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The phrase “Pack ‘n Play” is in every parents’ vocabulary and the question “How do I choose the best pack ‘n play?” is on every parents’ mind. 

Even though it is technically a trademarked term by the Graco company to describe their line of playards and travel cribs, it’s become a catch-all term for every company’s portable playards.

Choosing the best pack ‘n play for your baby will depend on your child’s age, what you want to use it for and your personal budget. Obviously, you also want it to be safe for all the activities you plan to use it for and you’ll probably want some portability since that’s what playards are all about.

What is a Pack ‘n Play?

Photo by Abigail Batchelder/Flickr

As previously mentioned, Pack ‘n Plays are technically only Graco’s product line of portable playards. Used as a more general term, though, pack n plays are portable playpens that can also act as a travel crib or mini-crib for babies and young toddlers.

They have mesh walls, they are made from lightweight plastic and aluminum material and they keep your child contained within a certain area so you can do something else while they are in there.

They come in various styles and sizes and many of them come with accessories like changing tables and bassinets. In theory, you could buy one pack ‘n play with a bassinet when your baby is a newborn and keep it until they grow out of it completely.

While Graco owns the Pack ‘n Play name, there are thousands of portable playard options from Graco and other brands.

[Want to learn more? Click here to read about popular pack ‘n play playards from other brands]

Learn how to set up a Graco Pack ‘n Play

What is the best Pack ‘n Play?

The best pack ‘n play is going to be different for every parent. Someone who has a large budget and drives to visit grandma and grandpa out of state a lot is going to need something different from a parent on a tighter budget who only needs to travel with their baby once in a blue moon.

When choosing the best pack ‘n play for your needs, take into account: 

  • What you need a pack n play for
  • Your child’s age
  • Your child’s size
  • What accessories you require 
  • How portable it needs to be for your purposes
  • Product reviews
  • Safety ratings
  • Your budget

We conducted a survey of Stuff4Tots parents to find out what they thought was the best pack ‘n play and the results are incredibly helpful for parents who are researching which one will be best for their needs. 

[Want to learn more? Click here to read honest parent feedback about Graco Pack n Plays.]


Is a Pack ‘n Play safe for sleeping?

The short answer is “yes.” 

You can absolutely use a pack n play for a portable travel crib and, if you need to, you can use it as a mini-crib in lieu of a full-sized crib.

“Pack and plays are definitely a safe option to use for your child, especially if space, finances, or traveling are issues that families are dealing with,” pediatrician Dr. Syeda Amna Husain told Stuff4Tots in an exclusive interview. “However, you must still adhere to safe sleep practices. That means a firm mattress with a fitted sheet should be the only things in the pack and play with the baby.”

Some of the reasons you may want to buy a pack n play (or add it to your baby registry) include:

Space saving

Since they are smaller than cribs, and you can easily move them around, they can save you some space if it’s limited where you live.

Portability

If your little one is going to the grandparents or an aunt and uncle’s once in a while, these are great ways to keep them sleeping safe and sound while they’re away from home.

Preference

They may be tiny, but babies start to form their own preferences as soon as they come into the world. After leaving a warm, cozy womb after nine months, some babies may just prefer sleeping in their smaller pack ‘n plays as opposed to their cribs.

Finances

Babies are expensive and it may not be within your budget to have a full-sized crib, a mini-crib and a portable travel playard to use on the go. Out of these three items, the Pack ‘n Play is the most versatile and likely the least expensive.

[Want to learn more? Find out how to choose the best mattress protector for your Pack ‘n Play.]


Pack ‘n Play Safety Guidelines

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission has an entire safety guide for playards. Among the guidelines, they recommend only using the mattress that came with the pack ‘n play and not trying to replace it with a different one to avoid having it shift and putting your baby in danger. 

Since manufacturers have to comply with all safety and testing requirements for playards outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, if you follow the manufacturer’s manual and safety guidelines that come with it, your baby should be safe in their playard.

“The baby should be on his or her back to sleep with no pillows, blankets or stuffed animals in the pack and play with him or her,” Dr. Husain says. 

Jordan Seidel, a Newborn & Postpartum Care Instructor, Safe Sleep Ambassador for the Virginia Maternal Health Coalition and a certified American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep expert, concurred when she spoke with Stuff4Tots.

“We know that playards comply with rigorous safety standards,” says Seidel, who is also the resident sleep expert for the LetMommySleep franchise. “While standard playards with a flat bottom are safe, many of their inserts are not. These include anything called a ‘napper,’ ‘sleeper,’ or anything with an incline. So, it’s important to remember that you should still follow safe sleep guidelines in a playard. The playard should be free of any pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, etc. and your baby should be always laid down on their back.”

How long can a baby sleep in a pack ‘n play?

Instead of measuring this in months, Dr. Husain says that it’s measured in size. This is where your owner’s manual will come in handy. Your pack n play has size limitations. So, make sure you know what they are and don’t exceed them.

“Pack and plays can be safely used until the device’s manual states otherwise. It does not go by age, but instead by height and weight requirements,” Dr. Husain notes. “Another thing to consider is if your child is already attempting to climb out of the pack and play despite not yet reaching the height or weight limit. In this case, it’s probably best to no longer use the pack and play to prevent the risk of injury.”

Rachel Mitchell, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, suggested to Stuff4Tots that parents only using the pack n play for children older than 4 months unless it has an accompanying bassinet. She prefers to see babies put in their pack ‘n plays without sheets. 

“A pack ‘n play is only safe for sleep for newborns when it is used with the bassinet feature,” she says. “Once a baby is 4 months or older, they can safely sleep in the pack ‘n play without the bassinet feature as long as the mattress is bare. There is typically no need for a sheet since it is usually difficult to get a fitted sheet to be tight enough, so for safety reasons I recommend placing the baby on the inserted bare mattress.”

Do you need a sheet for a pack ‘n play?

While a lot of parents do use their pack ‘n plays as cribs or travel cribs, their primary purpose is as a portable playpen. Therefore, you may want to add a sheet to your pack ‘n play to make it more comfortable to sleep on for a baby. 

If you do add a sheet, it’s imperative that the sheet is tight fitting and won’t come off no matter how much your child pulls on it or moves around.

[Want to learn more? Check out how to choose the best sheet for your Pack ‘n Play.]


Do pack ‘n plays come with bassinets?

Yes, some playards do come with a bassinet. Typically, these will be an attachment to the playard, which you can use for changing babies or for sleeping when you need to travel. 

You’ll only be able to use the bassinet for the first few months of your baby’s life until they grow out of it, so you’ll need to take that into consideration when you are deciding whether to purchase a pack ‘n play with a bassinet attachment or not.

[Want to learn more? Check out what a registered nurse has to say about when to transition your baby from a bassinet to a crib.]

Pack ‘n plays can be incredibly handy for new parents, especially those who are on the go or who want to save space in their homes. By following safety guidelines, your baby will be safe and snug in their pack ‘n plays whether you use it for an occasional travel crib, their full-time crib or just as a playard so you can keep them corralled while you get some housework done. 

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Michael Oliver

Father of two lovely and special children. I'm an engineer (electrical) by trade and have worked at many a blue chip organization in the past.  From Ford Motor Company to Airbus to Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to the UK National Health Service I've had a pretty diverse working life.  After completing my MBA I wanted to break away from the corporate 'cubicle' so I founded Stuff4Tots as a means of being at home for my family and creating a future for us all.

Now as CEO of Stuff4Tots I bring together my expertise as a parent, a husband and a professional to serve fellow parents providing useful and relevant information and products to new families.

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