Baby mattresses encompass not only crib mattresses, but cradle, bassinet, porta-crib, and co-sleeper mattresses. All of these types of mattresses usually contain materials that can be toxic.
Polyurethane foam is the filling material used in most baby mattresses. This foam is made from petroleum and typically contains chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, and pigments. Depending on how it’s processed, some polyurethane foam may possibly contain various chemical additives, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and other well established toxic chemicals.
Some of the health hazards listed on manufacturer material safety data sheets (MSDS) for polyurethane foam include: possible cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function.
The EPA has identified several chemicals used in the fabrication of polyurethane foam as hazardous air pollutants (hydrochloric acid, 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, and hydrogen cyanide).
Most baby mattresses contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), generally referred to as vinyl, as the surface material or covering. PVC is great for waterproofing, but is considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics used. Vinyl chloride, an intermediate component in the manufacturing of PVC, is a combination of petroleum and chlorine, and is a known human carcinogen.
PVC is a hard plastic so plasticizers called phthalates (pronounced “thalates”) are used to make it soft and flexible. Phthalates are endocrine disruptive chemicals and are associated with reproductive harm, premature birth, asthma, early onset of puberty, cancer, and kidney and liver damage. Phthalates can make up 30% by weight of the PVC surface of a typical crib mattress. These chemicals are not bound to the plastic and can leach out so babies can breathe them in and absorb them through their skin.
Our government is beginning to take steps to ban phthalates, however the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) that went into effect this year (2009) falls short in protecting babies. The CPSIA allows all stock manufactured through 2/9/09 to be sold indefinitely, until such stock is depleted. In addition, not all phthalates are banned. It appears that only three forms of phthalates are currently banned for mattresses, so it may be legal for manufacturers to substitute with the non-banned phthalates.
A stronger law now in effect only in the state of California makes it illegal for companies to sell mattresses containing banned phthalates to anyone in California. However, there is still a phthalate (DnHP), classified as a reproductive toxicant, allowed for use in mattresses sold in California.
Lead, cadmium, and various biocides are other hazardous additives to PVC, which can also be released into the baby’s environment. The PVC surface of a typical baby mattress is also treated with toxic fire retardant chemicals.
Mattresses made with polyurethane foam and PVC are highly flammable and will burn extremely fast if ignited. Because of this, the U.S. government requires manufacturers to add chemicals to make them fire retardant. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemicals typically used to slow the spread of fire. These chemicals are likely to leach out into the surrounding air.
PBDE exposure is linked to numerous adverse health effects, including immune suppression, hormone disruption, learning and memory problems, behavioral changes, and cancer. Some states have banned certain brominated fire retardants, but these have been replaced by other PBDEs or other chemicals that may be just as toxic. Manufacturers are not required to test these chemicals for the effects on health and there is very little data available to show safety.
Several scientists claim that toxic gases released from crib mattresses, when breathed or absorbed by a sleeping baby, can cause crib death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These claims have not been 100% scientifically proven, nor have they been disproven, and there is urgent need for more research.
It is important to note that a 100% successful crib death prevention campaign has been going on in New Zealand for the past 13 years. Midwives and other healthcare professionals throughout New Zealand have been actively advising parents to wrap mattresses. During this time, there has not been a single SIDS death reported among the over 170,000 (22%) New Zealand babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in a specially formulated polyethylene cover. The number of crib deaths in New Zealand that have occurred since mattress-wrapping began in 1994 is about 860. The number of crib deaths that have occurred in New Zealand on a properly wrapped mattress is zero. The SIDS rate in NZ has dropped dramatically since this campaign began. This may be enough evidence to warrant taking a precautionary approach. The following article contains more information on the crib death issue:
More info on toxic effects of baby mattresses:
Most people assume that if a mattress is organic, then it must also be non-toxic and safe. This is not necessarily true. There are organic crib mattresses on the market that contain organic cotton as the filling, but the outer covering is vinyl or some other type of harmful material. In addition, fire retardants and other various chemicals may be added to the cotton or to the outer covering. It is important to check with the manufacturer and inquire about all the materials used. Organic is definitely important when choosing a mattress, but the main thing to look for is whether the mattress is non-toxic and safe for your baby.
See our organic baby crib mattresses
Organic cotton is the perfect filling material for a baby mattress since it is natural, non-toxic, firm and breathable. Cotton will not burst into flames (like polyurethane foam or PVC) and will not release toxic fumes when ignited. Since cotton is a crop that is heavily sprayed with pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals, it is important for the cotton to be certified organic.
Wool is also commonly used in mattresses and bedding since it is naturally fire resistant, does not provide a favorable environment for dust mites, and handles moisture well. Wool is an excellent bedding material for many reasons. However, wool can be allergenic and you don’t know if your baby will be allergic to wool. It may be true that most allergies to wool are actually chemical sensitivities to the chemicals used in processing wool. But people, including babies, can be allergic specifically to the natural animal fiber. It’s difficult to know in advance about a baby’s allergies and allergies can be developed over time.
Latex (natural rubber) is also used as an alternative crib mattress filling. Shopping for a latex crib mattress can be complicated since even natural latex can contain questionable chemicals added during processing. In addition, natural latex contains proteins that can be highly allergenic and known to cause anaphylactic shock. This is very rare, but you just don’t know if your baby will be allergic to natural latex.
