I’ve gotten several queries from readers lately about safe mattresses. So I thought I’d rehash some of the things I have written about them in the past (like several posts I wrote a few years back for TheDailyGreen.com), and give some pointers from my latest book, Planet Home. I think “organic” crib mattresses are a must for new babies, especially as parents tend to be shopping for a new crib mattress then anyway. Skip the extraneous gear you think you might need for a new baby and use the savings on a safe crib mattress. And protect that mattress with a wool — not plastic — puddle pad.

From Planet Home:

“Mattresses are the number one concern in a bedroom because most contain foam. Most foams are polyuerthane, a petroleum-based, nonrenewable, and highly flammable resource that requires more flame retardants than other mattress materials. By law, all mattresses in the United States must contain some sort of flame retardant so they meet cigarette-ignition resistance as well as address open-flame heat sources. While federal flammability laws have prevented many deaths and injuries resulting from mattress fires, some of the chemicals used to meet the requirements are harmful to our health and the environment. The worst are brominated flame retardants (BFRs) called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Some versions of these are banned in the E.U. and are slowly being phased out Stateside. This is good news, because they are not only potentially carcinogenic but are also reproductive toxicants and endocrine disruptors. They escape from mattresses and then basically piggyback on the dust particles in our homes. Due to their widespread use in everything from mattresses to electronics to upholstered furniture, PBDEs can be found in the blood of just about every American, as well as in breast milk, at levels higher than those found in citizens of other countries.

Considering their ubiquity, it makes sense to reduce exposure to PBDEs in mattresses, especially if you’re of reproductive age, pregnant, a kid, or have small kids sleeping with you. Pound for pound, children are exposed to higher levels of these chemicals than adult bodies are, and at vulnerable moments of development.

Find out what your current mattress is made of and what flame retardants it contains. It won’t be enough to read the Do Not Remove tag on it; call the manufacturer and ask about the flame retardants, materials, stain guards, and mold inhibitors used.”

For more thoughts on choosing, buying, and maintaining your mattress, turn to pages 98 to 103 of Planet Home.