Generation Gap: Sleep Decisions


December 9, 2011 by Leah

I thought the previous post on sleep safety would be my last on that particular topic, but it turns out I’ve run across so much information (and left some loose ends) that it wasn’t.

There’s a compelling theory circulating the interwebs that postulates that chemicals in crib mattresses emit toxic gases, and that these gases are what cause SIDS. Furthermore (apparently), it’s not enough to off-gas mattresses, because after crib mattresses are no longer new, they are a great host for some sort of fungus, and when that fungus is found in close proximity to chemicals in crib mattresses, the combination creates even nastier heavier-than-air gasses than new mattresses create alone. This blog entry is a really nice summation of the issue, with references. I have to admit, the toxic gas theory makes sense on a lot of levels. If the gases are heavier than air and congregate right on top of crib mattresses, it makes total sense that babies sleeping on their backs, or in rooms with fans, are less susceptible to SIDS. (Which, if this theory is true, isn’t really a syndrome at all, but the systematic poisoning of America’s babies by chemical corporations.) It also makes sense that SIDS disproportionately affects the children of minority, impoverished, and teenage parents.

While the gas theory makes sense, I’m kind of skeptical about the fungus thing. There’s one specific fungus that grows in crib mattresses (and sheepskins) the world over? We’ve been living in houses for a long time. The ecosystems and environments in which houses exist vary widely from one state to the next, never mind across oceans. Couple those observations with the staggering amount of biodiversity exhibited in the microscopic world, and I’m not convinced. (The people over at the Green Baby Guide are with me on this one.)

That said, we’re talking about preventing dead babies here. If we happened to have a regular old crib mattress, would I send away for a $40 polyethylene mattress cover? Hatred of plastic aside, I don’t see why not.

So, am I getting a mattress wrap? No. Well, not right away.

Trying to navigate the baby learning curve via blog and Facebook has been fun, because I’m getting a ton of great feedback from all my friends and relatives who also happen to be parents. And guess what? My unofficial stats say that most of you sleep with your babies – and your dogs – and tuck the babies in with blankets. I find this very refreshing, because it’s what people have been doing for millenia. Most of you also say that the sleeping arrangements end up being whatever works in order to maximize sanity amongst all family members. (Seriously, hearing all your stories is great – now if Aaron decides to decamp to the guest room for a while next summer, I’m not going to freak out and feel rejected.)

When it comes to “where will baby sleep” we’ve actually come up with what I think will be a really good “Plan A.” It feels right, anyway.

I ordered an organic crib mattress this week. It was on sale for less than half its original price on Zulily (another phenomenon I’d never met nor cared to meet until recently…), and while it’s not a Naturepedic mattress, which some websites will tell you are the only chemical-free and waterproof crib mattresses, it’s totally chemical free. (These websites also tell you to look for only waterproof mattresses because of the Fungus.) It’s made from latex, coconut fiber, and organic cotton. (I went with the cotton cover over the wool cover since cotton is machine washable.) You can get water-resistant wool-based covers for them. I’m a lot happier relying on wool and cotton than plastic. Even if there is a fungal risk, the mattress is new, so there’s no fungus. Maybe we’ll wrap it for subsequent children.

So, now we have an organic crib mattress. We also have a crib, sitting in pieces in our guest room. Yesterday, in a blog comment I made a joke about removing one of the sides and bungeeing the crib to our bed. Turns out, people actually do this. It’s called “the sidecar arrangement.” Which makes it totally legit. Aaron was thrilled with the idea, because it means we will be working with what we have, rather than getting a bunch of new stuff that we will only use for a year. Voila. Plan A.


Previous posts in this series: BPA, Where to Sleep, Crib Safety


5 thoughts on “Generation Gap: Sleep Decisions

  1. therobynnest says:

    Hi! Calico Blonde, here. This (therobynnest) is my real blog, where I write about my children all of the time. I wrote the SIDS piece when I was up for about 48 hours straight after my 2 month old got his first vaccinations and had the high-pitched scream (encephalitic cry) on and off for hours. It was the day that changed my life. I went from searching about the scream, to SIDS, to Toxic Gas that night.

    I think the fungus issue is explained by looking at it this way: it’s the fungus that grows out of sweat, spit-up, and shed skin cells, so yes, it grows where there are humans. Not just crib mattresses; any mattresses, any surface where people are for long periods of time. It’s not the fungus that kills, it’s the mixing with fire retardant chemicals that creates the nerve gas.

    When I wrote that 2 years ago there were not any alternatives to the Naturepedic mattress that I knew of. Now there is Naturepedic (which we have one for our infant), Natura (for our toddler, organic 100% latex), Nook, Essentia, some Keetsa, and I think even Colgate makes ones are chemical-free and use other fire barriers. If you go to my family blog and search “mattress” you’ll come up with a piece called “I think my head is going to explode” or something like that where I’ve researched mattresses.

    We slept with our baby in a sidecar, too, but it was a just a little one made by Arm’s Reach designed just for that purpose. Good luck to you!

