Choosing a mattress cover for your baby may not be as simple as selecting the best coordinating colour in the store. It also may not be right to reuse the mattress materials that were in your old crib left from when you were a baby. You’ll want something that is not only safe, but something that will be easy to wash and then dry on a pully clothes airer .
A lot has been learned about infant safety, and one of the most stringent rules has to do with materials that are used in infant bedding. Your mattress and the mattress cover can present a real health threat to your infant. In fact, doctors are now saying that many of the cases of SIDS in this country may very well be due to the off gasses emitted by infant bedding.
Most baby mattresses are filled with polyurethane foam, which is made from petroleum and several chemicals. Some additives, such as benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde can be toxic. In some cases, the chemicals used to fabricate the foam are hydrochloric acid or hydrogen cyanide. Care should be taken that the foam in your infant’s mattress is not made by processes that use any of these chemicals, and that none of them are in the foam itself.
Most baby mattresses and mattress covers are made of some waterproof substance. Quite often, this is vinyl. However, vinyl is made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This is one of the most toxic substances used in the plastics industry. Vinyl itself is made from the by-product of the production of PVC, and is tempered with plasticizers to make it soft, like cloth. PVC itself is very rigid and hard. The plasticizers, called phthalates, have been associated with premature births, early onset puberty, reproductive damage, kidney and liver damage, cancer, and asthma. In some mattresses, the phthalates may make up as much as 30% of the weight of the vinyl surface. These chemicals can leach out of the fabric and be inhaled by the infant, or absorbed through its skin.
Some phthalates have been banned in the last few years, but there has been no recall of infant mattresses that were manufactured with these chemicals. No new mattresses can be manufactured with some of the phthalates, but there are still some classified as reproductive toxicant that are allowed in manufacture.
Fire retardants are required on all PVC materials use in mattresses, because PVC is very flammable. The unprotected PVC burns at an alarming rate. The fire proofing chemicals used on PVC are polybrominated diphenyl ethers, otherwise known as PBDE. This has been known to cause hormone disruption, immune suppression, memory problems, cancer, and behavioural changes.
So, what can you do to protect your baby? Choose a firm mattress and cover, so that your baby won’t accidentally suffocate. Make sure it is not made with any of the chemicals mentioned above. The foam in the mattress should be very dense so that it is firm enough. For waterproofing, simply put clear plastic wrap over the surface, and cover it with safe, clean cotton sheeting.