Children's Mattresses: Are They Safe or Hurting Your Child?

Children's Mattresses: Are They Safe or Hurting Your Child? 1

As parents, we spend a great deal of time getting our kids to bed and we know that the value of a good night’s sleep can’t be underestimated. But what if your child’s bed was doing him more harm than good, by exposing him to dangerous toxins throughout the night?

In fact, most conventional mattresses are made with an alphabet soup of toxins. Instead of getting a restorative rest, he may be inhaling poisons that can be hurting him physically and damaging his brain.

What are these dangers? Here is a list of the most dangerous toxins lurking in your child’s mattress:

  • Flame Retardant Chemicals: These primarily include phosphated, brominated, chlorinated or antimony flame retardants. When a chemical gets unwelcome negative attention or are banned, manufacturers turn to other flame retardant “substitute” chemicals. These substitutions, frequently known as “regrettable substitutions,” generally prove to be no better than the banned chemicals. A 2012 University of California, Davis study showed that the offspring of mice exposed to flame retardants had “increased risk for neurodevelopmental deficits associated with reduced sociability and learning.”
  • Phthalates: Phthalates are used to soften vinyl, and are linked to cancer and developmental issues. Six phthalate chemicals were banned by Congress several years ago (as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) and a seventh has been added to California Prop 65, which lists chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive damage and is updated annually. Right now, there are at least seven or eight new phthalate versions now on the market, as well as other phthalate substitutes, that are technically legal – meaning they have not been banned and are being used in mattresses and other products. Their safety is undermined at present.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): A December 2013 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that infants were exposed to toxic VOCs emitted by their crib mattresses. This is a major threat to babies who spend up to 14 hours a day on those mattresses. Scientists discovered these emissions on had negative effects on mice, including “sensory irritation, pulmonary irritation, and decreases in mid-expiratory airflow velocity in mice.” That is, VOC’s are dangerous for lungs, blood flow and the senses. Not only that, but emissions rise with the heat generated by a body sleeping on top of the mattress. VOC exposure in infants has shown to negatively impact respiratory health as well as cause sensory problems.
  • Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs): PFCs are used on mattresses as water-repellants and stain-repellants, such as Teflon and ScotchGuard. In addition to being carcinogenic, one fairly recent study associated perfluorinated compounds. A collection of studies organized by a team hailing from Children’s Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine & National Institutes of Health, published this list in Environmental Health Perspectives in July 2012. Another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2011 has linked them to the development of ADHD and a cause of the associated hyperactivity. PFCs have also been liked to delayed gross motor development, hormonal and reproductive dysfunction, postponed puberty, early menopause and infertility.
  • Other Toxins: Other questionable substances can be found in mattresses as well. Boric acid is one such toxin, familiar to most people as a roach poison. It’s detrimental to both reproductive organs and developing fetuses. Some mattresses contain antimony, a heavy metal very similar to arsenic, and its dust can cause symptoms from depression and dizziness to headaches and vomiting and even liver damage.

Read more about environmental toxins that can decrease fertility

There is even some controversial European research linking these chemicals to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but to date, no scientific studies have been done. The toxicity of mattresses contributing to SIDS was presented by Barry Richardson, an expert in the effect of chemicals and how long they take to degrade and was supported by Dr. T. James Sprott. Dr. Mercola has written an interesting survey of the facts in his article, “The Truth About SIDS.” Deaths caused by SIDS reduce, for example, when babies sleep face up or there is a cover on the mattress that prevents the child from breathing these chemicals.

The public is at the mercy of companies and outdated or poorly written laws, such as the flame retardant requirement or the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which has rarely been updated since being passed in 1965. The TSCA was designed to protect the American public against toxic chemicals in our everyday products but recently the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that this law is “ineffective in protecting children.” With toxicity so high, we need to be cautious as consumers when selecting mattresses for our family.

Mattresses emit these toxic gases, which our families breathe in every night, however over time, these emissions fade. If you do not need a new mattress, avoid buying one. If you need a new one or are expecting your first child, here are some recommended brands. They are all organic and do not use harsh chemicals, such as waterproofing, flame retardants or Scotch Guard.

All of these brands are GreenGuard Gold certified, meaning that they meet strict emissions limitations, set for more sensitive people, such as children or the elderly, and even meet an acceptable standard for hospitals and care facilities.

Unfortunately, a safe, quality mattress is going to be a costly investment. The value of this safety is immeasurable, but if you can’t afford it, there are some other things you can do to keep your family safe:

  • Buy secondhand. An older mattress that’s still in good shape will not have reduced emissions so your family is far less exposed than from a new mattress.
  • Purchase a mattress pad that’s organic, made with wool and GreenGuard Gold certified. The companies listed above carry accessories that can help.
  • Buy an allergic/organic cover for your mattress and pillow. These have the added benefit of protecting anyone who is allergic to dust mites as well.
  • SearchGreenGuard Gold certified mattresses at their Product Search site.

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In the meantime, popular brands of bed companies, such as Simmons, Sealy and Tempur-Pedic have used undisclosed flame retardants in their mattresses, meaning there is no way to know how harmful these products are. That said, common flame retardants are very toxic, so stick to the safe brands, particularly when buying for a newborn. You can make the difference in your child getting a healthy, nontoxic sleep.

Image: Donnie Ray Jones


Written by Gina Badalaty for Mamavation.

Disclosure: Naturepedic is a client of Mamavation.

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