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How to Find the Right Mattress for Your Toddler

Updated October 13, 2020

Call it a mattress milestone: When your little one graduates from a crib to a “big kid” bed, you know they’re growing up fast. For many toddlers, the move to a new bed and mattress can be an exciting marker of increased maturity, especially if their friends have made the leap already. Other children feel more trepidation, having grown attached to the familiarity and comfort of their cribs.

Whether your child feels eager or anxious about the change to a toddler bed, you’ll want to make this transition as safe and comfortable as possible. An essential component of that process is selecting an appropriate toddler mattress – a process that can entail a surprising number of competing considerations. Your toddler’s mattress needs differ somewhat from what infants require, and many adult mattresses won’t be appropriate either.

family of 4 looking at mattresses

Don’t let these uncertainties detract from a happy stage in your child’s development. With a few key criteria in mind, you can buy a great toddler mattress without blowing your budget. In this article, we’ll help you understand what to look for in a toddler mattress, allowing you to choose wisely from the range of options out there.

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Keeping the Crib Mattress?

Before beginning the search for a toddler mattress, many parents confront a more basic question: Do I even need a new mattress for my toddler?

Because crib mattresses are typically the same size as toddler mattresses, many parents are tempted to simply move the same mattress to their child’s new bed. After all, growing kids are an expensive proposition; who wouldn’t want to skip an unnecessary purchase along the way?

In fact, many crib mattresses are dual-sided by design, offering a super-firm surface for infants and a slightly softer feel for toddlers. These products aim to make the transition simple: When your kid outgrows the crib, just flip the mattress over and use it in their new bed.

It’s quite possible that your toddler’s crib mattress will continue to serve them well. But before deciding to take this route, you’ll want to be sure that it’s in good enough shape to keep your toddler safe. To do so, evaluate your child’s crib mattress on the following criteria:

  • Wear and tear: If your crib mattress has sustained even minor rips, cuts, or cracks, think seriously about replacing it. Holes can invite bacteria and mold, not to mention dust mites and other unwanted critters.
  • Serious sag: If your toddler’s crib mattress was a budget buy, it may already be losing its intended shape and resilience. In some cases, that sag can be a real safety concern since toddlers need firm support (more on this later). If the mattress seems too softy or saggy under your toddler’s weight, it may be time to retire it.
  • Concerning chemicals: For some parents, the presence of synthetic materials in crib mattresses is a source of serious concern – especially if that mattress stays with their child for a while. If you’re inclined to purchase all things organic, it may be time to upgrade the surface on which your child spends hours each night.

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Finding the Right Toddler Mattress: What to Look for

If you’ve decided that your toddler is in need of a new mattress, you may already be browsing the options available online. In that case, you’re probably confronting a familiar shopping struggle: With so many brands and models to consider, making a choice seems virtually impossible.

No need to stress over option overload, however; keep a few key criteria in mind and you can’t go wrong. Here are the variables you should use to guide your toddler mattress search.

Dimensions: Toddler or Twin?

The first question to inform your selection will be mattress size. Some parents will be surprised to learn that they have a choice to make in this regard: Toddlers can sleep safely on mattresses designed for toddlers or on twin-size beds.

Clearly, this decision entails more than the mattress alone. Whereas toddler beds often feature fun designs and safety features, twin beds are typically more muted in appearance. Additionally, if you choose the twin bed route, you’ll likely need to purchase some safety accessories. Safety rails, for example, are a smart addition to any twin bed until your toddler gets a bit older.

For most families, the choice is a matter of longevity. If you want your child to use the bed (and accompanying mattress) well into their school-aged years, a twin is clearly the better call. By contrast, toddler bed frames are typically more affordable; after all, they’re not meant to stay with your kid for more than a few years. Buy a cheaper toddler bed now and you can invest in a more expensive bed once your child gets older.

Whichever option works better for your family, you’ll need to buy a mattress to match. You should understand, however, that mattresses that fit toddler beds will automatically deliver many of the things toddlers require, such as a relatively firm feel. When shopping for a twin, however, you’ll need to be more picky, eliminating options better suited to older children and adults.

Firmness: Not Too Soft

Infants need very solid sleeping surfaces: In a crib mattress, even slight give can pose safety risks. For toddlers, the requirements aren’t quite so rigid, especially as their ability to maneuver themselves improves.

