If your baby has an ear infection or a stuffy nose, you most probably wonder – like many other parents – whether it will help to let your baby sleep with the head slightly elevated. And if it will help, how do you “modify” your baby’s crib to get your baby in a safe elevated sleeping position?
Although there is controversy about the subject, many pediatricians recommend that you elevate your baby’s crib mattress if your baby has certain congestion problems such as a stuffy nose. And if you elevate the mattress correctly, it is safe for your baby.
In this article, I’ll look at the most important reasons why an elevated crib mattress might be needed and then I will suggest ways and procedures how to elevate the crib mattress in such a way that it is safe for your baby.
Why is an elevated crib mattress needed?
There is controversy, as well as contradictory evidence, regarding the benefits of a slightly inclined sleeping position for your baby. However, there are many parents and pediatricians who still believe in a slightly inclined sleeping position in certain circumstances. An inclined sleeping position is commonly suggested by doctors to relieve a baby’s colic, reflux, stuffy nose as a result of a common cold, and ear infection, to name a few reasons.
The principle behind an elevated position is that if the head is a little bit higher than the rest of the baby’s body, fluid drainage away from the head and face area is easier. Usually, older children and adults apply the same principle when a foot or leg have been hurt. They elevate the foot or leg to prevent too much swelling and promote better circulation.
There are some pediatricians who believe that it is not such a bad idea to let your baby always sleep on an elevated mattress. This will make them used to the sleeping position and you don’t have to change the position of the mattress every time your baby has some or other nasal congestion.
The correct way to elevate a crib mattress
When you’ve decided, usually in consultation with your doctor or the pediatrician, that your baby should sleep on an elevated crib mattress, you have to ensure that you do the elevation safely and correctly at your home.
Depending on your circumstances, you can do the mattress elevation in any of the following ways:
- You can put a towel, rolled-up baby blanket or pillow under the crib mattress.
- Another solution is to purchase a crib wedge to place under the mattress.
- The third possibility is to adjust the crib’s base if the crib’s design allows it.
Method 1: Use a towel, rolled-up baby blanket, or small pillow
To elevate the mattress with a towel, rolled-up baby blanket, or small pillow in such a way that it is safe for your baby, just keep to the following procedure:
1. Determine how high you should elevate the mattress to reach the required angle
You have to remove the mattress from the crib to execute this step. When you’ve removed the mattress, use a tape measure or ruler and make a mark 6 inches from the bottom of the mattress support at the end of the crib where you want to elevate the mattress. (The mattress support might be a solid board or spring-based support.) As it is not recommended to elevate a baby mattress by more than 6 inches, this mark will guide you so that you don’t exceed the recommended maximum elevation.
A 6-inch lift should give you an incline angle of about 30 degrees. If you need an incline angle of less than 30 degrees, just decrease the height of the mattress. Usually, a three-inch lift results in an incline angle somewhere near 15 degrees. (You will most probably have to experiment a few times to get the exact height and angle you require for your baby.)
2. Place the rolled-up blankets or other material on the mattress support
You now have to “build” mattress support with material like a towel, rolled-up baby blanket or pillow, in such a way that when you put the mattress back into the crib, its base is still supported from the lowest side up to the elevated end without “gaps” in the support material.
In other words, when you put the mattress back into the crib, the whole base of the mattress should rest firmly on the material and not give way when pressure (about the weight of the baby) is applied to it. It is very important that whatever material you are using for the elevation, no loose material can stick out of the side of the mattress. Thus, you have to ensure that all loose ends are folded away before you put the mattress back.
3. Place the baby mattress back into the crib and ensure that it is stable
After you’ve put the mattress back again, ensure that it is level (except for the incline) and that it fits securely into the crib. If it feels wobbly, you’ll have to take the mattress out again and “re-build” the mattress support. Don’t just stick another towel or pillow under the mattress when it’s wobbly because it can then easily pop out from underneath the mattress when your baby is moving in the crib.
