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Baby Bedding & SIDS: Do crib mattresses cause infant deaths?

by Dr. Randy

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Alarming research suggests that the gases emitted from mattresses treated with various chemicals, including most adult, bassinet, and crib mattresses, may be associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). When naturally occurring fungi grow in the mattress they react with these chemicals producing a toxic gas cloud that hovers just above the baby’s bed. Turning babies onto their backs to sleep has resulted in a dramatic decrease in deaths, because the babies’ noses are no longer stuffed into the mattress where the concentration of gases is highest, claims New Zealand researcher James Sprott. His solution? Wrap all mattresses in polyethylene sheeting (at least 5 mil in thickness), available at hardware stores, to seal the gases into the mattress. Since a mattress-wrapping campaign was initiated in 1994, the rate of SIDS has dropped by 48 percent in New Zealand and no infants sleeping on mattresses that were wrapped in polyethylene have died.

A study published in the British Medical Journal * confirmed that crib mattresses contribute to SIDS. This study sought to examine whether infants who died without obvious cause were more likely to sleep on a used mattress. Dr. Sprott contends that older, used mattresses will contain more fungus growth and release more toxic gas.

This new study, conducted in Scotland, lends further credence to Dr. Sprott’s findings. This research study investigated whether infants who slept on a previously used mattress were more likely to die of SIDS. In this study conducted between 1996 and 2000, these researchers confirmed their previous findings from 1997. They discovered that, “Routine use of an infant mattress previously used by another child was significantly associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.”

The authors of this new study do not assert a cause and effect relationship between SIDS and used infant mattresses, nor do they discuss the toxic gas theory. An accompanying editorial in the same issue of the British Medical Journal discusses the possible role of bacterial accumulation in the mattresses. Toxic bacteria could grow on saliva, urine or milk that have soaked into the mattress from a previous child. However, the editorial reviews no evidence that these infants have died of any bacterial infections.

This new evidence should reinforce every parent’s resolve to wrap their infant’s mattress with polyethylene. This includes the bassinet, the crib, or the parents’ own mattress if they sleep with their baby.

* Tappin, D., et al. Used infant mattresses and sudden infant death syndrome in Scotland: case-control study, British Medical Journal, 2002;325:1007 (2 November). www.bmj.com

HOW TO WRAP A BABY’S MATTRESS FOR SIDS PREVENTION
Instructions written by James Sprott

The advice to wrap mattresses applies to every mattress on which a baby sleeps (except a BabeSafe mattress) and includes: adults’ mattresses; mattresses of other children; and all mattresses made of or containing natural products such as sheepfleeces, goatskins, kapok, tree bark, coconut fibre, etc.

The most convenient way to wrap a baby’s mattress is by means of a BabeSafe mattress cover. As an alternative, parents can purchase polyethylene sheeting to make their own mattress wraps. If they select this option, the following instructions apply:

1. Use thick, clear (not colored) polyethylene sheeting, available in the paint section of your local hardware store. The thickness of the polyethylene must be at least 125 microns, or 5 mil. On no account should PVC be used for wrapping mattresses.

2. Place the polyethylene over the top of the mattress and down the ends and sides, and then secure it firmly beneath the mattress with strong adhesive or duct tape.

3. The polyethylene should not be airtight on the underside of the mattress. It must be airtight on the top and sides of the mattress.

4. It is imperative to use the correct bedding with a BabeSafe mattress or BabeSafe mattress cover or polyethylene-covered mattress. On top of the polyethylene place a fleecy pure cotton underblanket and tuck this in securely. Then make the bed using sheets and pure woollen or pure cotton overblanket/s.

5. Do not use any of the following items in your baby’s bed:

Sheepskin
Sheepfleece underlay
Any form of moisture-resistant mattress protector
Acrylic blanket
Sleeping bag
Duvet

6. Proprietary mattresses and mattress covers must not be used unless they carry the Campaign against Cot Death logo or are accompanied by a certificate of analysis showing that they contain no detectable phosphorus, arsenic or antimony (lower limit of detection 0.001% = 10mg/kg = 10ppm).

For more information about baby mattress issues read the articles at the healthychild website.

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  • AKMW

    Why doesn’t the mattress have to be completely coverec?  Why have the underside open?  Won’t off gassing still occurs unless completely in cased?

    • HumanDevResearcher

      If the mattress is completely sealed, the gasses will escape through any weaknesses in the material (folds, seals, etc). By covering the sides and top, your directing the offgassing down and away from baby, especially because the gasses would become more concentrated as they get trapped in sheets and matress covers, and your baby lays directly on these. When directed downward and away, the gasses won’t be as concentrated.