That being said, a relatively firm mattress remains a wise choice for your little one. For starters, the solid feel will provide good continuity from their crib mattress, whereas something too soft or springy could feel like a radical departure. Additionally, there’s a remote chance that a super-soft mattress could conform to your child’s face, making it difficult for them to breathe if they sleep face-down.

Some experts take a more relaxed view, stating that softer options will still provide toddlers all the support they need as long as they’re at least 18 months old. This opinion could particularly appeal to parents buying twin-size mattresses because kids may appreciate a softer surface as they get older. You’re welcome to decide for yourself, but you can’t go wrong by playing it safe and selecting a firm product.

Materials and Construction

As with mattresses made for adults, models suitable for toddlers are made in several different ways. It’s difficult to generalize about the advantages of each type because particular brands possess their own manufacturing processes. Still, we’ll briefly break down each category of mattress construction, suggesting why you might want to go with each one.

  • Memory foam: Made of viscoelastic material, memory foam mattresses will be responsive to your child’s body, conforming to their shape as they sleep. Many models also offer remarkable longevity, keeping their shape after years of service. Unfortunately, some mattresses of this type may not provide the firmness toddlers require. 
    • Open coil innerspring: A solid option for budget-minded shoppers, open coil mattresses can provide a firm feel at first. If you plan to keep the bed for a while, however, an open coil innerspring mattress may not last for the long haul.
    • Pocketed coil innerspring: In this innerspring variety, every coil is individually wrapped in fabric within the mattress. This approach is more costly but certainly provides greater durability. Likewise, pocketed coils are less likely to sag, improving the mattress’s overall contours.
  • Latex: Offering many of the same benefits as memory foam, latex mattresses are typically built to last. If you choose a firm model, you’ll be happy with how it holds up over time. There are some practical downsides, however: Latex mattresses are pretty pricey, and they can be very heavy.

When it comes to choosing among these options, make sure the mattress you choose can stand up to your toddler’s activity. They’ll be jumping on the bed at some point, so don’t buy a mattress too frail to bounce back.

Avoiding Allergens and Unwanted Materials

If your toddler is prone to allergies, invest in additional protection. Many mattresses boast hypoallergenic properties, and some actually deliver. These brands typically use natural materials to perform a range of anti-allergy functions, from keeping dust mites at bay to preventing bacterial growth.

little boy blowing his nose

Even if your toddler doesn’t have allergies, you may be interested in the natural route. Organic mattress companies exclude potentially concerning synthetic materials while still providing first-class comfort and support. Additionally, these companies are usually pretty environmentally friendly, meaning your toddler won’t be sleeping well at the Earth’s expense.

When buying an organic mattress, however, make sure you keep an eye out for relevant certifications, such as CertiPUR-US®. Moreover, be prepared to pay a little extra for your organic purchase.

Washing and Waterproofing

Accidents happen: Even if potty-training goes well, you can’t expect perfection from your toddler. Accordingly, you’ll want to pick a product that can stand up to liquid.

Some toddler mattresses have waterproof layers for precisely this reason. Moreover, you’ll want a machine-washable cover to launder out spills. It’s important to clean your toddler’s mattress regularly, so the ability to toss the cover in the wash can make a big difference.

If you don’t love the cover on your chosen mattress, however, you can always add one of your own. Mattress covers sit on top of whichever mattress you choose, offering greater support and protection from soiling. Similarly, if liquid damage seems likely, you can buy a mattress protector that’s either water-resistant or waterproof.

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Big-Kid Comfort: The Toddler Mattress Transition

With a mattress that meets their needs, toddlers can quickly get cozy in their big-kid beds. We hope this article helps you find the right mattress to make that happen.

As with any kid-centric purchase, the search for the perfect product can often feel overwhelming: You’re eager to avoid mistakes that could detract from your child’s comfort. But with the criteria we’ve compiled here, you’ll be in an excellent position to buy wisely on your toddler’s behalf.

Even if you make a great selection, the transition from crib to bed can often involve rough patches. If your child shows signs of trepidation, don’t jump to the conclusion that you’re doing something wrong. Making adjustments is part of growing up, and your toddler can benefit greatly from overcoming anxiety. With your support along the way, they’ll adapt – and sleep – just fine.