How to Tell If Your Used Crib Mattress Is Safe

Baby in a crib

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If you’re working with a tight nursery budget, dropping several hundred dollars on a crib mattress can be a painful experience, especially if you already have a recently vacated mattress on hand. But a used crib mattress—even those used by close family members and friends—may not be as safe as you think.

A baby’s mattress must be firm. Over time, the surface of an old crib mattress can settle and become soft and uneven, putting your little one at risk. Re-enforced edging, which stops the edge of the mattress from caving down under your baby’s body weight, can also weaken with time. Without a firm edge, your little one could become trapped between the mattress and the crib rails, which could result in injury or even death.

As if that wasn’t scary enough, studies have suggested a possible link between used crib mattresses and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). One study published in the British Medical Journal found that an infant was up to three times more likely to die from SIDS when using a secondhand crib mattress. Researchers believe the link may be attributed to respiratory problems related to harmful pathogens, such as bacteria, mold, mildew, and fungus, which may be hidden at the core of a used mattress.

Using a Secondhand Crib Mattress

If you purchased the mattress new for an older sibling, and if it appears to be clean and in good condition, you may be able to reuse it, provided it meets the following standards:

Proper Fit

Mattress size matters. While most cribs use a standard-sized crib mattress, there are plenty that do not. An ill-fitting mattress can pose a serious safety hazard for your child.

To see if your potential mattress is a good fit, try the "two-finger" test. There should be no more than two finger-widths of space between the side of the mattress and the crib frame. Any larger and your baby may become entrapped between the two, resulting in injury or suffocation.

Firmness and Resiliency

The mattress surface should appear firm and even. If you notice any sagging or signs of body contouring, the mattress should be replaced. Press your hand into the center and around the edges of your mattress. When you remove it, note how quickly it regains its shape. A firm and resilient mattress will snap back into shape without conforming to the imprint of your hand.

Frame Integrity

The overall frame of your mattress should be in good repair. If you can find any evidence of a broken frame or support bars, if your mattress rattles when moved, or if you can feel the springs sticking up through the cushioning, do not use the mattress.

A Clean Record

Just because a mattress looks clean doesn’t mean it is clean. Experts normally advise against using a secondhand mattress due to a lack of intimate knowledge regarding its past. Even a close friend or family member may forget to mention an accident or two, especially if the mattress appears no worse the wear. That said, no one knows your mattress’ history better than you. If you’re planning on reusing your existing crib mattress, be honest with yourself. If it ever experienced a good soaking, you should probably move on.

Does your mattress stand up to a thorough inspection? If so, be sure to cover and store it in a clean and dry place while awaiting your new arrival. Once in use, invest in a water-resistant mattress cover, and don’t forget to conduct regular inspections to ensure your little one’s mattress is holding up.

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  1. Goldwater PN. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Infection, Prone Sleep Position, and Vagal Neuroimmunology. Front Pediatr. 2017;5:223. doi:10.3389%2Ffped.2017.00223