Baby Mattresses

A baby mattress should be a place of refuge for a child in their crib or bed. But with the chemicals used to make them safer, harm and danger have been introduced. Strive to get the most natural mattress possible for your child to help keep him or her safe and well.

Babies get more use out of their mattresses than any other class of human, followed closely by teenagers. A newborn baby may spend 70 percent of its day sleeping, usually on a baby mattress in its crib. A baby mattress is often used as a brief babysitter, too. What kind of baby mattress to buy is not just a matter of comfort; it can mean the difference between life and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also called “cot death” in Europe and Australasia.

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged one month to one year of age in the United States. That does not mean SIDS is common; indeed, only 2,648 cases of SIDS were reported in 1999, down 52 percent from 1988. While the causes of SIDS remain mysterious, baby mattresses are among the possibilities.

New Zealand’s Jim Sprott, Ph. D. and forensic chemist, is convinced that toxic chemicals in many manufactured baby mattresses and mattress covers are the leading cause of SIDS. His theory, first formulated in 1986, jibes with research performed by the United Kingdom scientist Dr. B. A. Richardson. Sprott holds that toxic gases are released by a ubiquitous fungus when it interacts with polyvinyl chloride or PVC — a material commonly used in baby mattresses to make them resistant to wetness.

“These gases are phosphine, arsine and stibine, all extremely toxic ‘nerve gases’,” writes Dr. Sprott. “They are produced by the action of the otherwise harmless fungus scopulariopsis brevicaulis on substances containing phosphorus, arsenic and antimony. These elements are often present in cot and other mattresses.”

The gases are heavier than air so they tend to concentrate near the surface of baby mattresses, according to Sprott and Richardson. Their parallel theories explain all of the symptoms of SIDS, although the presence of the poisonous gases they postulate has not been found in any baby that died of SIDS — because no one has looked for the gases, says Sprott.

Prevention of SIDS from this hypothetical cause is twofold. Ideally, one should avoid purchasing a baby mattress or mattress cover that was made using phosphorus, arsenic, or antimony. Sprott notes that many sheepskin baby mattress covers are tanned using arsenic. Alternatively, an airtight cover can be wrapped around the baby mattress to prevent the gases escape. Sales of such baby mattress covers, as well as polyethylene sheeting for do-it-yourselfers, have expanded since Sprott’s theory was published. New Zealand’s SIDS death rate has sunk from 1.5 per 1,000 births to “very rare” since then.

Organic cotton baby mattresses generally fit the toxin-free bill, although one should ask specifically about the use of arsenic, phosphorus, and antimony in the manufacturing process. If a plastic mattress cover is used, it should be airtight and not made of PVC. A new baby mattress should be purchased for every baby; re-used mattresses are already infested with the fungus, which will grow again when exposed to a baby’s warmth and wetness.

A baby mattress bears one’s most precious possession. A bit of care in purchasing a baby mattress can prevent a rare but heartbreaking tragedy.