Choosing a Mattress and Bedding for Babies and Children.

This is another topic on which there’s a lot of information for parents.  Here we hope to boil it down to the essential parts so that you don’t have to wade through a lot of conflicting advice.

We’re going to look at:

  • Choosing a mattress.
  • Mattress protectors – do you need one and what type?
  • Choosing pillows.

Choosing a mattress for your baby or child.

Getting the right mattress for your little one is as important as getting the right mattress for yourself.  It needs to support her and aid the restful sleep she needs for her physical, mental and emotional development.

So what type should you go for?  You can find most of the types of mattresses available for adults in child sizes, including water beds.

The recommended standard mattress thickness is 200mm in the UK and 300mm in the US.  Don’t let a salesperson convince you to buy a thin or cheap mattress as this is a false economy.  It could compromise your child’s development and comfort – and ultimately yours if she doesn’t sleep well because her bed is uncomfortable.

Coil mattresses are made of metal coils that support the sleeper and distribute her weight.

  • The ‘coil count’ is the number of coils in the mattress – the more coils the more supportive it is.
  • The thickness of the wire in the coils is called the ‘gauge’ and dictates how firm the mattress is.  Coils with a gauge of 1.6mm diameter wire give a softer mattress than those with a gauge of 1.93mm.
  • If the mattress is ‘flippable’ it has padding and ticking (the mattress covering) of varying thicknesses so that you can choose the thickness you/your child prefers.

Foam mattresses are either latex or polyurethane/memory foam.  Both offer excellent support. If you’re at all worried about a latex allergy for your child, or someone in the home who will be handling the mattress who has a latex allergy, then look first at memory foam mattresses.

  • This type of mattress is heavy but durable.
  • It’s not bouncy, as a coil sprung mattress is.

Waterbeds are also available for children.  They have come a long way since their ‘water-filled balloon’ days of the 1980s!  Today they are sophisticated and safe construction, looking like an ordinary divan bed but with a water-filled core.

  • Go for quality, as you would for yourself, and read the warranty.
  • Check the construction and seams for maximum durability.

Bunk beds are great for growing children, especially if space is tight.  Think also about whether your child will be having friends for sleep-overs.  Bunk beds would be a good investment if another bed is needed but not necessarily another bedroom.  See this article on bunk beds for more information about choosing them.

For babies, buy the mattress with the cot/crib so that the fit is perfect – any gaps between the mattress and the crib frame could be dangerous.

If your child is old enough and graduating from a crib to her own bed, take her bed shopping with you so that she can tell you what’s comfortable.  The transition from crib to bed may be exciting or difficult so involving her will help her adjust.

Mattress protectors – do you need one and what type?

Mattresses are not washable.  They can be steamed or the surface can be wiped over but they shouldn’t be saturated with water.

Children of all ages, even after potty training, are prone to accidents – bedwetting, vomiting or, spilling bedtime drinks.  Even perspiration stains will mark the mattress.   If bedwetting is an ongoing problem then have a look at this article that’s devoted to the topic.

So, a mattress cover is a good idea but choose carefully.  It’s recommended that you use a mattress cover on the crib/cot mattress right from birth in case of leakage from a diaper/nappy as baby moves as she sleeps.

Check for the following when choosing a mattress cover for your baby/child’s bed:

  • The mattress cover should be waterproof (not all of them are) but not rustle or be noisy as she sleeps.
  • It should not let the baby/child get too hot while sleeping – so avoid PVC which traps body heat.
  • It should also have a soft upper surface – for example a terry towelling cover – over the waterproof membrane.  The Snugnights Allergon mattress protector (available in the UK) is such an item.
  • Ideally it should also be dust mite proof, especially if there are allergy sufferers in the family.  Asthma, hayfever and other allergies can be passed on in families.  There are tips here for allergy sufferers’ bedrooms.
  • If should encase the mattress completely.
  • For protection against bedbugs it should encase the mattress and the bed base, as any nook or cranny is a potential bedbug hiding place.
  • And of course it should be machine washable.

Choosing pillows for your child’s bed.

The principles of choosing pillows for a child are the same as those for choosing for an adult.

It is recommended that babies don’t have soft toys etc in their cribs, and this should include pillows.  Small babies aren’t very mobile in bed so they may risk suffocation if they can’t move away from a toy or pillow.

The child’s pillow should support the head and neck in the same alignment as if she was standing upright:

  • For back sleepers, look for a medium-firm pillow with the filling of your choice
  • For slide-sleepers choose a firm pillow that will cradle the head in the right position.
  • For stomach-sleepers go for a soft pillow that won’t put any strain on the neck.  It isn’t recommended that children sleep on their stomachs (again, there’s an increased risk of suffocation) but some naturally turn onto their tummies.

Look for a washable filling and outer casing and consider a pillow protector.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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