Choosing the right mattress for your child

There comes a point in every child's life when it's time to move from cradle to cot, then from cot to bed.  Upgrading offers parents the opportunity to purchase the best possible mattress for their children. But choosing a child's mattress is not as simple as it might appear. Today's bedding environment offers a tremendous number of choices.

This guide is intended to help you navigate those choices. As you read, you will learn about:

  • mattress sizes
  • mattress styles
  • mattress materials
  • important things to consider.

Bear in mind that you know your child best. Do not be afraid to ask questions and do research.  Do not assume that what everyone else is recommending is the right choice for you.  Choose your child's mattress based on his or her unique needs combined with your preferences as a parent.

 

Mattress Sizes

Cot Mattresses – 70 cm x 140 cm

All cot mattresses are essentially the same length and width in the UK. However, different thicknesses and densities are common.  You may have to account for thickness (depth) if your cot is not a standard shape or size.  The key to cot mattresses is firmness.  Experts recommend as firm a mattress as possible to help prevent sudden death syndrome (SIDS).

Small Single Mattresses – 75 cm x 190 cm

Small singles are popular among parents not quite ready to put a child in a full-size bed.  Their smaller length makes them ideal for bedrooms shared by multiple children or lacking in extra space to move around the bed.  Small singles are sometimes referred to as children's beds.

Single – 90 cm x 190 cm

A standard single offers the extra length needed by older children, pre-teens, and teens.  It's perfectly acceptable to go from cot to single, skipping the small single in between.  Unless a teenager is especially tall, a single should be suitable for as long as the child lives at home.

Small Double – 120 cm x 190 cm

Once you get to the small double, you have to ask yourself if you are purchasing a mattress you intend your child to continue using into adulthood. Small doubles are a bit wider but still measure 190 cm long.  They are perfectly fine for teens.

Double – 135 cm x 190 cm

If you are buying a mattress for an older child, consider whether or not the child will be taking the bed upon leaving home.  A double works well for both single sleepers and couples.  Doubles are also ideal for two small children who share a bed due to space constraints.

King – 150 cm x 200 cm

It is rare for parents to buy their children king size mattresses. King size beds are exceptionally large and do not tend to work well in smaller children's bedrooms.  Nonetheless, they offer plenty of sleep room for children of any size.

Superking – 180 cm x 200 cm

The superking is the largest mattress you can buy in the UK. It is a reserved almost exclusively for single adults and adult couples.  However, you are free to purchase a superking for a child if you have the budget and space.

 

We recommend starting with either a small single or a single, regardless of whether you are going from cradle to bed or cot to bed. Some parents go from cradle to small single, then on to a single or small double.  Others go from cot to cradle to single.  The choice is entirely yours.

 

Mattress Styles

Time and technology have greatly increased our choices of mattress style.  These days, the most common mattress styles are:

 

Coil Spring

Coil spring mattresses, also known as open coil mattresses, are the most commonly purchased mattresses in the UK.  This is likely due to price.  Coil spring mattresses are the least expensive to manufacture and can be mass-produced quite easily.  They consist of a number of large springs all linked together in an open container.  A typical double would contain up to 300 springs.

 

Pocket Spring

Pocket spring mattresses are a bit more expensive because they require more effort to manufacture.  Rather than relying on multiple springs connected in a single open space, a pocket spring mattress features individual springs enclosed in fabric pockets.  High quality fabric provides ideal ventilation while hand stitching each pocket increases responsiveness.  Pocket spring mattresses are an excellent choice for people whose sleep can be disturbed by movement.

Memory Foam

Memory foam mattresses are foam mattresses with a closed cell structure.  As such, these offer particularly good support and pressure relief.  Memory foam also conforms to the shape of the user's body.  It is a very good option for individuals who sleep on their sides.  Also note that memory foam returns to its original shape rather slowly.  This reduces responsiveness.

 

Latex Foam

Latex foam mattresses are essentially the opposite of memory foam.  They feature an open cell structure that increases responsiveness and allows the foam to return to its natural shape rather quickly.  If you are leaning towards foam, latex tends to be cooler while memory foam tends to be warmer.  Children who move a lot may do better in latex due to both cooler temperatures and responsiveness.

Air

Air mattresses designed for nightly use are not to be confused with flimsy portable mattresses you fill with air using a foot pump.  A nightly-use air mattress encases a strong air bladder inside a thick, upholstered casing that looks a lot like the exterior of a coil spring mattress.  Most air mattresses are fully adjustable – in terms of firmness – with the touch of a button.  Moreover, a good air mattress will last just as long as a coil spring or memory foam mattress.

 

Mattress Materials

You may have certain preferences in terms of the materials you want your child's mattress to be made of. You can choose from among both natural and synthetic materials but note that natural materials tend to cost more.  Some of the material categories you might want to think about include both fabrics and fillings.

Cotton and Wool

Cotton and wool are natural fabrics often used for mattress upholstery.  They offer very good comfort and breathability.  If you are concerned about chemicals, look for mattresses labelled as organic.  Still, understand that no mattress is 100% organic.  Even organic mattresses upholstered with cotton and wool may contain fire retardant chemicals.

Polyester and Other Synthetics

More budget friendly mattresses are upholstered with synthetic fabrics like polyester.  Such fabrics tend to hold up quite well as long as they are of high quality.  Lower quality synthetics tend to break down more quickly.

