Product Reviews More gear!
Play yards started out as play pens. They were originally square and made of wood. Moms in the 1960’s and 70’s would stick their kids and toys in them to keep them contained while making dinner, etc. Remember Marty McFly’s uncle in Back to the Future ? You’ll see him in the scene where Marty whispers: “So, you’re my Uncle Joey. Better get used to these bars, kid.” In the late 1980’s Graco re-imagined the play pen into the play yard we see today: rectangular with folding sides and a portable carry bag.
Good. Joovy’s Room2 Portable Play Yard ($121) has ten square feet of area—twice the size of most standard playpens, giving baby more room to play. No, it doesn’t include many other features you see in other playpens (there is no bassinet, diaper changing area, etc). However, it does what it does well—provide a large, safe area for baby to play. New is 2016, Joovy has enlarged the mesh windows for Room2 and has a new graphite frame option available. Readers love the easy set-up and heavy weight canvas fabric
Better. Chicco’s Lullaby LX Play Yard ($190) is loaded with all the bells and whistles: bassinet, changing station, toys, storage areas, remote control electronics and more. Readers love the quality and ease of set-up for the Chicco playpen, but a few critics knocked the hefty 30-pound weight (which we admit stretches the definition of a portable play yard). And the two gimmicky features (a vibrating mattress that doesn’t really vibrate) and a somewhat useless mobile had more than one reader scratching their heads. Overall, however, folks are generally happy with this unit.
Best (for home). Graco is the market leader in this category—and given the value and features they offer, that’s no surprise. The company offers a dozen models of playpens and each is well designed. A good example is the Graco Pack N Play On the Go ($70), which lacks all the whiz-bang electronics and toys of the Chicco playpen, but then again, is that really needed? It features a bassinet, toy bar and wheels. Of course, if you want all the toys and gizmos, Graco has models with those features too—but you’ll pay $100 to $200 more for those versions. A couple final caveats: skip the Graco models with “newborn nappers.” As we explained in the Buying Advice, we don’t recommend these for safety reasons.
Best (for travel). Baby Bjorn’s Travel Crib Light ($240). Not cheap, but this ultra-light play yard folds up like an umbrella and fits in a smaller size carry case. Parent feedback has been universally positive. At 11 pounds, it is half the weight of a standard Graco Pack N Play. The latest version of this playpen has see-through mesh to the floor.
◆ Don’t buy a second-hand play yard or use a hand-me- down. Many models have been the subject of recalls in recent years. Why? Those same features that make them convenient (the collapsibility to make the play yards “portable”) worked too well in the past—some play yards collapsed with babies inside. Others had protruding rivets that caught some babies who wore pacifiers on a string (a BIG no-no, never have your baby wear a pacifier on a string). A slew of injuries and deaths have prompted the recall of ten million playpens over the years. Yes, you can search govern- ment recall lists (cpsc.gov) to see if that hand-me-down is recalled, but we’d skip the hassle and just buy new.
◆ Go for the bassinet feature. Some play yards feature bassinet inserts, which can be used for babies under three months of age (always check the weight guidelines). This is a handy feature that we recommend. Other worthwhile features: wheels for mobility, side-rail storage compartments and a canopy (if you plan to take the play yard outside or to the beach). If you want a play yard with canopy, look for those models that have “aluminized fabric” canopies—they reflect the sun’s heat and UV rays to keep baby cooler.
◆ Skip the “newborn napper.” Graco (and some of their competition) has recently added a “newborn napper” feature to some of its playpens. This is a separate sleep area designed to “cuddle your baby.” You are supposed to use this napper before you use the bassinet feature. Our concern: the napper includes plush fabrics and a head pillow—we consider these an unsafe sleep environment. As we discussed in Chapter 2, Nursery, your baby should always be put down to sleep on his back on a flat surface with no soft bedding. See this blog post for more on this issue. Graco also makes a model (the Chadwick) that has non-removeable bumpers on the bassinet. We do not recommend this model play yard for the same reason we don't recommend you use bumpers in a crib.
◆ Check the weight limits. Play yards have two weight limits: one for the bassinet and one for the entire play yard (without the bassinet). Most play yards have an overall weight limit of 30 lbs. and height limit of 35 inches. The exception is the Arms Reach Co-Sleeper which tops out at 50 lbs. However, there is more variation in the weight limits for the bassinet attachments.
Also remember if you play to move the play yard from room to room you'll want wheels for that purpose, but most importantly, you'll want to buy a play pen that fits through the doors in your house. Standard interior door sizes in the US are 28", 30" and 32". Make sure you measure yours and compare the width to the width of the play yard you're interested in. We note measurements of play yards where the information is available.
Playpen Bassinets: Naps vs. Sleeping?
As you may remember from the Bassinets section (in Nursery), we recommend the bassinet feature of playpens as an alternative to a stand-alone bassinet for newborns.
However, some readers note that manufacturers like Graco advise the product is “intended for naps and play” and question whether a newborn should sleep full time in the bassinet.
We understand the confusion, but here’s our advice: when it comes to newborns, there isn’t much of a distinction between “naps” and nighttime sleep—day or night, most newborns are sleeping only four hours at a stretch (they need to feed at roughly that interval). Hence, we interpret Graco’s advice to only use the Pack N Play for “naps or play” applies more to older babies—the product shouldn’t take the place of a full-size crib (but is fine for occasional use at Grandma’s house or a hotel room). The bottom line: we believe the bassinet feature is fine for full-time use for newborns who are under the weight limits (typically 15 pounds).
FYI: Be sure to check out some of our recommendations for play yard sheets here. While most parents love their play yards, the cheap-o sheets that come with most are a pain (they slip off the mattress too easily, etc). We discuss alternatives that solve this problem.
A EXCELLENT-our top pick!
B GOOD-above average quality, prices, and creativity.
C FAIR-could stand some improvement.
D POOR-yuck! Could stand some major improvement.