A Warning About Breathable Crib Mattresses from Top Professionals
Is a breathable crib mattress safer? Many crib mattress companies are using the term “breathable” as loosely as companies in the 90’s used the term organic.
The difference is, using the term “organic” when sell a crib mattress is harmless. Even if there are little organic parts in a crib mattress. The fact is, the CPSC Consumer Product Safety Commission) placed strict restrictions on the use of VOCs and other harmful chemicals used in the manufacturing of crib mattresses. In other words, the CPSC makes it so harmful parts cannot be used in mattresses.
In contrast, crib mattress companies using the term “breathable” are giving parents a false sense of security. Actually, a dangerous sense of security. The medical professionals at SafeSleep® – the creators of a truly 100% breathable crib mattress – explain the science so you can make an informed decision.
Breathable Crib Mattress Warning from Down Under
Dr. Ron Somers warns parents about “false mattress claims.” Somers is the Former Director of Epidemiology, South Australia Health. As an epidemiologist, Somers investigates causes of disease and injury.
Somers’s career focuses on keeping children safe. Some of his notable accomplishments are risk reducing plans and policies in childcare centers; both in Australia and New Zealand.
Somers is the author of the only standard for crib mattress firmness. During his research on infant sleep safety, he discovers an unsafe gap. Parents are told to use a firm crib mattress. However, there is no measure to know how firm.
The U.S. has yet to adopt his safety standard for crib mattress firmness. However, the CPSC proposes the adoption of this standard. But, they are slow to do so.
Breathable Crib Mattress Warning From Dr. Ron Somers
According to Somers, “If you really want to protect your baby from suffocation, you need to be aware of false mattress-safety claims. The most important precaution is to always place your baby face up to sleep. But babies can roll face down. That’s when you want the safest possible mattress for them.
Some manufacturers claim their mattress is safer because air can easily pass through their product surface. This seems logical. However, air permeability is not a guarantee of safety. In fact, a standard, firm, foam mattress is actually safer than some of the so-called safety products.
HOW CAN THIS BE? Well, it works like this. On a standard, firm crib mattress the baby’s expelled carbon dioxide dissipates, i.e. it drifts away, preventing the baby from rebreathing.
With many of the so-called breathable mattresses, the carbon dioxide (being heavier than air) sinks into the mattress. It is then sucked up by the baby for rebreathing. In other words, the CO2 does not dissipate. This has been determined by a special test using a mechanical baby that breaths in and out like a real baby.
If a manufacturer will not show you their results on this kind of test, don’t fall for their safety hype. Other types of testing, which simply confirm air permeability, are not a substitute for the mechanical baby test.”
So is a breathable crib mattress safer?
Here are more interesting crib mattress facts.
Meeting Dr. Somers
I met Dr. Somers in 2015. He and I are part of an on-line forum dedicated to infant safe sleep. In 2013, I receive a patent on a breathe-through crib mattress containing no fiber fill or core. The mattress allows an infant to breathe normally and safely if they ended up in a face straight down position.
I am intrigued with his firmness testing. He is intrigued with the breathable crib mattress my sister, a leading pediatrician, and I created. In 2016, Dr. Somers receives a SafeSleep® breathe-through crib mattress to test. He is so impressed; he reaches out to childcare centers in Australia suggesting they place the SafeSleep® mattresses in their facilities.
The Risk of Suffocation and Breathable Crib Mattresses
Many breathable crib mattresses claim to lower suffocation risks. They want parents to believe infant suffocation on a crib mattress is the cause of most infant sleep related deaths. This is only true, if an infant’s face sinks in the mattress and oxygen is cut off. Most infant deaths do not happen this way.
Here is one example of this type of claim by Naturpedic®. Naturpedic promotes a line of organic crib mattresses as breathable. According to Naturpedic®,
“A breathable crib mattress typically has a porous surface that your baby can breathe through should they roll over face down – an excellent safety feature that may reduce suffocation risk. A breathable baby mattress also helps dissipate heat and moisture for less sweaty backs.”