Since a baby can generate a lot of wetness while they sleep, and this wetness can cause mold, mildew, fungi or bacteria to proliferate in the mattress, a waterproof covering is important. Unfortunately, the only viable waterproofing materials for covering a baby mattress seem to be plastic at this time. The downside is that unlike wool, plastic is not biodegradable or sustainable. But not all plastics are the same. Some are quite toxic and environmental unfriendly (as in vinyl) while others are less or non-toxic and more environmentally safe.
Environmental scientists agree that low density, food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available for waterproofing a crib mattress. It has a simple molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Unlike the production of vinyl, dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during production of low density polyethylene. This is the material used for the mattress covers designed to prevent SIDS in the crib death prevention campaign in NZ. This is also the waterproofing material used in the Naturepedic organic crib mattress. Strict independent testing confirms there are no phthalates or any toxic chemicals in this polyethylene.
Since wool is moisture-resistant and dries quickly, wool puddle pads are widely used with mattresses that are not waterproof. But you can’t count on wool puddle pads to waterproof a mattress. If there is a lot of wetness from a baby or child, it can go through to damage the mattress and create problems. Using two layered wool puddle pads in a baby or child’s sleeping environment will probably prevent leakage.
The U.S. government requires mattress manufacturers and retailers to obtain a doctor’s prescription from a customer before selling a mattress that does not meet federal fire safety standards. Therefore, if you want a mattress that is not fire retardant, you must obtain a prescription from a physician licensed in your state that says “this patient requires a chemical-free mattress”. This can be written by any licensed physician, including medical doctors (MD), osteopaths (DO) and chiropractors (DC).
Wool is fire-resistant, and is the most common fire protection used in natural, organic crib mattresses. If a wool-wrapped mattress has been tested and approved to meet flammability standards, the manufacturer is able to sell it without obtaining a prescription.
Borate powder (boric acid) is also used to make mattresses fire resistant. Most mattresses treated with borate powder meet Federal flammability standards and do not require a doctor’s prescription. There is conflicting information regarding the safety of using borate powder in mattresses. Since it is an insecticide and is potentially toxic, we recommend against using borate powder.
The only other naturally derived fire protection (that we know of) that meets all Federal and State flammability standards is Naturepedic’s fire protection system. Mattresses containing this fire protection do not require a doctor’s prescription.
Naturepedic’s fire protection, designed by an expert environmental scientist, contains no wool or borate powder and is instead made of baking soda and hydrated silica bonded to cellulose fiber. Baking soda can be found as a naturally occurring compound, but is generally made from other naturally derived materials. Silica is a natural mineral that comprises about 70% of the earth’s crust. Clay, rocks, sand, etc. are all made primarily of silica. It is a major constituent of human tissue, bones, teeth, skin, eyes, glands, organs and is even available in food supplements. The cellulose fiber used is derived primarily from eucalyptus and poplar trees and has a low carbon footprint.
There are no harmful chemicals or allergenic materials in Naturepedic’s fire protection system. We have seen several erroneous claims on internet sites saying that it contains boric acid or dimethyl sulfate. We have confirmed that it contains neither of these substances. It contains no PBDEs or any brominated or chlorinated fire retardants. It contains no antimony, arsenic or phosphorus, no PAN (polyacrylonitrile), modacrylic, no dimethyl sulfate, no boric acid, and no respirable crystalline silica. All Naturepedic mattresses containing this fire protection system have been confirmed by strict independent testing to not off-gas harmful substances.
The silica used in this fire protection is hydrated silica, which is a gelatinous substance that is chemically inert. It has a long history of safe use as an ingredient in food products. It is listed by the US Food & Drug Administration to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and has no known toxicity or carcinogenicity. It is used in toothpastes by Tom’s of Maine, Weleda, and Jason – all of which are healthier toothpastes. It is also used in vitamin supplements, and likely to be found naturally in wool.
There have been concerns raised about the use of “silica,” a term commonly used to describe both hydrated silica and crystalline silica. Crystalline silica in respirable form can be toxic and evidence suggests it is a carcinogen as well. In response to the confusion created by the two ingredients sharing a common name, the Chemical Abstracts Services (CAS) created a new catalog number for hydrated silica to more effectively differentiate it from its toxic cousin, crystalline silica.
At Healthy Child, we have carefully selected what we consider to be the best options for safe, non-toxic baby mattresses and bedding. At this time, we consider the Naturepedic baby mattresses to be the safest and highest quality waterproof baby mattresses. Naturepedic is the only company that uses polyethylene as the waterproof covering, with exception of the BabeSafe mattresses made only in New Zealand (BabeSafe crib mattresses are not imported to the US). Naturepedic is also the only manufacturer using the baking soda/hydrated silica fire protection. None of the Naturepedic mattresses contain any wool or latex. All current Naturepedic mattresses have passed strict independent testing by GREENGUARD for baby and children’s products. For parents who do not want the waterproof plastic covering, Naturepedic also offers a non-waterproof quilted organic cotton crib mattress with a certified organic cotton covering.
See Healthy Child Organic Baby Mattresses
It’s also important that the bedding your baby sleeps in is chemical-free. Sheets, mattress pads, and comforters can be treated with harmful chemicals. We have chemical-free, organic baby bedding using the safest materials.
See Healthy Child Organic Baby Bedding
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