4. Redo if the incline angle is too high
Unfortunately, if you’ve gone through the procedure and the end result is a mattress with an incline angle of more than 30 degrees, there is no shortcut to making the incline smaller other than to redo the whole process. This is the only way that you can be sure that the “foundation” is stable and safe.
It may sound like a lot of work (and time) to prepare your baby’s crib when an elevated mattress is needed, but always keep in mind that only the right angle of elevation will help with your baby’s congestion or reflux and you’re baby’s crib and mattress should never be a safety risk for the baby.
Method 2: Purchase a crib wedge to place under the mattress
The second method to elevate the mattress in your baby’s crib is to purchase a crib wedge and fit it underneath the mattress. Crib wedges are available in most baby shops and also online and will cost you anything from about $20 to $50.
Usually, crib wedges are designed for a 15-degree elevation – which is the average elevation prescribed by doctors – but there are also other angles less than 15 degrees available
The benefits of a crib wedge include the following:
- It is easy to use a crib wedge. You just stick it under the baby mattress.
- A crib wedge is flat and level, so the sleeping surface stays very secure.
- Crib wedges are designed to be crib-width. This ensures that nothing will be sticking out from under the mattress.
- You have the right incline every time.
Method 3: Adjust the crib’s base, if the crib’s design allows it.
Most modern cribs are designed in such a way that you can adjust the height of the mattress by raising or lowering the supporting mattress platform. This is a feature enabling you to lower the mattress as your baby is growing. But the same feature can be used to elevate the baby mattress at one end if the crib is designed to allow you to raise or lower one end of the platform while keeping the other end in its original position.
If you have a crib for your baby with this feature, it is very easy to elevate the mattress. Maintain the head portion of the mattress in its current position and then lower the feet portion one or two positions. The mattress fits flat onto the base and no pillows or rolled-up towels are needed.
Ensure that your baby doesn’t slide to the foot end of the crib
When you’ve elevated the mattress to the angle you require, there is one more thing to do before you put your baby in the crib. During the mattress elevation process, you’ve ensured that everything is safe for the baby, but it might still happen that your baby slides down to the foot end of the crib while sleeping.
But you can help your baby not to slide. Take a large towel and roll it and then shape it into a “U”. Then place the “U”-shaped towel on the mattress so that the middle of the “U” is about in the middle of the mattress and the ends of the towel are higher and to the edge of the mattress where you tug them in. To complete the “cradle,” place the sheet over the mattress and secure it.
Now you are ready to put your baby safely on the mattress in the crib.
Is it safe to let your baby sleep on an elevated mattress?
If you’ve followed the procedures as explained earlier in this article, you can safely let your baby sleep in the crib. If the elevation has been done correctly, there are no more “risks” involved as when your baby sleeps on a mattress that is not elevated.
Just remember, the basic “rules” apply whether your baby sleeps on an elevated mattress or not:
- Place your baby always on his or her back in the crib.
- Don’t put fluffy toys in the crib.
- Don’t use a soft pillow.
- Ensure that the mattress cover sheet is securely in place.
There is one other alternative if you don’t want to elevate the mattress itself. You can use bed risers.
Many parents believe it is safe to put books, blocks or other objects under the crib legs as bed risers to reach the required elevation. Many pediatricians are not recommending this method because it makes the crib unstable and it is very difficult to get the crib level.
Some baby shops and online shops offer professionally-made bed and crib risers. If you use these risers the crib will be less unstable and it is easier to level the crib.
What you have to keep in mind, is that you can only raise one end of the entire crib for a few inches before it becomes unstable – even with professionally-made bed risers. And raising the entire crib only a few inches will give you a very small incline angle.
If your crib has wheels on it, you have to remove the wheels before you do any tilting of the crib. If you leave the wheels on any movement by the baby can cause the crib’s wheels to roll off the risers.
Although there are people who don’t believe that there is any benefit for your baby to sleep on an elevated mattress, many doctors still recommend it in certain circumstances. It is safe for your baby if you follow the right procedures to elevate the mattress.