The company goes on to say,
“To be truly safe, however, a breathable crib mattress must also be waterproof to prevent fluids from seeping into the mattress where it can be difficult or impossible to clean. A waterproof layer at the mattress surface enables a quick and easy clean up after accidents and helps maintain hygienic conditions for the baby.”
The Breathable Crib Mattress Layered Design
The design of the Naturpedic® breathable baby mattress is a regular mattress. It has a solid foam core with several layers of batting encased in a fabric cover. The difference is, it has a removable top layer. This top layer is made from a 3D spacer fabric allowing air to pass through it. In Naturepedics® words,
“The best part is that under the breathable layer, you get a fully functional waterproof and non-toxic crib mattress”
This “layer” design is normal for many crib mattress companies saying their crib mattresses are breathable.
We need to ask, “Is a breathable crib mattress safer than a regular crib mattress when using this “layer” design?” The answer would be yes. But only if the regular mattress allows face compression, causing blocked airways.
In order to be safe and prevent CO2 rebreathing, a breathble crib mattress must also be air-permeable through out the entire design. If air can’t pass completely through it, carbon dioxide cannot escape.
This layer design is the exact kind of breathable crib mattress Dr. Somers warns parents against. More important, there are many peer-reviewed published studies supporting Dr. Somers’ warning.
For example, a study conducted by Dr. James Kemp concludes there is a large risk caused by carbon dioxide trapping in surfaces babies sleep on. The title of the study is, Physical Properties of Bedding That may Increase Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in Prone-Sleeping Infants.
Another Great Study on C02 Rebreathing
Another great study on CO2 rebreathing is authored by Dr. Paul Colditz. Colditz study is titled, Rebreathing potential of infant mattresses and bed covers . Prof. Paul Colditz is the Director of the Perinatal Research Centre. Colditz is a practicing neonatologist with a DPhil in Medicine from Oxford University, UK.
More recently he has been appointed to the position of President-elect, Pediatrics and Child Health Division, Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
These peer-reviewed published studies show the dangers caused by CO2 being trapped in infant mattresses and bedding.
Suffocation Testing on Breathable Mattresses
What is the accuracy of suffocation testing led by “leading industry testing labs? Many breathable crib mattress manufacturers are using this testing.
For example, Naturpedic® states,
“Breathable crib mattresses have become so popular that one of the leading industry testing labs developed a “suffocation test” where mattresses get graded on how breathable they are. The test uses a simulated baby positioned face down. Air is blown in and out of its mouth to mimic breathing.
The suffocation test is done on the Naturepedic® breathable crib mattress models. It is then compared to other regular crib mattress designs. The results show:
- The Naturepedic® breathable layer scores in the lowest suffocation risk category (i.e. best).
- There is NO additional breathability benefit to making the ENTIRE mattress breathable.”
About the Breathable Crib Mattress Testing
The suffocation test uses a mock six-month-old baby. The mock baby is placed face down on the test surface. Pressure is put on the back of the mock baby’s head. The test records the amount of fresh oxygen going to the baby while face down.
The suffocation test is not specifically designed for crib mattresses. It is designed for many surfaces to find out if they cause suffocation.
Issue with Suffocation Testing on Breathable Crib Mattresses
Most crib mattresses, adult mattresses, couches, and padded chairs will pass the suffocation test. Infants are obligate nose breathers. This means, they only breathe through their nose. The one exception is when they are crying. Nose breathing is nature’s way of keeping infants safe while nursing.
Further, infants don’t have the same nose as an adult. Specifically, A baby’s nose is soft. The cartilage isn’t formed yet. When a baby’s nose is pressed against an object, the nostrils widen and air flows freely in and out.
However, if their head is face down on an object that is soft enough to cover the nostrils, oxygen will be blocked. The baby can’t breathe and could suffocate.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Safe Sleep Task Force urges the use of a “firm” crib mattress. The same is true for keeping soft objects out of the crib.
The fact is, most crib mattresses are firm enough to prevent a baby’s face from sinking into the surface. However, I will caution against the use of memory foam type crib mattresses. Memory foam crib mattresses often allow for face compression.
