New Parents Who Understand the Word “Breathable” Could Save More Than Money

by Ben Wilson on October 29, 2021

It is no wonder parents are so confused with the use of the word “breathable” as it’s confusing for the global baby industry.

With a plethora of products on the market making claims about baby safety in conjunction with using the word “breathable”, it is important for parents to know what it means on baby products.

The US’s biggest web stores for babies,, the word “breathable” features in the description of more than 1500 baby products! The crux of the issue is actually very simple—Some fabrics can breathe, and some fabrics can be breathed through. The bulk of baby products with breathable claims are for comfort and performance (like activewear) where the fabric breathes and thus vapour permeable.

We need to make sure parents understand that most breathable product claims are not related to safety.

The fabrics that can breathed through are air-permeable, while the fabrics that breathe are only vapour permeable.



A real-life example of a consumer, Janis, being confused was evident in this negatively reviewed mattress protector. Her frustration was because the mattress protector was not “breathable” and therefore not suitable for children or babies.

Similarly, another confused consumer, NT, writes to Red Nose Australia questioning waterproof mattress protectors not being breathable and increase the risk of SIDS.
A baby could never be expected to, nor need to, breathe through a mattress protector. These products are only claiming to be vapour permeable—a feature that is not relative to baby’s breathing safety.

Why? Because a crib/cot mattress is very firm and cannot conform to the shape of an infant’s face. Even if a baby should roll onto its tummy, a firm surface cannot interfere with breathing.

Parents should take comfort that there are really only a few baby products that can or need to be breathed through and be air-permeable. These include products that have mesh walls like portable cots and bassinets, etc.

Products that don’t need to be breathed through or be air-permeable for safety that get caught up in this breathable confusion include: 

Customers do also need to look out for where us suppliers get it wrong. Yes, we are not perfect, and suppliers do, at times, have products that are made with fabrics that breathe and mix up that they can be breathed through in their messaging. 

There are emerging products offering permeability in baby’s sleep surface which is misleading. Firstly, baby should always be on their back to sleep. If they do temporarily roll over, firm and flat and nonair permeable is still the best.


 Mike Leshner, an expert on baby safety and former President of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers America, says:  

“In some instances, air permeable (breathe through) can be less safe. Adding anything thick and air permeable between baby and their sleep surface could conform to the shape of their face (if they were to roll over) creating a seal and hazardous rebreathing can occur. An infant can continue breathing greater and greater concentrations of their own exhaled breath, known as carbon dioxide rebreathing.

The safest sleep surface for an infant is a standard firm non air permeable cot/crib mattress. Globally, most infant mattresses have a waterproof layer and/or a protector and bedding added. None of these layers are air permeable, eliminating any chance for rebreathing. In addition, the firmness of the mattress (sleep surface) does not permit a conforming seal to the infant’s face, which is also a factor required to support rebreathing a form of suffocation.”

So, by navigating the word breathable properly and knowing which permeable to look for, it could help parents avoid buying products they don’t really need or even prevent them from buying solution products for where there isn’t even a problem to solve.

“In trying to get greater clarity for consumers, industry suppliers should only use the term air permeable and stop using the term breathable” said INPAA CEO, Tim Wain. Mr. Wain said, “the term breathable is overused as a marketing term and leads to unnecessary consumer confusion”.