My girlfriend and I are expecting our first child in the next couple of weeks. We still need to buy a mattress for the Baby's cot. I read online that some mattresses have ventilation holes to help prevent SIDS. But on another website I read that these actually could provoke sudden death because used air might get trapped in the holes.

I don't really know what to believe, so my question is: Do you know of any studies that have analyzed the effect of such ventilation holes?

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    Do you have an example of this somewhere? I've never heard of it before and my youngest is only 1 so it isn't like I've been out of the baby-product loop for THAT long :-D
    – Meg Coates
    Mar 8, 2012 at 22:33

3 Answers 3


There have been no studies to support that ventilation holes in a mattress prevent SIDS or vice-versa. The only claim that is made is that lack of ventilation increases the risk of SIDS - which is true. But ventilation holes in a mattress does not mean that you are reducing the likelihood of SIDS. The most important thing is simply to make sure that your baby sleeps on their back. Some people believe that mattress with ventilation holes means that you can put your baby on their belly - NO - do not do that.

Ventilation holes are often used in synthetic mattresses to keep the baby cool; however, you can just buy a natural material that is breathable.

There is more information on Guidelines for Products Intended for Sleeping Babies.

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    Can you provide a reference about lack of ventilation leads to SIDS? My understanding of SIDS is that we don't know what causes it. Mar 9, 2012 at 7:15
  • There are a whole lot of things that increase risk of SIDS and lack of ventilation is one of them. For example, sleeping on the belly doesn't cause SIDS but it sure as heck increases risk.
    – Swati
    Mar 22, 2012 at 15:39
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    @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun : Lack of ventilation isn't a cause of SIDS. Suffocation is a risk if a baby is placed in a position where they cannot breathe, but it's unconnected to SIDS. This gets confused in the United States because sometimes coroners and others will call a death SIDS when it is unintentional suffocation, since otherwise it can trigger a mandatory criminal or child abuse investigation, but that does not change the medical question of what occurred. Jun 25, 2012 at 20:28
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    (This is based on information I learned while working as webmaster for a SIDS education campaign in Georgia.) Jun 25, 2012 at 20:31

To the best of my knowledge, ventilation holes prevent suffocation, not SIDS. My best advice regarding SIDS is to deliberately ignore it because it is futile to worry as long as the causes remain unknown -- it's called sudden infant death syndrome for a reason.

Also, "air getting trapped in the holes" is a misunderstanding that you can disregard. The fact that there might be trapped air present is not a danger in itself. If you can provide the link to where you read it, we can discuss it in more detail.

Here's my understanding of the importance of a ventilated mattress:

First, a little background. Babies need to develop enough bodily awareness and motor control to react to their environment:

  • If you put a newborn down on his belly, he will bury his face in the mattress because does not know how to turn his head to avoid suffocation.
  • If you put a stuffed animal in his face, he does not know how to move himself or the toy away to avoid suffocation.
  • This is the reason why you should always put newborns to sleep on their back, and why you should keep pillows and blankets and stuffed animals out of a newborn's crib.

Eventually, babies develop the motor skills to turn themselves around, but at first they can only turn themselves face-down. This is still before they learn to turn their head sideways, and this is why the mattress' ventilation capability is important -- to avoid suffocation.

Some time later (weeks?) they learn to turn themselves around again to lie face-up. By this time, the suffocation danger has passed, but as Swati mentions you should still not place the baby face-down.

When you go mattress shopping, you can easily test the ventilation. Just put your face into the mattress and try to inhale -- the mattress passes the test if you can inhale. (Note of course that this test might be gross if the mattress is dusty or dirty.) You can also refer to the mattress' product information, or ask the store staff.

  • While the cause(s) of SIDS are, as you say, unknown, there are strong correlations between a number of factors and SIDS. Saying "deliberately ignore it" may be a bit extreme. For example, having a baby sleep on its back is a practice that has been shown to reduce the chances of SIDS (although no one is sure why it works). This is in addition to, but separate from, the suffocation risk you mention.
    – user420
    Mar 9, 2012 at 12:27
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    +1 for "deliberately ignore it". We all worry a little too much about our kids-worrying about something like SIDS is like worrying about an asteroid hitting earth. One should take every precaution to avoid suffocation, as mentioned, but SIDS is tragically out of our control.
    – Jax
    Apr 29, 2015 at 11:31

SIDS is not suffocation.

If your newborn is but to sleep on their back, with no loose blankets, they should not be able to suffocate. This is the preferred sleeping position, until they are old enough to roll over. By the time they can roll over on their own, the risk of SIDS is basically gone.

Suffocation cannot be caused by the mattress unless you did something else wrong.

You do need to make sure there is nothing (blankets, toys, etc.) for the kid to get tangled on, because suffocation is much more likely a result of this. The mattress isn't a culprit - and "used air" makes little sense otehr than when there is a suffocation risk - which was discussed. So if you place the baby properly, and there is nothing to suffocate on, ventilation of the mattress for a newborn is irrelevant.

More info:

For more information about SIDS, see here: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/Sudden_Infant_Death_Syndrome.cfm - it is the government site about the topic, and is quite comprehensive.

For what to do to prevent suffocation, see here: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/safety_suffocation.html - a list of doctor recommendations to prevent suffocation.

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