provided for their babies and often these were passed down from older siblings, friends and other family members.
But today, it is very different and the advice and choices parents are faced with can be overwhelming.
But before we talk about the mattresses themselves, what about the purpose for those mattresses?
How many hours do or should babies sleep?
- Newborns sleep for about 16 to 17 hours a day but sometimes for only 1 or 2 hours at a time (as many new parents will have experienced).
- Older babies will need less sleep but of course everyone is different.
- Toddlers (that is 1 to 3 year olds) need and should, if possible, get 12 to 14 hours a night.
Of course a good indicator as to whether your baby is getting enough sleep is their mood. Excessive fussiness, irritability, crying or tantrums are often linked to lack of sleep
as well as frequent yawning throughout the day!
But back to the mattress question
Parents today are advised to buy a new mattress for each baby (as he or she is born) because of the perceived risk of cot death or SIDS. There are several schools of thought on the possible causes of SIDs - including the dangers of vaccines. SIDS stands for sudden infant death syndrome and is the term applied to the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.
A New Zealand scientist and chemist, Dr. Jim Sprott OBE states that some cot deaths
can be caused by toxic gases which can be generated from a baby’s mattress. According to Dr Sprott, chemical compounds containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony have been added to mattresses as fire retardants for decades. A fungus that commonly grows in bedding can interact with these chemicals to create poisonous gases – even going as far as fatally poisoning a baby.
Dr. Sprott explains that the risk of death increases
when mattresses are re-used from one baby to the next.
That all important mattress choice
Ideally, you should buy a 100% natural mattress for your baby – one that is minus any toxic fire retardant chemicals. Wool can be a good choice because it is a natural flame retardant material.
However, if you are not in a position to buy such a new and natural mattress or are going to use a mattress that has been handed down, there is an alternative solution where you wrap it with a gas-impermeable cover made from high grade polyethylene and ensure that the bedding used on top does not contain any fire retardant chemicals.
Back in the late 1970s, flame retardant chemicals were added to household goods, raising the toxic chemical levels in most homes but from July 2007, all US mattresses were required to be flame retardant too, meaning that manufacturers were adding highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals without having to disclose what these chemicals were.
Since then, new legislation has recognized the dangers posed by flame retardants and very recent mattresses may well be safer. However, such legislation only stated that the chemicals were no longer required but did not ban them outright.
You need to do your own research when buying any mattresses to find out whether the manufacturer has actually ceased using these chemicals?
But today not every child even has their own mattress. Many have parents who follow attachment parenting principles.
What is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment bond between parents and their children where the parent provides critical emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory skills. There are eight principles of parenting to give parents the necessary tools.
One of these is to ensure safe sleep.
Safe sleep is the principle forming the basis for one of the more controversial subjects in parenting. Many attachment parents share a room with their young children while those who exclusively breastfeed, and who take necessary safety precautions, may prefer to share their bed. However, this principle can be just as easily applied to crib-sleeping situations. The point is not the sleeping surface but that parents remain responsive to their children during sleep. You can find more information on attachment parenting here.
Obviously if you practise attachment parenting, you would also need to look at the safety aspect of the sleeping arrangements for both you and your child. Not surprisingly, every generation has a new set of suggestions. When my own children were babies forty years ago, we were advised to encourage them to sleep on their tummies. Now the opposite is true.
Safer sleeping advice for babies and parents
- Let your baby sleep on his/her back at night or even during nap time to avoid chances of accidentally rolling onto his/her stomach.
- Remove toys or pacifiers with strings or cords from your baby’s crib or sleeping area to prevent risks of choking or strangulation.
- Make sure the room’s temperature is not too hot or too cold for your baby (preferably an absolute maximum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius).
- Do I still have to remind any parent today to keep their baby’s sleeping area (and of course the home) smoke-free at all times? I hope not.
- Reducing the effect of house dust mite for your baby’s sleeping arrangements can also be an important step to consider as many children are affected by the allergens in the droppings of these mite that thrive in warm and moist environments, living in bedding, mattresses and more. Effective and regular vacuuming as well as damp dusting and the washing or airing of bedding will help with this. If you can change from carpeting to another form of flooring, even better.
- Shelter your baby from exposure to toxins by using only organic beddings and mattresses free from harmful chemicals and chemical flame retardants. These dangerous compounds are not limited to mattresses and bedding. They can also be found in nursing pillows, car seats, changing table pads, high chairs, strollers, portable cribs, sleeping wedges, walkers and more.
The best way to make sure your baby sleeps on their back is to do this from day one, and keep putting them to sleep on their backs for every day and night time sleep. It is also important that you keep the same routine for your baby because if babies who have always slept on their backs but then suddenly sleep on their fronts are at greater risk.
Of course this should be coupled with a safe 100% natural mattress if at all possible.
*This article is purely informational and should not be used as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional for any advice related to the sleep or care of your baby.