There's lots to consider when buying a kid's mattress, but let's start with the basics: When it comes to mattresses of any size—from crib to California king—your options are spring, foam and hybrid.
Spring mattresses are firm and supportive, thanks to the steel coils inside. The number, gauge, shape and positioning of the coils varies between brands, but generally speaking, the more coils in the mattress, the more supportive and durable it is. Choose from pocket coil (or “enclosed spring”) mattresses, which have individually wrapped coils that work independently, and innerspring (or “open coil”) mattresses, which have interconnected coils that work together. Both types are encased in one or more layers of padding or upholstery.
Foam mattresses come in many varieties. You can find them made from polyurethane, latex (plant- or petroleum-based) and/or gel, with different densities, textures and layers (for example, breathable foam on top, flexible foam in the middle and high-density support foam below). Foam conforms to the body, relieving pressure points while still providing support. And because foam mattresses are lighter than spring mattresses, it’s easier to change sheets. Foam is also less bouncy, though, so less fun to jump on!
Hybrid mattresses have both springs and foam. Some are double-sided—for example, with one firm side for babies and a more cushioned side for toddlers.
Besides mattress composition, here are some other key points to keep in mind.
For your baby's safety, a mattress must fit tightly in the crib. The standard size of a crib mattress is 28 by 52 inches, and it should be no more than six inches thick. If you can fit more than one finger between the mattress and each side of the crib, the mattress is too small, according to Child Safety Link, an injury-prevention program at IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
To prevent suffocation, the mattress should also be flat and very firm with no soft spots. When you’re shopping, test the firmness of each crib mattress by pushing down on its centre and edges—you should feel good resistance.
Spring mattresses should have border rods around the perimeter to prevent sagging when your baby stands or walks on the sides or edges. Foam surfaces shouldn’t conform to the shape of your hand, and they should “snap back readily,” say the experts at Consumer Reports. They also recommend comparing mattress weights to check foam density, or doing a density test: Hold the mattress and press your palms into the centre from both sides. “A dense mattress won’t allow you to press very far.”
Also look for signs of quality construction, as you would if buying a mattress for yourself. These could include thicker fabric coverings, quality cushioning, sturdy edges and denser foam or higher-gauge springs. It’s better to buy a new crib mattress than reuse a second-hand one. An improperly cleaned or stored mattress can harbour mould and bacteria. And in case there’s any question about using an air mattress or a waterbed, these are not safe sleep surfaces for babies. Neither are many adult mattresses (see “What about co-sleeping?”). Ditto for playpens, car seats, strollers, swings, bouncers and hammocks—if your baby falls asleep in one of these, it’s safest to transfer them to a crib, cradle or bassinet.
Kids tend to transition from a crib to a “big kid” bed starting around age two and a half. Alanna McGinn, a sleep consultant and founder of Good Night Sleep Site, recommends waiting until age three or three and a half, if you can. “The longer you can delay it, the better,” she says. “If they’re not jumping out and you’re not concerned about safety, it’s OK to keep them there. The older the child, the more they understand the transition.”
The next mattress size up is a twin mattress (38 by 75 inches, also sometimes called a single), but if your child’s room can accommodate a double (also known as full; 53 by 75 inches) or queen (60 by 80 inches), it’s worth considering—your kid won’t outgrow it.
Your decision might come down to how your kid feels about making the switch. “If a child is very attached to their crib, going to a double or queen bed can be slightly overwhelming,” says McGinn. “It also depends on what kind of sleeper they are. Independent sleepers shouldn’t have an issue. But if you think it’s a little too soon and the kid is forced to make that transition— maybe because you need the crib for someone else—you might want to start with a smaller mattress.”
A kid’s mattress doesn’t need to be as firm as their crib mattress. Most kids prefer a medium-firm or plusher mattress top, says Jory Solomon of Sleep Country Canada, which sells 10 different mattress brands. Admittedly, younger kids may not provide much feedback when testing mattresses at the store, he says. “But if it’s an older child, don’t discount their comfort choices. They have less padding than grown-ups do.”
Mattresses off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which come from polyurethane, flame retardants, adhesives and solvents. (They also cause that chemical new-mattress smell.) VOCs can pollute indoor air and cause respiratory irritation and other issues. If possible, look for a low-VOC mattress with natural and organic materials, such as organic cotton, natural wool and natural rubber latex. Peace of mind has a price, though—expect to spend more for an eco-friendly bed.
There’s no legal standard for “natural” or “organic,” but you can look for third-party certifications that apply to mattresses and their components.
Crib mattresses cost between $60 and $500 or more, and twins (without a box spring) are typically $150 to $1,000 or more, depending on quality, materials and features. It may seem extravagant to spend hundreds on a kid’s bed, but as with other major purchases, you usually get what you pay for. Mattresses go on sale frequently so patient shoppers needn’t pay full price. “I’d encourage parents to get the best possible quality they can afford, because it’s something their child will use every single night,” says Solomon.
Comfortable kids’ mattresses are available at every price point. Spending more means more features, such as better support, temperature regulation and layers that relieve pressure points— which could potentially translate into better, longer sleeps for your child. Quality mattresses also last longer, up to 10 years, which could save you cash in the long run.
Would you buy a mattress without seeing it first? For many Canadians, the answer is a resounding yes, judging by the explosion of online mattress-in-a-box brands. A few years ago, buyers had just a couple of options; now there are many made-in-Canada brands, and their products are often less expensive than comparable in-store models. Plus, most brands offer free shipping and generous trial periods.
There are tons of online reviews for these mattresses, but you can try them out and buy them in person, too. For example, Casper products can be found at Casper Sleep Shops as well as Hudson’s Bay, Indigo and EQ3. You’ll find Endy’s line of products at Urban Barn stores. Sleep Country has its own line of mattresses in a box called Bloom. (Also worth noting: Sleep Country acquired Endy a few years ago, but the two brands operate separately.)
Most experts warn against it, but if you’re going to do it, know that some mattresses are better than others. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends not sharing your bed with your infant. But if you choose to do so, ensure your mattress is firm. “We don’t promote bed-sharing until the child is at least one, but it’s better to educate than say, ‘Don’t do it,’” says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn. “We focus on the safe sleep aspects: using a firm mattress and staying away from softer and pillow- top mattresses, which could cause suffocation.”
She also recommends breathable, organic materials. “You want to look at cotton fabrics, but make sure they are fire-resistant. The Naturepedic brand is one that I normally recommend as it’s an organic cotton and it passes fire regulations. You can also look at wool or latex fabrics.” McGinn also reminds parents to remove all other suffocation hazards, including pillows and blankets, and ensure the area around the bed is safe. “The mattress shouldn’t be against the wall,” she says, “because baby’s limbs or head can get stuck in between.”