Mohair and Cashmere

Mohair and cashmere are often used as insulators in high quality, natural fibre mattresses.  The two materials are exceptionally soft and forgiving.  If you cannot afford a natural fibre mattress, you might look for a budget friendly mattress with an insulating layer made of grey fibre or another similar product.

Memory Foam

Be very careful when purchasing memory foam mattresses. There are three types of foam that manufacturers use:

  • Polyurethane – Polyurethane foam is the cheapest type of foam.  It works, but it will not provide maximum support or the longest possible life.
  • Visco Elastic – Visco elastic foam is the original memory foam developed by NASA in the 1960s.  It offers incredibly good support and long life.
  • Tempur – Tempur foam is a proprietary variation of visco elastic foam.  It is normally recommended for those looking for extra support due to orthopaedic reasons.  Tempur is often recommended for people who have trouble sleeping due to discomfort caused by medical conditions.

 

Latex Foam

If you are buying a latex foam mattress, the latex is likely synthetic.  Natural latex is rarely used for bed mattresses these days.  There are two types of latex to choose from, defined by manufacturing process:

  • Talalay – Talalay latex foam mattresses are manufactured by injecting liquid latex into a closed mould, vacuuming all the air out, then freezing the mould to stabilise the material.  It is more consistent but not as firm.
  • Dunlop – A Dunlop latex foam mattress is manufactured by injecting the liquid latex into a closed mould which is then baked in a vulcanisation oven to stabilise the shape.  It is then removed from the mould and baked a second time to get rid of excess moisture.  Dunlop latex is denser than talalay but not as consistent throughout.

Organic, Natural, and Hypoallergenic Materials

One last thing to understand in terms of mattress materials relates to three terms: organic, natural, and hypoallergenic.  The terms might be important to you if your child suffers from allergies, chemical sensitivities, or other physical issues that may be exacerbated by mattress choice.

  • Organic – A genuinely organic mattress is made entirely of natural, organic materials that have not been unnecessarily treated with chemicals.  Popular materials for organic mattresses include wool and cotton.
  • Natural – A natural mattress is also made with natural materials, but there are no guarantees the materials have not been chemically treated. For example, it is normal for natural mattresses to be treated with a flame retardant.
  • Hypoallergenic – Mattresses marketed as being hypoallergenic are designed to be less likely to aggravate allergies.  They cut down on the proliferation of dust mites as well as ambient allergens that may collect in other mattresses.

Important Things to Consider

You now know about mattress sizes, types, and materials.  Now it's time to think about all of the other factors that will ultimately decide which mattress is best for your child.  There are 10 of them:

Age and Future Plans

Moving a three-year-old from cot to bed does not necessarily justify purchasing a double or king size, especially if the child's room is on the smaller size.  But consider whether or not you want to continue buying larger beds as the child grows.  If not, you might want to purchase a single up front.  A single can be used until your child moves out. 

Density and Firmness

Though not always the case, mattress density and firmness tend to go hand in hand.  Note that children are more likely to sleep better on firmer mattresses.  Their bodies need the extra support as they grow.  Memory foam and softer coil spring mattresses are generally not recommended for younger children.  As children get older, firmness is less of an issue.  You might consider a softer mattress if you are buying for a pre-teen or teenager.

Sleeping Safety

Younger children being moved from cot to bed will find themselves in a new environment without sides.  A child who tends to move around throughout the night may require temporary railings on the side.  You can also position a new bed against one wall and then install a temporary railing on the open side. 

Washable Materials

Though it is not recommended that you wash a mattress frequently, you might be concerned about dust mites or accidents.  A washable mattress will be easier to clean in both circumstances.  Definitely look for a washable material if you are buying for a younger child for whom accidents are frequent. 

Waterproof Materials

Waterproof materials are ideal for children under the age of five.  Not only do these make cleaning up after accidents easier, but they also protect interior components against leaky bottles, water spills, vomit, and so forth.  Waterproof materials also tend to be washable, so that's a plus.

 

Material Quality

Material quality is of utmost importance if you are buying a mattress you expect to last 10 to 20 years.  This is one case in which spending a little bit more really pays off.  Cheap, off-brand mattresses may only last a few years.  A high equality, well-known brand will provide much longer life.

Chemicals and Off-Gassing

Nearly every mattress is treated with chemicals.  More often than not, flame retardants are the bare minimum.  If you are at all concerned about chemicals, research what is required by law as opposed to what manufacturers choose to do themselves.  As a side note, chemical treatments lead to off-gassing.  Some materials, like foam, exhibit off-gassing for longer periods of time.  Simply put, you can tell by the smell.

Sustainability

If sustainability is important to you, consider mattresses made with natural products.  Organic is probably important to you as well.  Do your homework.  Just because a mattress is marketed as being natural or organic does not mean it is everything you expect it to be.

 

Floor Space

You might be dealing with a limited amount of floor space in your child's bedroom.  As such, this may dictate that you stick with a small single or single for the time being. You might get away with a larger mattress if you choose a storage bed as the extra storage may eliminate the need for additional furniture pieces in the bedroom.

 

Your Budget

Finally, do keep your budget in mind.  At the end of the day (literally) a bed is a truly functional piece of furniture.  Maximise your budget by concentrating on the right firmness, size, and style for your child.  Avoid the temptation to exceed your budget just to buy more than your child needs.  Purchasing a mattress for your child may not be as easy as you expect.  With so many choices, there is a lot to think about.  We recommend you take your time and ask lots of questions.  Arm yourself with information, as that is the best way to ensure your eventual decision is an informed one.

 
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