Pack and plays or playards, also known as playpens in the past, provide a safe space for your baby or toddler to play when you need kid-free time to cook dinner, get ready for work, or take a bathroom break. They evolved from an original concept of a portable playpen for babies to tots. Today, however, the pack and play styles not only serve as portable playpens but may also be used for sleeping, as changing stations, and as bassinets. Pack and plays come with many different add-ons, such as hanging toys, pockets to hold diapers and spare clothes, and even rocking seats and mp3 players. In fact, there are so many different types and options on the market that parents might have a hard time deciding which one to buy for their child. Hopefully, this guide will make your choice easier!
Table of Contents
- When Do You Need a Pack and Play?
- Which Playard Is Best?
- 2 Product Types
- 8 Features
- Top Rated 5 Pack and Play Reviews 2017
- Extra Info:
- 1. Do You Need It for a Newborn Infant?
- 2. Do You Need a Pack and Play for a Toddler?
- 3. Is the Playard Safe?
- 4. Do You Have a Limited Budget?
- 5. Is It Easy to Set Up or Take Down?
- 6. Do You Have a Small Living Space?
- 7. How Much Does the Playard Weigh?
- 8. Are The Materials Used in Construction Organic and Non-toxic to Children?
- 9. Do You Want It to Have Wheels?
- 10. Do You Want the Educational Advantage of Toys?
- 11. Do You Need More Storage?
- 12. Will You Use It for Traveling?
- 13. Do You Need Other Extra Features?
- 14. How to Use a Playard Properly and Safely?
When Do You Need a Pack and Play?
Most playards can be used from the newborn stage up until three years old. When your child reaches 35 inches tall or can climb out, consider your playard’s tour of duty done.
Which Playard Is Best?
Try to figure out what you want most out of a pack and play before adding one to your registry. If you plan to travel with it – whether day trips or weekenders – you’ll want to look for one that is lightweight and easy to fold up. On the other hand, if you would prefer a playard you can also use as a bassinet and diaper changing station, look for souped up models that are both practical and attractive .
2 Product Types
There are two types of pack and play on the market:
A basic pack and play is lightweight and won’t have any extras such as a mobile or changing station. Most playards are designed for portability – to fit through a door, be moved from one room to another, or folded up to fit in the trunk of your car. They are mainly rectangular, usually 28 by 40 inches.
The deluxe type often comes with a bassinet and a changing station, plus toy bars, music, and canopies. You will find a lot of add-on features at the higher end of the price spectrum. The bassinet’s maximum weight capacity is 15 pounds and the changing table’s weight capacity is 25 pounds. This class of playard may include a vibrating mattress, electronic mobile, canopy, console with music, and night light. Manufacturers recommend using these pack and plays only with children under 35 inches tall.
If you expect to frequently move your play yard from room to room, check its dimensions before you buy. A lot of interior doorways are only 30 inches wide, which is no problem for the 28-inch width of most basic models. On the other hand, many deluxe types are wider. Keep in mind that if you want to move a deluxe model around inside the house, you may have to fold it.
Bassinets and changing-table inserts are pretty useful features. We have to warn you, though: never leave your child unattended within those devices in any model of playard. Your baby may be content to sleep in its bassinet insert, but the safest sleeping is in a full-sized crib. Once your baby begins moving around, he could fall out of a bassinet, either into the playard or onto the floor, and that could cause serious injury. However, a bassinet can provide a nice place for newborns to nap. You should look for a bassinet that securely fastens to the playard in a way that prevents older children from dislodging or tampering with it, especially if you have other kids in the home or plan to use the bassinet for your next baby.
Playards from most manufacturers are designed to move. They usually roll on wheels and fold easily and compactly into their own totes, which resemble short golf bags (although less rugged), making them ideal for trips or jaunts to Grandma’s. A model that fits into its travel bag with its wheels exposed can make moving through a busy place like an airport a lot easier.
3. Changing Station
Some changing stations attach to the longer top rail of the playard, and you have to remove them to get them out of the way. On the other hand, there are some that simply rest on the long rails and are hinged at one shorter side rail. These changing stations can be flipped over the rail to hang at the outer side of the playard. Our recommendation is to remove the changing table when not in use so it is out of reach of your baby and any other children. Additionally, it is always better to have an active means of attachment to the frame – that is, you have to click, snap, button, or strap a changing table or bassinet into place rather than just have it resting on a frame. Or you might want to skip the expense of a changing table attachment in favor of a safe, inexpensive changing mat that you can use on the floor. If you do use a changing table attachment, always keep your hand on your baby and use the safety straps. In order to avoid potentially fatal entrapment between the station and the yard’s top rail, never put your baby in a playard that has the changing table in place. By removing the table you are avoiding the possibility of entrapment by any loop from the changing table restraint strap (although no loops should be present in a playard that meets ASTM International safety standards). In any case, cease using the changing table insert when your child reaches the manufacturer’s weight limit, which may be anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds.