    • I’m impressed with your research abilities on no sleep! Thanks for explaining the fungus a little more. I remembered that piece of information last night and decided that with an organic crib mattress, even if we have fungus we have no chemicals, so no problem. I’m heading right over to read your mattress research piece. Love the title… I feel the same way.

  2. lahancock says:

    Yup, we side car here too. I can take some pictures of ours if you want, because you do have to figure out what to wedge on the side of the crib mattress (far side for us) to make sure that the mattress stays slush with the main bed.

    I’m jealous of your new crib mattress. I wanted something like that, but ended up doing the plastic wrap thing too. I also wondered, why am I putting plastic over a crib mattress, but hey, all has been well and the mattress gets extra protection from leaks. Now you get to look into all of the cool fabrics to choose. For our bunk beds that only ever get used for naps, we went cheap for mattresses protectors and I headed to the army store and bought wool blankets to protect. Cheaper than some alternatives, but kind of itchy if your sheet comes off.

    Ohh, and I’ve loved your friends FB comments on your posts. I think I would get along with all of them.

  3. Diana Roe says:

    Hi there,
    I am Bruce and Dawn Roe’s daughter-in-law. We met at your wedding party a couple of years ago. We just had a baby 11/28 and had many of the same concerns as you. On arriving in LaGrande for Christmas, Bruce pulled up your blog for me to check out. Love your witty banter about these important topics. Can you even imagine having babies before the internet? I can’t!
    I too went with an organic mattress for our baby. My understanding of off gassing is that it is occuring all around us- from the sofas we lounge in, to the clothes we wear. In my O chem class years ago we discussed off gassing and if I remember correctly, plastics NEVER stop off gassing. It is that new car smell. It is that chemical fragrance on most plastic toys. It is disgusting. And it would be difficult if not impossible to avoid entirely, but there are many choices we can make that limit our exposure, or more importantly, our baby’s exposure. On that same note, I purchased some organic bamboo sleepers which to my knowledge were not treated with fire retardent chemicals. Those were the first clothes she wore at the hospital so the first thing to touch her new skin was not chemical laden.
    We chose a naturpedic mattress because, even though it’s unlikely, latex and wool are common allergens. We got no cover for it and instead I picked up a couple organic water resistant pads that we’ll put under the fitted sheet, if necessary, when she starts sleeping in her crib. I love the pads cause I use them on the couch for diaper changes, as a topper for our changing pad, in the car for diaper changes, etc…
    Until baby Indigo is in her crib we have her in a mini co-sleeper by Arm’s Reach. It attaches to the bed but we chose to leave it unattached. It’s one of the purchases I am most happy with. We also did not want a lot of one-use items that cost a lot and would be used for only a short time. I decided on the mini co-sleeper cause it would also serve as her bed when we travel. Then when she is older and in her own crib we can still use it as a pack n play so I can run garbage outside or move sprinklers, etc. She won’t ever be in it for long periods of time, but it is a safe place for her to be for a few minutes. And when she is bigger it will still work for a travel bed with the mattress in the bottom rather than up top. I’m not sure how long it will work as a travel bed since we did get the mini version, but we’ll see! And because we left it unattached I easily move it from our room to the living room when I need to do dishes or something but don’t want her far away from me.
    We entertained the idea of having her in bed with us, but an acquaintance of mine rolled over and suffocated her 6 week old very recently. Her devestating story answered that question for us and sealed the deal with the co-sleeper! I do nurse in bed which is very difficult to do and stay awake and I have fallen asleep with her in our bed a few times. I just do my best to stay awake and when I do fall asleep I move her back to her co-sleeper as soon as I come to- which usually isn’t too long cause she’ll coo or make some other small noise and it wakes me right up.
    Motherhood is the most rewarding and important job I have ever had. And I’ve loved researching anything and everything having to do with making the best decisions for our sweet baby!
    I’d love to chat back and forth as you prepare for this exciting time–and I’ve researched it all! We interviewed hospitals and doulas and wrote a very strict birth plan. If we had not done our homework I would have ended up with an unnecessary c section.
    I also made sure to pack her own toiletries for the hospital so we weren’t using soap with all sorts of unnecessary ingredients for her first bath and chemical filled wipes on her soft lil’ bum.
    Have you made any decisions about diapering?
    I could talk about this stuff for hours! Anyway, good luck and enjoy this special time!

    • Hi, Diana! So good to hear from you. Congratulations on baby Indigo! Very good info on the co-sleeper/crib issue. I was more concerned about SIDS than rolling over on baby, but your friend’s tragedy definitely makes me think twice. I still think we will go with attaching the crib to our bed as it should keep baby in his/her own space and me out. Then again, if you’re thrilled with the co-sleeper and also trying to avoid overwhelming amounts of stuff, it could be something to consider. We’re going to cloth diaper, much to the consternation of the parental generation. I’m actually not overwhelmed by this one area as I did a bunch of research a couple of years ago (for no particular reason) and understand the prefold/cover system and terminology, etc. If/when I get back to writing about baby preparations, diapers will definitely be on the topic list. And, since baby will be born at the beginning of summer, if we have diapers and sleep sorted, we will be set. (And a car seat and some idea of what to do about vaccinations.) At any rate, it won’t need a snowsuit right off the bat…

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