Pack And Play Buyer's Guide: How To Choose A Pack And Play

Toddler in a pack and play

You've heard good things about a pack and play. But with so many other baby supplies on your to-buy list, you're wondering if this particular item is truly a necessity.

We're here to set the record straight: Pack and plays are incredibly versatile and can make your life as a parent much easier. They even made our list of the 21 must-have minimalist baby essentials.

It’s safe to say we’re pretty fond of them, but we know they aren’t for everyone. So to help you decide if this type of portable bed suits you and your family, we've put together a quick guide on what to consider.

But first, let's look at what a pack and play is to ensure we're on the same page.

Table Of Contents

What Is A Pack And Play?

young kid in a pack and play

A pack and play is a portable, baby-safe space you can use as a travel crib, changing station, or bassinet. Pack and plays fold down for storage and portability, and many come with wheels so you can easily move them from room to room.

Pack and plays are ideal for small homes or apartments where space is at a premium. They're also great for travel, whether you're going to grandma's house for the weekend or flying off on a family vacation.

Can My Baby Sleep In A Pack And Play Every Night?

Pack and plays aren’t just for travel. Some parents opt for one of these smaller beds instead of a full-sized crib. This way, your little one has the familiarity of the same space whether you’re at home or on the road.

If you decide to use a pack and play as a permanent bed for your child, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • They aren’t as durable as a crib. Inspect them often for damage.
  • The lock must be secure. Check the locking mechanism every night and ensure it hasn’t come undone. Otherwise, the bed could collapse on your baby.
  • They aren’t as easy to keep clean. We’ll dive into cleaning practices for your pack and play later. For now, know that most models aren’t as easy to keep clean as a crib.

If you check them regularly for safety, a pack and play makes an excellent bed for a baby or toddler.

Pack And Play Size

One benefit of a pack and play is that it’s usually smaller than a crib. However, some of these beds are pretty small, while others are more spacious.

Though they vary in size, there are some industry standards. For example, according to government regulations, a play yard or playpen must be less than 35 inches high. Manufacturers must also adhere to strict interior dimension requirements.

There are two allowed sizes for both length and width. In length, pack and plays must be either greater than 55 inches or smaller than 49 ¾ inches. Width-wise, they must be greater than 30 ⅝ inches or smaller than 25 ⅜ inches.

What Are Pack And Plays Made Of?

pack and play

The material of a pack and play also sets it apart from other portable cribs. You'll typically find them with mesh sides because the material is breathable so your baby won't be too hot while inside. It also allows you to watch your little one while they're playing.

The mesh material is securely attached to a frame. This frame must be foldable and lightweight to ensure the pack and play is portable. Some companies use plastic to accomplish this goal, while others opt for lightweight steel.

Steel sides are much more durable. However, this material does add a bit of extra weight to the product.

In addition, some pack and plays also come with unique features, like newborn inserts (more on that later), changing tables, or even canopies. These add-ons are typically covered in fabric, with a plastic or metal frame underneath, which snaps into place at the top of the bed.

The materials in some models can off-gas, filling your room with a chemical smell. If you prefer your baby not to breathe in these fumes, look for one that’s been GREENGUARD Gold Certified through independent testing. These certified beds have fewer chemical emissions.

Is A Pack And Play The Same As A Play Yard?

baby in a pack n play

Pack n’ Play was a product trademarked by Graco Children’s Products Inc. in 1987. It was the company’s name for its portable bed. Back then, play yards were typically larger and more basic. They normally didn’t have inserts for newborns or extra storage pockets.

However, over the years, the term “pack and play” has become a word that encompasses the entire line of products. It’s similar to the terms “kleenex” and “crockpot,” which also started as brand names.

Today, most companies use the words “play yard,” “pack and play,” and “playpen” interchangeably. This means you can get a play yard with a bassinet insert or a slightly larger pack and play that’d work well for toddlers.

To ensure you’re getting the type of portable bed you want, always look at the specs and features of the model you’re considering instead of just going by the name.

Pros And Cons Of Pack And Plays

Pack and plays can be a great way to create a safe environment for your little one, no matter where you are. But they aren’t for everyone. Before purchasing one, consider both the advantages and disadvantages of these products.

Pros

  • Compact: Most pack and plays don’t take up much room when folded. This makes them ideal for travel.
  • Portable: You can take the pack and play with you, so your baby has a familiar bed no matter where you are.
  • Versatile: With the various inserts available, you can use this as a place for your newborn to sleep or a safe environment for your toddler to play.
  • Can be used outside: Most models can be safely set up outside, as long as you ensure the ground is flat. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, this is helpful.

