Picking the Right Mattress for Your Toddler

Toddler sleeping on mattress

Getty Images - RichLegg

If your toddler isn't sleeping well at night, chances are, you aren't either. Parents can deal with being sleep-deprived, but for a child, a lack of sleep can impact growth and development. 

“Your toddler produces growth hormones [while] sleeping. If they don't get adequate sleep, they may have growth problems, including stunted or slow growth,” says Rebecca Michi, a pediatric sleep consultant in Seattle, Wash. While a few weeks of interrupted sleep during an illness or fearful phase may be no big deal, chronic sleep deprivation can not only affect growth but is also linked to concentration issues and health problems like diabetes.

According to surveys, 20% to 30% of parents say their child deals with an issue that disturbs their sleep.

Choosing a high-quality mattress for a fast-growing toddler is a small step that can have a big impact when it comes to improving a young child's sleep habits while making sure they stay safe. “Just like adults, toddlers need a mattress that is designed for their comfort to help them get the best sleep possible," says Elizabeth King, founder and CEO of Sleep Baby Consulting.

In this article, we’ll look at what kinds of mattresses are available for toddlers, what safety and quality features you should consider, and how to go about choosing the right mattress for your child.

What Mattresses Are Available for Toddlers?

Kids go through a lot of transition and growth between 1 and 3 years old. Parents can have a tough time knowing what type of mattress and bed work best during the toddler years, and when to move to something larger. Here are two mattress options typically available for toddlers.

Infant/Toddler Mattresses

Infant mattresses are placed in your baby’s crib and should provide a flat sleeping surface. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that a firm mattress with no soft bedding of any kind provides a safer sleep environment for a baby through age 1 and can help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Toddler beds are often used for children who are ready to leave the crib but not quite ready for a twin-sized bed. Since toddler beds accommodate the same-sized mattress as cribs, you can opt to get a two-sided infant/toddler mattress. You can use the firm side for your baby through age 1 and the slightly less firm side through their toddler years.

“I recommend keeping toddlers in their crib until at least 3 years old,” King states. “Once they have moved to a big bed, you can transition them to a toddler bed with their crib mattress or move straight to a larger bed.” If you have concerns or questions about whether your child is ready to transition to a "big kid" bed, check with your pediatrician.

Twin Mattresses

As your child grows, a twin mattress is the next option. It’s about 80 inches long and gives more wiggle room. A twin mattress is best for older toddlers or preschoolers. Putting the twin mattress on a low-profile bed or frame that's close to the ground can help prevent injuries from falls or jumping.

Whether they are sleeping in a crib, toddler bed, or twin bed, make sure your toddler's mattress fits securely in its frame with no gaps where little fingers or other body parts can become entrapped.

When deciding between a toddler bed and a twin bed for your older toddler, consider your child’s sleeping patterns. “How much space does your child like? Do they roll around a lot? If they do, they may sleep better in a [twin] bed where they will have more space. If your toddler likes to snuggle up in a nest-like environment, a toddler bed may suit them,” says Michi.

How Do I Choose a Mattress for My Toddler?

Finding the right mattress can make a difference in your child's health as well as overall mood. Before heading out the door to shop or starting your search online, take note of some key considerations. Both infant/toddler mattresses and twin mattresses are made of a variety of materials and with different features to suit a range of budgets.

Structure

Foam and innerspring coils are common options for both infant/toddler mattresses and twin mattresses because they’re durable and can withstand the movements of an active child. Hybrid mattresses combine innerspring coils with an extra layer of foam cushioning and may provide better comfort and support than foam or innerspring alone.

Latex is another option that's durable but often a bit more expensive than other mattress materials. You'll want to ensure that your child doesn’t have an allergy to latex before purchasing a mattress made with it.

Hypoallergenic Options

When buying a mattress for a toddler with sensitivities, touch is not the only sense that can be affected. You also have to think about smell.

“Lots of mattresses have a scent; this is due to the materials and chemicals used," Michi says. "The scent and VOC's [volatile organic compounds] can cause allergic reactions and allergy-like symptoms, including throat and nose irritation, headache, nausea, and dizziness. You can buy mattresses without any VOC's."

Michi also notes you can buy hypoallergenic mattress covers to deal with allergies to dust miles or mold.

Waterproofing

Some mattresses are made of waterproof materials, which can be a lifesaver in the event of inevitable potty-training accidents or stomach illnesses. The mattress will be protected, and nighttime clean-up will be a lot easier. However, you can purchase a high-quality waterproof mattress cover instead.

Added Safety Features

A lot of mattresses claim to have toddler safety features. It’s hard for parents to know if these claims are valid. But experts say some features are beneficial.

King is a fan of "breathable" mattresses. “I also like mattresses that stay cool while the child sleeps," she says. "Temperature regulation is important for optimal sleep and sound sleep equals a healthier and happier child." In fact, some toddler mattresses have temperature controls.

Budget

Generally, infant/toddler convertible mattresses are more expensive than infant mattresses since they are meant to bridge two stages. However, they are still less expensive than standard twin mattresses and might be a smart choice if you think you may want to have your child graduate to a toddler bed before a twin bed.

Organic covers or toppers, hypoallergenic materials, waterproofing, and cooling technologies are features that are also likely to add to the price point of any mattress.

How Long Should My Toddler's Mattress Last?

Mattresses typically need to be replaced every seven to 10 years, says Michi. Of course, your toddler will likely outgrow an infant/toddler mattress before then, but a high-quality model should be able to be used by a younger sibling. Check the manufacturer's recommendation for guidance.

To get the biggest bang for your buck, look for materials that will last. Michi says high-density memory foam mattresses are a particularly durable choice for active toddlers.

Final Points to Consider

With so many options, buying a mattress for your toddler can seem like a daunting task. In addition to doing your homework to know what options are available and what works best for your family, take advantage of offers that may give you a little added security.

“Many companies now offer 100-night guarantees for twin mattresses and 30-night guarantees for toddler mattresses. That means you can return the mattress and get your money back if your toddler doesn't like the mattress you buy,” Michi notes.

In the end, a safe, happy, well-rested toddler helps the entire household run more smoothly. It’s worth the time, effort, and (sometimes) expense to get a mattress that will help achieve that goal.

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5 Sources
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