Babies, and especially newborns, need a lot of support while they’re sleeping.
Not only that, a firm crib mattress is an absolute must when it comes to safe sleeping and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) prevention.
But many parents, after a few nights, week, or even months at home with baby, start to wonder: Is my baby’s crib mattress too hard or too firm?
Most likely, your baby’s crib mattress is exactly as firm as it’s supposed to be. What might seem rigid and uncomfortable to us adults is actually perfect for baby’s safety and development. You can switch to a softer mattress as baby gets a little bit older, and in the meantime, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to keep them comfortable while they sleep.
Let’s dive in a little deeper and explore the importance of a firm mattress for babies, when to switch to a softer mattress, and tips to keep baby comfortable if he’s having trouble sleeping in the crib.
How firm or hard should a crib mattress be?
I see this question over and over and over again on big parenting forums and mom discussion boards.
A baby is having trouble sleeping, and after trying every trick in the book to no avail, mom or dad tests out the crib mattress and finds that it’s hard as a rock.
Then they’re left wondering: Is the mattress too hard? Is that why my baby won’t sleep?
Chances are if you bought your crib mattress from a reputable company with all of the right safety certifications and inspections, the mattress is exactly as firm as it should be.
You would be surprised how firm a baby’s bed should really be! They need the support for a couple of important reasons:
- Their bones are soft and just beginning to develop. Their spines, in particular, need far more support than adults do.
- A firm mattress gives them a better base to push off of when they begin to wiggle and move around.
- A mattress with too much give is a huge SIDS or suffocation risk for a baby that’s not able to move on its own very well yet.
So the bedding is SUPPOSED to be firm, or even hard.
Still, here are a couple of general rules of thumb you can use to gauge whether your child’s mattress is firm enough:
- Press your hand into the sides and center of the mattress. It should have very little give.
- When you release, it should quickly “snap” back into shape.
- It definitely should NOT contour to the shape of your hand or body when laying down.
And ultimately, the overall rule is that if you think your baby’s mattress is cozy and comfortable, it’s probably too soft.
BUT… all of that doesn’t really help you if your baby doesn’t like the mattress or is having trouble sleeping. Believe me, I hear you!
Let’s talk about where to go from here.
When can my baby use a softer mattress?
There are a lot of first-hand accounts out there of parents using mattress toppers or pads, quilts, and other soft items to offset the firmness of their baby’s crib.
And from reading discussions online, a lot of the time it works! It seems some babies really do want a softer surface to sleep on.
But be warned: Putting anything in the crib other than a firm mattress and a tightly fitted sheet is a SIDS risk, and most doctors and pediatricians strongly caution against doing this.
The risk of SIDS peaks when baby is around 2-3 months old. So when it comes to newborns and smaller infants, it’s really best to stick with only the mattress, a tight sheet, and a really good swaddle.
According to Baby Center, 90% of SIDS cases occur in babies younger than 6 months — the likelihood of something going wrong during sleep decrease substantially after that.
However, SIDS risk still exists until a baby is 12 months old!
I wouldn’t consider switching to a softer mattress or adding a mattress topper/pad until baby is at least 6 months old and can move around or crawl on his own — and even then, you should definitely talk to your pediatrician first.
(I can’t stress that enough — I’m not a doctor and I don’t claim to be! Talk to yours before you make any major decisions about your baby’s safety.)
If you ARE looking for a good solution for a baby that likes softer bedding, I would definitely check out this Milliard Dual-Sided Crib Mattress on Amazon.
One side is super firm and safe for baby, while the other side is a little bit softer for an older baby or a toddler. Once you get the OK from your pediatrician to try a softer sleeping surface, you won’t have to buy something new — just flip it over!
Other ways to make baby more comfortable
Alright, so all of that still doesn’t really help if your baby isn’t ready for a soft mattress, but doesn’t like his firm one.
I get it!
Fortunately, while you shouldn’t ADD anything into your crib for safety reasons, there are a few different things you can try to keep baby more comfortable and help him sleep better.
Let him sleep in a bassinet, cradle, or swing
It’s possible your baby just needs a different sleep environment. If so, you can plop him in a bassinet and keep him by your bedside — that’s a safe way to keep an eye on him and let him be close to you without bringing him to bed (which is a major no-no).
Or, try a cradle! The gentle rocking motion may help soothe him and put him into a deep snooze.
Swings are a fantastic option for naps or short bursts of sleep, but usually aren’t safe for all-night sleep. (You guessed it, too much time spent upright can be a SIDS risk for baby.)
Try different pajamas and swaddles
A good swaddle can make a world of difference for young babies.
When it comes to newborns, it’s best to keep them tightly swaddled for overnight sleep, but you can experiment with different techniques and products.
One thing you might try is comparing sleep sacks with a little or a lot of room for their legs and seeing which one baby likes better.
These SwaddleMe swaddles on Amazon keep baby balled up tight, with very little wiggle room for legs. They’re as snug and cozy as it gets.
These Halo Sleepsack swaddles, on the other hand, give your baby a little more breathing room in the legs.
Both are great! Try both varieties and see if they help at bedtime.
Alter the sleep environment
When it comes to crib sleeping for newborns or younger babies, there’s really not much you can do to the crib itself safely.
But you can try lots of different things in and around the room to create a better sleeping environment.
Try a little white noise or other sound machine sounds to soothe baby, or even play lullaby music.
Get the temperature right! Somewhere between 65-72 degrees in baby’s room is the ideal range, but you can try the lower or higher end if you think baby is getting too cool or hot at night.
Make it darker. You might think a room that’s too dark will scare your baby, but really the fear of the dark doesn’t start until later in life. Too much light can trigger alertness, so try making the room extremely dark or only using a very small, dim nightlight.
Related: Should I buy a breathable crib mattress?
There’s really no harm in a breathable mattress as long as it’s firm enough and up to the most recent safety standards, but “breathable” can be very misleading.
It implies that it’s OK to put baby to sleep on their side or stomach, or that you’ll be OK if you don’t follow the general guidelines for safe sleep.
That’s really not true. The only safe way to put a baby to sleep is on his back on a firm crib mattress with a tightly fitted sheet — that’s it!
You should only let baby sleep on his stomach or side if you’re specifically instructed by a doctor for a specific medical reason.
Related: Should I use sleep positioners to keep baby from rolling over?
In most cases, no, you shouldn’t!
Very young babies and newborns are extremely unlikely to roll themselves over on their own, so a positioner is unlikely to help very much. (Babies usually start learning to roll over around 4-months-old).
Plus, it’s just another obstacle in the crib that could become a major suffocation hazard. Most pediatricians and children’s groups strongly advocate against using any extra sleep props in the crib with your baby.
Your baby’s mattress might feel too hard to overly firm, but the reality is — it’s supposed to be that way!
There are extremely important safety and development reasons behind those stiff mattresses. And even though they may not be what YOU would want to sleep on, they are perfectly suited for newborns and young babies.
When your child gets a little older and has better motor control (and his SIDS risk starts to go down because of age), you can consider a softer mattress with input from your pediatrician.
And in the meantime, there are tons of things you can try in your baby’s room (or out) to make sleeping a little more comfortable.
Just remember not to put anything extra in the crib with a young baby, even if people online tell you it works! It’s just not worth the risk.
Hope this helps, parents!