One important part of our journey to a healthier lifestyle has been a gradual shift in our bedding choices. At first, this didn’t seem like something that would make a big difference in overall health, but as I researched it, I discovered how important healthy mattresses and bedding options can be. I also discovered that there is a lot of mis-information and mis-labeling in the mattress industry and that sometimes a non-toxic but not certified organic mattress can be a better (and cheaper!) option.
What’s In A Mattress?
By law, mattresses have to pass certain standards for being flame retardant. As many of the substances used to make regular mattresses are not naturally flame retardant, this means that manufacturers must add chemicals to be able to satisfy the flame retardant requirements. These requirements for being able to resist flame are pretty intense and a mattress must be able to withstand fire from a blowtorch for a certain amount of time to pass.
According to this article, this can mean:
Manufacturers are dousing them [mattresses] with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether, better known as PBDE, which do NOT have to be disclosed in any way.
PBDEs, which have been banned in Canada, Europe, and several states, build up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. This is concerning not only because of the health problems PBDE is associated with (brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels), but also because of how pervasive these chemicals have become.
Since we spend up to 1/3 of our life sleeping, the chemicals in a mattress can be a big source of exposure and have been linked to problems like allergies, asthma, fertility problems/hormone imbalance and even autism in sensitive individuals. Some, like Dr. Mercola, make a strong case for the potential dangers even of the springs of mattresses which can amplify electromagnetic radiation during sleep. (For this reason, and also to reduce inflammation, I sleep on a grounding mat on my bed)
Even if a mattress isn’t causing these problems, switching to organic/natural options is an easy way to reduce chemical exposure (definitely easier than getting kids used to taking fermented cod liver oil!).
This article has some great information and references for avoiding chemicals in mattresses and bedding.
What to Look For
Not all organic/natural mattresses are created equal and some can have the same issues as conventional mattresses. If you choose to pursue an organic option, it will likely be made of these natural materials:
- Organic, chemical free wool- Wool is naturally flame retardant and also resistant to mold and bacteria. It is often used as a cloth diaper cover because of its ability to repel water.
- Organic, chemical free cotton
- Organic, chemical free latex- I react to commercial latex in latex gloves but have no problem with the organic latex in our mattresses. Organic latex gives firmness and support to the mattress without the need for springs or metal. Natural latex is also resistant to mold and dust mites and great for temperature regulation.
When Non-Toxic Is a Better Option
While there are true certified organic mattress options that contain only these materials, they come with their own potential problems. Wool, latex and cotton are natural materials but they aren’t the best for support and can lose their comfort over time.
Additionally, certain types of wool are still treated with chemicals to increase their ability to withstand heat and flame. Wool is considered waterproof (and even used in some cloth diaper covers for this reason) but is not 100% waterproof. This can mean that sweat, urine or moisture can seep into the mattress and cause microbial growth over time.
Natural latex rubber, though natural, does undergo chemical processing to get to its mattress-ready form. Some people can react to the proteins in natural latex, especially if they have a latex allergy. (I personally do react to most forms of latex like latex gloves and the rubber bands that were used when I had braces but did not react to the latex in natural mattresses).
To make a long story short, we replaced our children’s mattresses with basic organic mattresses and they did great. When we finally saved up and replaced ours, we found that my husband didn’t sleep well on the softer organic mattress and started getting back pain. It got so severe that we eventually had to replace our (really expensive) organic mattress (ugh!).
After trying several other options we eventually decided on trying IntelliBED and have been comfortably using it (and sleeping) ever since. Read our full experience in this post, or check out IntelliBED here and use the code WellnessMama for a 10% discount.
I was shocked at the immediate change in our daughter’s sleep habits when we switched to non-toxic mattresses. At a year old, she was still waking to nurse a few times through the night, though more out of restlessness than actual hunger (she was eating a lot during the day). I would nurse her to get her back to sleep, but this was getting very tiring.
The first day we switched to her new mattress (and an organic down comforter), she slept all night. I thought it had to be a coincidence, until she did it the next night too. Don’t get me wrong, she has been a very easy baby, but she had been waking during the night to nurse since birth. I had not slept through an entire night since she was born. After the third night, I was ecstatic. She even slept through the night when my husband and I took a weekend away and her grandmother took care of her!
I don’t know exactly what the connection was that caused the change in her sleep patterns, but I certainly wish I’d gotten around to trying non-toxic bedding a long time ago (like before I had my first… oh the sleepless nights!). I would guess that the absence of chemicals, the increased comfort of the newer mattress, or even just the change itself contributed to her sleeping better, but honestly, whatever the reason, I’m glad we switched. (All of my siblings will also be getting a non-toxic crib mattress for their first baby as a gift from us… don’t tell… I don’t think they read my blog :)).
Have you ever tried organic bedding? Did you notice a difference? Is this something you’ve researched too and will try in the future? Share below!