Cons

  • Durability: Compared to cribs or travel beds made of more robust materials, pack and plays may not last as long. The mesh can develop holes over time.
  • Learning curve: Each manufacturer has its own assembly and disassembly directions, so you may need to read the manual or watch a video to understand how to do it properly.
  • Have to check the locking mechanism: If the lock isn’t securely in place, the bed can fold. To keep your baby safe, check that it's locked every time you use it.
  • Hard to clean: Most pack and plays are notoriously difficult to clean, so you may end up with a dirty, stained bed.

Pack And Play Features To Consider

Now that you know what a pack and play is and why you might want one, let's review some of its features so you know what to look for when shopping.

Size

Size is one of the most important things to consider when buying this type of bed. You want something big enough for your baby to sleep in but not so big that it takes up too much space in your home.

As we mentioned, there are size differences. Make sure to check the dimensions before you purchase. We recommend using painter's tape to mark the dimensions on your floor so you can see how much space the pack and play will take up.

Newborn Inserts

Baby laying on a newton crib mattress

If you're planning on using your pack and play from the day your baby comes home from the hospital, you'll want to ensure it has a newborn insert. This special feature allows you to create a smaller, cozier space for sleeping.

The insert is simply a smaller bed with a mattress that attaches to the top rail of the pack and play. It's removable, so you can easily take it out when your baby outgrows it.

The best part about a newborn insert is that it raises your baby higher. If you've ever had to bend down to pick up a newborn, you know how hard it can be on your back.

With the insert, you won't have to stoop over as much. That means less strain on your body, which is a win!

Changing Table

Another pack and play feature to look for is a changing table. This can be a lifesaver, especially if you don't have a dedicated changing station in your home.

These changing tables usually feature a padded surface where you can lay your baby down to change their diaper. They often have side rails so your baby doesn't roll off.

Like the newborn insert, the changing table comes on and off the pack and play. So when you're not using it, you can remove it to open up more space for your growing baby.

Wheels

Pack and plays typically come with feet or wheels, though a few on the market rest directly on the ground.

If you plan on using your pack and play in multiple rooms, look for one with wheels. That way, you can quickly move it from room to room. Just make sure the wheels lock so it doesn't accidentally roll away.

However, if you plan on rolling your baby’s bed through the house, check the width first. Your interior doors may be too narrow to get through with your pack and play set up. Wheels aren't as essential if you must disassemble the bed before leaving the room.

Weight

When you're traveling, the weight of your pack and play matters. A heavier model is more difficult to lug around, especially if you also carry other luggage or a baby. But, if you rarely move your pack and play from one room to another, weight might be less of an issue.

Either way, check the manufacturer’s specs for the model you're thinking about buying. That way, you'll know how much it weighs and can decide if it's too heavy for your needs.

Foldability

You want your pack and play to be easy to set up and take down. After all, that's part of the reason you're buying one in the first place.

Most can be assembled and taken down in just a few minutes, but some are easier to use than others. Since each manufacturer has its own design, you'll want to read the directions carefully before you try to set it up.

Some companies, like here Newton Baby, also have videos you can watch to help you through the assembly and disassembly process. If you’re a visual learner, these can be a big help!

Accessories

When you're looking at pack and plays, pay attention to the included accessories.

Some come with sheets, which help keep the mattress clean. Others have storage compartments on the side, which you can use to store diapers, wipes, or other baby essentials.

In addition, some brands include a storage bag with their pack and plays. The bag keeps it clean when it’s not in use. And since the bag usually has a handle, it's easier to maneuver, which is important when traveling.

Comfort

If your baby isn’t comfortable, they won’t sleep.

Traditionally, pack and play mattresses haven’t been viewed as a cozy spot. However, remember that babies require flat, firm surfaces for sleep. So even though you might not choose that mattress, it can help keep your baby safe.

Some companies sell aftermarket mattress toppers you can set on top to compensate for the firmness. Unfortunately, no matter how safe a company claims this topper is, it’s not a good idea. It raises your baby up, which puts pressure on a different part of the mesh surround.

And there’s a chance your little one could end up trapped between the mattress topper and the actual mattress. This can lead to suffocation.

Instead of trying to add more padding to your pack and play, it’s better to select one that focuses on comfort, such as the Newton Baby Travel Bed & Play Yard. This bed utilizes the same Wovenaire® technology as our best-selling Crib Mattress.

The unique blend of 90% air and 10% food-grade polymer (what yogurt cups are made of) gives your baby a safe, firm place for sleeping that’s also comfortable.

