How to Pick a Mattress for Your Child

Baby sleeping

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As you outfit a child's room, you probably take a lot of time to consider what crib or bed you are going to buy. But equally as important—if not more, for growth and development—is choosing the right mattress.

“For the first year of life and beyond, children spend just as much or more time sleeping than they do awake,” says Rachel Mitchell, CEO of My Sweet Sleeper, a maternity and sleep consulting company. “Ensuring their sleep environment is sleep-promoting is key, and this starts with a safe and comfortable mattress.”

Here, learn why comfortable, restful sleep is so critical, plus the characteristics to consider when choosing a mattress for your child at different steps in their development.

Experts recommend keeping your child in their crib until they are about 3 years old unless they are climbing or jumping out of their crib or are requesting (and seem ready for) a “big kid bed."  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends making the switch by the time they are 35 inches tall (or when the height of the side rail is less than three-quarters of your child's height) to discourage falls from climbing out of the crib.

The Importance of Sleep for Kids

Getting enough deep, restful sleep is key to healthy child development. “The majority of physical growth is done while a child is sleeping, which is why children grow the fastest during the first two years of life when they are sleeping more than 50% of a 24-hour day,” explains pediatric sleep consultant Ronee Welch, founder and CEO of Sleeptastic Solutions.

But physical growth is not the only important process that is happening while children sleep.

“Restful sleep promotes brain development, a healthy immune system and metabolism, cognitive function, memory, and learning,” says Mitchell. Sleep deficits have been linked to behavior challenges and developmental delays in kids. “Without proper sleep, children are moodier, less eager to learn, and can have issues with hand-eye coordination and overall behavior,” Welch says.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants require 12 to 16 hours of sleep (including naps) over 24 hours. Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours. 

What Kinds of Mattresses Are Available for Kids?

What mattress you will need for your child depends on their age, stage, and preferences. Along with different sizes, mattresses vary in what they are made of and how they are constructed.

Crib Mattresses

For babies, you'll need a crib mattress, which typically measures 28 by 52 inches. Crib mattresses fit snugly inside your crib to ensure there are no gaps in which a baby could become trapped, and are firm, to reduce the risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Most mattresses either have a memory foam construction or innerspring constructions (interior coils).

Toddler Bed Mattresses

If you see a mattress labeled as a toddler bed it is usually the same size as a crib mattress, since many cribs convert into toddler beds. However, some mattresses specifically branded for toddlers may be a bit softer than crib mattresses. Some crib mattress brands, like Serta, sell mattresses that have two sides (one firm, one a bit less firm) that can be flipped once your child transitions from a crib to a toddler bed.

Like crib mattresses, toddler bed mattresses may be made of memory foam or innerspring coils, and many have a waterproof casing.

Twin Mattresses


The next size up is a twin mattress, which measures 39 by 75 inches. Some children go straight from a crib to a twin mattress. Most children will be tall enough need to upgrade from a crib- or toddler-size mattress to at least a twin mattress by the time they hit their preschool years. Twin mattresses tend to have an innerspring construction or are made of memory foam or latex. Some are a hybrid of two materials.

Full Mattresses

Once they reach the teenage years, many children prefer to have a little more space in their beds to stretch out and do their homework. Enter full (sometimes called double) mattresses, which are 54 by 74 inches. Some teen lifestyle brands, like Pottery Barn Teen, sell a wide range of full-size beds with mattresses to fit. They're made of memory foam, innerspring coils, latex, or a hybrid.

How Do I Choose a Mattress for My Child?

Choosing the correct mattress for your child will help them get the deep, restorative sleep they need to support healthy development. Once you know what size of mattresses to buy, you'll want to consider characteristics like firmness, construction, and materials.

Firmness

Experts agree that firmness is the most important thing when it comes to choosing a baby's mattress, especially. "It’s important for babies to have firm mattresses while they’re still in a crib," says Welch. "While it might be more comfortable, a soft, pillow-like mattress or topper could be very dangerous for a baby." 

Indeed, the AAP suggests placing your baby to sleep on a firm sleep surface covered with a tight-fitting mattress without any blankets or pillows to protect against SIDS.

If you're switching your child to a bed and purchasing a new mattress, you can choose a slightly less firm one. "For older children, mattresses don't need to be quite as firm," Mitchell notes. "Most of the time you will want to find a mattress that has a medium firmness to support your child's neck and spine, but also feels squishy enough for them to sleep peacefully." 

Construction

Memory foam mattresses tend to be affordable and have a soft, comfortable (yet still firm) surface. On the other hand, innerspring beds, or those made with a support system of coils, are relatively affordable and will be springier and a bit firmer. Combine the two and you have a hybrid mattress, a high-quality mattress that will be pricier but more durable.

If you're looking for an all-natural, non-toxic mattress, latex will deliver plenty of options. One study even found that latex mattresses distribute body pressure more evenly than traditional mattresses, which may make sleeping more comfortable for kids—especially little ones who aren't yet using a pillow.

Material

When it comes to the material your child's mattress is made of, you may want to consider organic materials. "I also look for organic materials when purchasing a mattress," Mitchell says. Besides being more breathable, she adds, organic mattresses are less likely to contain potentially unhealthy chemicals.

A 2019 study found that body heat can trigger the release of potentially harmful chemicals (called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) from conventionally made mattresses. And while the researchers said that the amounts released were not large enough to harm adults, some did reach levels of concern for infants and young children. Choosing a mattress made with organic and non-toxic materials can help mitigate this risk.

Water Resistance

While it won't necessarily help your child sleep better, choosing a water-resistant mattress or adding a water-resistant mattress cover will make your life as a parent significantly easier. "We all know those first-year blowouts are very much a thing," notes Mitchell. A water-resistant mattress or cover will make cleaning up after diaper or bed-wetting accidents much simpler.

How Long Should My Child's Mattress Last?

A new crib mattress should hold up fine until your child outgrows it unless it becomes saggy or damaged from excessive wear and tear. "Typically, a crib mattress should last at least until the child has transitioned out of the crib," says Welch. "But if a child enjoys jumping on their bed often, you might find that it needs to be replaced sooner."

New twin or full-size mattresses should last anywhere from seven to 11 years, according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, mattresses used by kids can have a shorter lifespan. "Children can be very hard on mattresses from jumping on them to spilling things, having accidents, etcetera," Mitchell says. "So if I can get a good five years out of a children's mattress I am usually happy!"

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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