An Example of a Breathable Crib Mattress Test
Newton Baby® is a well-known breathable crib mattress brand. In 2015, Newton’s creator contracted a global testing laboratory to do suffocation testing on their breathable crib mattress. The Newton mattress, and two similarly designed mattresses, are tested. A known high risk-crib mattress allowing for airway obstruction is used as a comparator.
See our in-depth comparison of the SafeSleep® Breathe-Through Crib Mattress and the Newton mattress
The Results of the Breathble Crib Mattress Test
All three mattresses pass the suffocation testing – the Newton mattress and the two similarly designed mattresses. The only mattress failing the test is the high hazard comparator. The comparator has a loose vinyl cover, blocking the mock infant’s airways.
Why Claims Being Made by Breathble Crib Mattress Manufacturers are Alarming?
Many breathable crib mattress manufacturers are not measuring the correct risk when addressing infant safe sleep. In fact, many breathable mattresses with a layered design pose a significant risk should an infant become face down.
Infants are not at any significant risk of suffocation when placed on a firm crib mattress, assuming no soft objects are in the crib with the baby.
However, infants are at risk of rebreathing CO2 when they are sleeping on their stomachs on a firm crib mattress. CO2 rebreathing is long been thought to be the main risk factor of infant sleep related deaths. As Dr. Somers explains,
“The carbon dioxide (being heavier than air) sinks into the mattress, and it is then sucked up by the baby for rebreathing. In other words, the carbon dioxide does not dissipate.”
Instead, the CO2 remains present for the infant to “rebreathe” it.
Read more about the the scientific back ground on the best crib mattress
AAP Safe Sleep Guidelines
Looking at the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines, you can see they are put in place to lower the risk of CO2 rebreathing. These are quotes taken for the 2016 Safe Sleep Policy Statement:
- Supine sleep position: “The prone or side sleep position can increase the risk of rebreathing expired gases, resulting in hypercapnia and hypoxia.”
- Room-Sharing Without Bed-Sharing Is Recommended: “Bed-sharing might increase the risk of overheating, rebreathing or airway obstruction…”
- It Is Prudent to Provide Separate Sleep Areas and Avoid Cobedding for Twins and Higher-Order Multiples in the Hospital and at Home: “Furthermore, there is increased potential for overheating and rebreathing while cobedding, and size discordance might increase the risk of accidental suffocation.
- Pillows, Quilts, Comforters, Sheepskins, and Other Soft Surfaces Are Hazardous When Placed Under the Infant or Loose in the Sleep Environment: “However, such soft bedding can increase the potential of suffocation and rebreathing.”
- Avoid Overheating and Head Covering in Infants: “It is not known whether the risk associated with head covering is attributable to overheating, hypoxia, or rebreathing.”
Test Methods to Look for When Buying a Breathable Crib Mattress
As long as a crib mattress is firm, it removes the risk of suffocation caused by blocked airways. Rebreathing is the risk parents need to remove when putting their babies to bed. So in determining, “is a breathable crib mattress safer?” parents want to look for a baby mattress that eliminates C02 build up.
Choose a crib mattress where CO2 is gone before your baby takes in their next breath of air. If CO2 is gone before inhaling again, the risk of rebreathing harmful CO2 is gone.
To be accurate, CO2 testing using a mock infant who is representative of an infant over one- month-old, is important. Infant simulated breathing at a month or younger is too shallow to get accurate CO2 levels. Newborns breathe much faster and have irregular breathing rates. More notably, SIDS is defined as the leading cause of death of infants between one month and one year.
About the Breathable Crib Mattress CO2 Testing
CO2 testing is available for crib mattresses. The test measures the amount of time it takes for a baby’s exhaled air (CO2) to dissipate or vanish on the mattress surface. The mock baby is in the face down position during testing.
The test also compares high hazard products known to trap high levels of CO2 against the mattress being tested. The test method was developed Dr. William W. Fox and Dr. Thomas H. Schaffer.
Fox is the director of the Division of Neonatology, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Shaffer is the Director of Respiratory Physiology and Pediatrics, Alfred I DuPont Institute.