Washability

Babies make messes. Between spit-up and diaper blowouts, your portable bed can get pretty disgusting. Unfortunately, these items aren’t the easiest to clean.

Each model has its own washing instructions, so you’ll want to refer to your owner’s manual before scrubbing.

Many manuals instruct you to spot-clean the bed with soap and water. However, that’s not always enough to get the mattress clean. You’ll likely wind up with some stains you can’t remove.

Other models can be safely submerged in water. If yours can get wet, a soak in the bathtub can work wonders to clean it again. Just give it time to dry completely before folding it down, or you could wind up with mold growing on your baby’s pack and play.

If you don’t like the idea of your baby sleeping on a dirty bed, look for one that’s 100% washable, like the Newton Baby Travel Crib & Play Yard. The outer fabric, mattress cover, and mattress core are washable, and there are easy-to-follow instructions on our website.

Breathability

In addition to washability, it’s important to think about breathability.

If your baby pushes their face into the mattress of their pack and play, can they still breathe through it? Unfortunately, most play yards have high breathing resistance, so babies must work harder to get air through them.

Independent testing done by an accredited lab analyzed the breathability of three leading play yards. Of them, only Newton was found not to pose a significant risk for suffocation. Its patented core utilizes breathe-thru material that helps keep your baby safe.

Pack And Play Safety Tips

sleeping baby

Baby safety is our top priority. So we'd be remiss if we didn't mention pack and play safety. Keep these tips in mind whenever you're using this type of portable crib with your baby:

  • Read the directions before starting.
  • Always make sure the sides are locked in place.
  • Inspect it regularly for damage. If you see any holes in the fabric, stop using it immediately.
  • Keep an eye on recalls.
  • Continue to follow safe sleep guidelines. Put your baby to sleep on their back.
  • Never use blankets or pillows with a baby. Instead, keep them warm with a sleep sack or swaddle blanket.
  • Empty the bed before letting your baby sleep in it. Remove any toys, books, or bedding they’ve been playing with.
  • Always check the size carefully to avoid dangerous gaps if you decide to upgrade the mattress.
  • Check the area around the pack and play for safety risks. For example, don’t set it up near blinds, cords, or anything else that could pose a choking hazard.

    Which Pack And Play Is Right For You?

    Now that you have a better idea of what to look for in a pack and play, it's almost time to start shopping.

    But before you buy, ask yourself these questions. That way, you can select the perfect model for your needs.

    • Where will you be using your pack and play? Is your baby going to use this instead of a traditional crib? Or is it just for use at Grandma’s house or on the road? The more you need to pack and tote it around, the lighter model you will want.
    • Do you need a newborn insert? How old is your baby? If they’re close to the weight or age limit on a newborn insert, it’s probably not worth the extra cost. But, if they’re not, it is a handy addition!
    • Do you need a changing table? Do you already have a changing space in your nursery? If you do, you may not use another one. But having a clean area when you’re traveling can be helpful.
    • How much space do you have? If you’re short on space, a large model might not work. Check the dimensions and see what will realistically fit in your home.
    • How big is your baby? Most pack and plays have a weight or size limit. Always check this before you buy to ensure your little one will safely fit inside.
    • What’s your budget? Pack and plays vary in cost depending on the features you need. You can pick up a basic model for about $50. But expect to pay around $400 for one with upgraded safety features and a comfortable newborn insert.

    Ultimately, the best pack and play is the one that works best for your family’s unique needs. There isn’t a one-size-fits all solution, though we’re partial to the Newton Baby Travel Crib & Play Yard.

    When Does A Baby Outgrow A Pack And Play?

    The longevity of a pack and play depends on the model. Some have higher weight limits than others. Generally, your baby can continue using the bed until they’re between 25-35 pounds. Your owner’s manual should have a specific weight limit listed.

    However, regardless of your child’s weight, you should stop using a play yard when your toddler can climb out of it. Often, this happens between 18-24 months, though every child is different.

    The Perfect Space For Your Little One

    baby laying in a pack and play

    A pack and play is a versatile piece of equipment. You can use it as a travel crib, a changing station, or even a safe place for your baby to play. It really is the perfect space for your little one.

    The Newton Baby Travel Crib & Play Yard is a great choice. It’s about two times larger than others, so your baby will have plenty of room. Plus, it’s made from breathable material to help keep your little one safe. And did we mention that it’s washable?

    With so many premium features, you (and your baby) will both love this bed.

    Sweet dreams, little one!

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