If you’ll be traveling a lot with your baby, you’ll need a playard that folds and reassembles easily.
5. Wheels or Casters
A pack and play with a pair of lockable wheels or swivel casters on one end will be much easier to move. For safety’s sake, make sure the wheels lock. Some designs can be rolled when folded, and that is definitely a plus.
Some playard models provide storage for toys and other baby items in zippered side pockets, fabric shelves, hook-on fabric storage pouches, and small clip-on parent-organizer bags. These features aren’t strictly necessary, but if you think you’ll use them, look for storage that is big enough to actually hold something. Storage compartments must be attached or built into the outside of the playard, so they’re out of your baby’s reach.
7. Toys, Music, Lights
Some pack and plays feature a mobile with suspended toys or a detachable baby gym that can also be used with the bassinet mattress on the floor as a separate play mat for tummy time. These are a bonus, because they are entertainment centers with music, soothing sounds, and lights. But they do increase the price – and the weight, which will make it more difficult to pack up the playard for storage or travel. These features mainly require C or AA batteries (not included). If you intend to use your playard as just a portable nursery, toys may not be necessary. On the other hand, if you use a playard as a mobile activity center, toys and sound effects can be very helpful.
A lot of pack and plays with bassinets have a canopy to shade your baby from harsh light. Some canopies have attached toys that act as a mobile. You can remove the canopy when you are no longer using the bassinet. We believe canopies are an unnecessary expense; you should never put your pack and play in direct sunlight anyway, because babies can easily burn or become overheated.
Top Rated 5 Pack and Play Reviews 2017
1. Graco Pack ‘n Play Reversible Napper and Changer
- The Graco Pack ‘n Play Reversible Napper and Changer is a multi-tasker whose functions grow with your child. This model includes a napper (a cozy bassinet elevated above the playpen structure) that when flipped over becomes a wipe-clean changing station. Then you can transition your baby to the full-size bassinet complete with a toy bar and plushies overhead. When your little one starts to move around, remove the mattress and – voila – you have a playard that can be used as a safe play spot and for naps through toddlerhood.
- Click here to check price/reviews!
- If you want a pack and play that is easy to set up and break down, the 4moms breeze is exactly what you need. Just push down on the center and the four legs spread and pop out. Once it comes time to put it away, pull up on the center and everything folds back into place to pack back into a travel bag. It also comes with a removable bassinet mattress and a portable changing pad. However, while opening up this playard is simple, carrying it around can be tiresome. At 30 pounds, this is the heaviest play and pack on our list.
- Click here to check price/reviews!
- The Nuna Sena Travel Crib is a Dutch-designed pack and play that will fit right into a modern home. It has a one-hand folding system that makes for an easy setup, especially since the upper cot folds with the frame. The cushy quilted mattress transforms this model into a bassinet for your baby and then later into a dreamy napping spot for your toddler. You can find this model in several beautiful colors: red, black, gray, navy and khaki.
4. BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light
- Click here to check price/reviews!
- You won’t get muscle fatigue carting around this super-practical yard that can be opened with one sweeping movement. One more great thing is that the materials are easily removable and washable – just unzip the top to remove and wash it. The pack and play rests directly on the floor, and its mattress has a built-in base plate that keeps the lightweight playard firmly planted. In contrast to most other playards included in our top picks, the BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light does not include a bassinet feature.
- Click here to check price/reviews!
- The Lotus Travel Crib is a super-light playard that folds up into a backpack case so your arms are still free to hold your little one and a diaper bag. Unlike the other pack and play models in our list, this one features a zippered side door so you can lie down with your baby to nurse or cuddle him to sleep and then creep away once he’s in dreamland. The open side door also enables babies and toddlers go in and out of their special place when you want them to, which makes this playard more like a play fort. When you get the hang of it, the Lotus Travel Crib sets up in 15 seconds and the extra-long mattress lies flat on the floor. This playard can be converted into a bassinet, but this requires an additional kit.
What should you consider when buying a pack and play? Here are some questions that you should ask yourself before making the final choice.
1. Do You Need It for a Newborn Infant?
- If you are soon to have a baby, you will want to purchase a pack and play that also comes with a bassinet. The deluxe models come with bassinets that are easily removed once the baby is bigger, and you’ll have the toddler playpen to use once the baby outgrows the bassinet.