The mock baby used to test the crib mattress is the right size and weight of a child six months of age. For this reason, the mock baby offers a realistic physical interaction between the baby and the mattress. The mock baby has the same rate of breathing as a live baby.
This mechanical baby testing is what Dr. Somers is referring to when he states, “Other types of testing, which simply confirm air permeability, are not a substitute for the mechanical baby test.“
Breathable Crib Mattress Companies Using CO2 Testing
The SafeSleep® breathe-through crib mattress is the only breathable crib mattress using Dr. Somers’ suggested “mechanical baby test.” Not to mention, the SafeSleep® mattress is designed by a leading pediatrician and a safe sleep expert.
There is no fill or core in the SafeSleep®. Since there is no fill or core, there is nothing to trap CO2. It is the only crib mattress shown to have 100% oxygen rich air when a baby is breathing through it face straight down. In addition, the SafeSleep® eliminates both suffocation and rebreathing risks.
Facts About Infant’s Breathing
Babies take a breath every 1 to 2 seconds. On a normal crib mattress with fiber fill, it takes 120 seconds for CO2 to evaporate. It takes less than .05 (1/2) second for CO2 to evaporate on the SafeSleep® breathable crib mattress.
Impressively, CO2 is gone from the SafeSleep® mattress before a baby takes their next breath of air – even if they are face straight down. No other crib mattress can make this claim.
The safest way for your baby to sleep is on their back. However, give yourself the peace of mind knowing they are on a mattress they can breathe through when they roll. Choose a crib mattress that removes both suffocation risk and the risk of rebreathing CO2.
Don’t be afraid to ask a crib mattress company to show you the rate at which CO2 evaporates from their product. The ideal evaporation rate is less than 1 second.
Remember, your baby takes a breath every 1 to 2 seconds. An evaporation rate over 1 second increases your baby’s risk of rebreathing harmful CO2.
Added Breathable Crib Mattress Concerns
We agree with the manufacturers of the Naturpedic® breathable crib mattress;
“Many breathable crib mattresses contain flame retardants, VOC off-gassing, and are susceptible to mold, mildew and other microbial growth.”
Fortunately, the SafeSleep® breathable crib mattress has no fill or core. Without a core or fill, there is nothing to contaminate. Mold and other microbial growth has no place to grow or breed.
Additionally, no fill or core means no need for flame retardants, waterproofing chemicals, or waterproof covers. Liquids on the surface of the SafeSleep® pass through the sleep surface. All liquids land on the bottom base of the mattress – away from your sleeping baby. The base is easily accessible to wipe clean.
We consider the SafeSleep® breathe-through crib mattress as 100% organic. Why? Because the only fill is uninterrupted, constantly flowing air.
No Fill Means No Fuss.
There is no fuss when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing the SafeSleep® crib mattress. The sleep surface is quick and convenient to remove for machine washing and drying. Simply wipe down the base with your favorite cleaner to disinfect. No need to remove the base from your crib.
No Bathtub or Shower Required
We don’t believe a baby mattress belongs in a bathroom – unlike some breathable crib mattress manufacturers. After all, bathrooms are known breeding grounds for pathogens and other germs.
The SafeSleep® breathable crib mattress gives parents an easy and practical approach to keeping their baby’s sleep environment clean, sanitary, comfortable, and safe.
It’s also a good value when you consider there are no sheets or other bedding need. It can also be used by for subsequent babies since it is completely washable. And after you are done with it, pass it off to a friend or relative. Buying a new topper makes the mattress new again.
Find out more information by reading Is a Breathable Crib Mattress Worth it?
When safeguarding your sleeping baby, make sure your crib mattress is safe. Also, be sure it does not trap harmful CO2. Since your baby spends 70% of their first year in their crib, make sure what they sleep on is as safe, sanitary and as comfortable as possible.
Is a breathable baby mattress safer? Remember, not all breathable crib mattresses are safe when an infant rolls. There is a difference between suffocation risk and rebreathing risk. Make sure your baby’s mattress safeguards them from both risks.
Here is more information on crib mattress size and what to look for when choosing a mattress for your crib