2. Do You Need a Pack and Play for a Toddler?
- If your kid has already passed the infant stage, you will just need a basic playard without the added bassinet and changing table.
3. Is the Playard Safe?
- Playards are usually manufactured to comply with specific safety guidelines. Regardless of that, it’s always a good idea to check with the manufacturer to be sure they followed the specific safety guidelines set by the government.
4. Do You Have a Limited Budget?
- We are aware that price is often a consideration when it comes to choosing a playard. If your funds are limited, choose a less expensive playard. You may have to give up some features to make the purchase fit inside your budget, but even the most basic pack and plays can be very useful.
5. Is It Easy to Set Up or Take Down?
- Most playards are designed to be easy to set up and take down. Some of them even have a push-button release that makes them easier to fold up. Do you want wheels or legs that fold up into the unit so they don’t protrude? Make sure your choice folds down or sets up easily.
6. Do You Have a Small Living Space?
- If your home or apartment is small, you will definitely want to try to find one of the smaller models to help you save space. Larger units are nice, but not if you’re always tripping over them! Just choose a smaller playard that will meet your needs without taking up too much of your living space.
7. How Much Does the Playard Weigh?
- It is important to consider the weight, especially when you are going to be traveling with it in tow. Fortunately, most playards are designed to be light weight and easy to carry around with you. But it’s always good to check the weight just to ensure you choose one that is light enough to transport.
8. Are The Materials Used in Construction Organic and Non-toxic to Children?
- This is also a very important thing to check before making that final purchase. What you need to find is a statement by the manufacturer that tells you what they used to build the unit. This information also needs to confirm that the pack and play is non-toxic and not harmful for children.
9. Do You Want It to Have Wheels?
- You can find a lot of playards that have wheels so they are easy to push around the house. Most of them also fold up nicely for taking with you on a trip. But if you plan on keeping yours in one spot in your house, you can save a little money by purchasing a model without wheels.
10. Do You Want the Educational Advantage of Toys?
- Most pack and plays have a toy bar or other special features designed to stimulate or educate your baby. A few of the top playards have a toy bar that is soft and colorful. This supposedly helps teach the baby to focus, reach for things and make associations. If you want this for your child, make sure to pick a pack and play that includes it.
11. Do You Need More Storage?
- Some of the latest models on the market have extra storage units available. If you are not traveling much and are keeping the pack and play in one location most of the time, then you might benefit from having a convenient storage option.
12. Will You Use It for Traveling?
- If you are planning to use your playard while traveling, buy the most compact and easily portable model you can find. It will need to fold up as small as possible and have a carrying case of some sort. That will let you take it wherever you are going, whether by car, plane or other mode of transportation.
13. Do You Need Other Extra Features?
- Some higher-end deluxe models have special features that might be considered as just extras. For example, there are some models that include a vibration feature, which can be calming for the baby. There are also models able to play music or sounds of nature for your baby to help him relax and sleep.
14. How to Use a Playard Properly and Safely?
- Read and follow all safety precautions in the owner’s manual and on the playard. Keep your owner’s manual for future reference.
- We also recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly. Double check that all latching features and hinges on the playard are in place and secure. Before using a playard, confirm that all top rails and the center floor are locked in position; the floor pad should also be in place. Don’t ever let your baby in a playard with the sides down.
- In some models, the safety straps on the changing station insert can be a strangulation hazard if they form a loop beneath the changing table. This is another reason to remove the changing table when your baby is in the playpen portion of the playard. Because of the danger of strangulation and entrapment, always check to be sure that your baby can’t push down on the bassinet or changing table insert. One more thing to be careful about is that changing table straps should be sewn down or otherwise securely fastened to the changing table surface, so that they cannot form a loop.
- It is good idea to remove the bassinet and the changing station entirely, or if you have a hinged changing station, at least be sure to flip it to the outside when your baby is playing in the playard. There is some danger that the baby’s neck could become trapped between the side rail and the bassinet or changing station. Children have died in playards when that has happened. Also don’t forget that another child can flip a hinged bassinet back onto the playard while your baby is inside.
- Once your baby can pull up to a standing position, you should remove large toys and other objects that could serve as step stools for climbing out of the playard. If you see that your little one is a skilled climber in general, stop using the playard.
- When using a bassinet, place your baby to sleep on her back, as you would in a full-sized crib. If you are using a playard’s changing table, don’t forget to keep a hand on your baby and use the safety harness.