Choosing a Baby Playpen

baby in playpen

When it comes to registering for baby gifts or preparing for your little one, a playpen or play yard isn't a necessity. However, this handy piece of baby equipment is nice to have, especially if you travel frequently or have other small children. The right playpen can keep your baby safely contained while you tend to other tasks, and many styles also double as travel beds.

Important Considerations When Choosing a Baby Playpen

Traditional playpens, which were square in shape, featured a flat padded bottom and sides with bars. Today, the designs have changed significantly, and many manufacturers call playpens "play yards." Essentially, both playpens and play yards serve the same purpose.

Playpens and play yards come in a variety of different styles, and they also offer a wealth of features that may or may not come in handy for your situation. Choosing the right model for your needs takes a bit of thought and research. Before you settle on a specific playpen, consider the following factors.

Expected Use

You can use a playpen to create a safe zone for baby to explore and play. However, many people also use play yards as travel beds. Some designs even feature a bassinet insert, changing table, mobile, and other features, making these products handy for travel. Some playpens are even weather-safe, so you can use them outdoors. Knowing how you plan to use your playpen is essential when you start shopping.

Weight of Baby

Your baby's weight is also an important consideration. Some models are just walls that set up on the ground, and this type of playpen does not have a weight limit. However, many designs have an integrated floor, which is rated to support a certain amount of weight. In addition, extra features like a bassinet or changing station may have a lower weight limit than the main playpen.

Size of Enclosed Area

Playpens vary significantly in size. Some are about the size of a mini-crib, or around 40-inches long and 30-inches wide. Others are hexagonal or octagonal and constructed of separate 36-inch wide panels. Some can even be expanded by adding extra panels to make them larger. If you'll be using the playpen mostly for play, you may want to invest in a larger model.

Folded Size

Will you be doing a lot of traveling? If so, you may want to purchase a play yard that folds up into a compact shape and takes up minimal trunk space. Even if you won't be traveling with the playpen, you'll still need to store it. Many people prefer a playpen that folds up easily and compactly.

Construction

The old-fashioned bar design for playpens is long gone. Today, you can choose from playpens constructed of several plastic panels or those made of mesh and metal tubing. Either way, it's very important the model you choose offers plenty of ventilation and visual contact with your baby, and it's also essential that the playpen is safe and sturdy.

Ease-of-Use

Will you be leaving the playpen set up, or will you be storing it often? If you'll be taking it up and putting it down a lot, you'll need a model that's easy to assemble and use. You don't want assembly to be a hassle, especially if you're dealing with a cranky baby.

Extra Features

You can still buy a standard playpen, but most models include plenty of extra features. These are a few of the options you may encounter:

  • Toys to entertain your baby, including mobiles, activity bars, integrated lights and sounds, and more
  • Attached wheels to make transporting the playpen easy
  • Bassinet for infants
  • Diaper stacker or storage space for baby essentials
  • Changing table
  • Separate rocking attachment for lulling your little one to sleep

Budget

Depending on the features you need, you can spend between $75 and $250. Before you begin shopping, it's important to know your available budget.

Types of Baby Playpens

Once you've identified the features that are important to you, you can examine the available models to see which ones match up with your needs. There are three main types of playpens on the market.

Standard Playpen

If you need a playpen to use as an occasional indoor play space for your child and don't need something that doubles as a crib or changer, a standard playpen may be the best option. Consisting of a raised floor and mesh sides, this type of play yard doesn't include all the extra bells and whistles that can significantly add to the price. It's one of the most affordable options you can find, often ranging in price from about $75 to $175.

Consider some of these models:

  • Mia Moda Playgio Play Yard - Constructed from lightweight, tubular steel and breathable mesh, this play yard from Wayfair only weighs about 16 pounds when folded and stored in its bag. Set up, it measures 44-inches long by 31-inches wide, and it comes in your choice of four colors. It has an especially high weight limit of 75 pounds. Reviewers on Wayfair praise its large size, quality construction, easy assembly, and compact storage size. It includes an integrated padded bottom and retails for just over $100.
  • Graco Tot Block - This simple playpen from Amazon includes a few integrated toys to keep baby occupied. It measures 38-inches square and is constructed of tubular steel and mesh fabric. When folded, it weighs under 25 pounds, and it accommodates babies up to 35-inches tall. Perhaps the biggest selling point of this model is its quick set-up. Reviewers on Amazon report that it can be set up in less than a minute. This model retails for just under $100.
  • Joovy Room 2 - Sold at Diapers.com, the Joovy Room 2 is a simple play yard with a huge play area for baby. It measures 39-inches square and offers more than 10 square feet of space. It's also one of the heaviest models, weighing in at 32 pounds. Reviewers on Diapers.com praise the quality construction of the steel frame and sturdy mesh fabric; however, they also say it is not ideal for travel due to the weight. This model has integrated wheels for moving it around and retails for about $150.

Playpens Without Floors

Some playpens also come without floors, allowing you to set them up in a corner of the family room or even outside on the lawn. This type of playpen usually has more space than a standard or travel option, but it can't double as sleeping quarters. Instead, its main function is to keep baby safely contained while you do other tasks. Some of these models include integrated toys to help keep baby entertained, while others are more simple. Expect to spend between $65 and $200 on this type of playpen.

Consider some of these options:

  • Summer Infant Secure Surround Play Safe Play Yard - This floorless model from Diapers.com consists of six neutral-toned plastic panels, each about 35-inches wide. The panels interlock to create a hexagonal area for babies to play, and all six panels weigh a total of 23.5 pounds. This product can be used indoors or outdoors and includes a swinging door to make it easy for parents to get inside. This is the second most popular model on Diapers.com, where reviewers praise it for its sturdy design. This product retails for about $65.
  • North State Superyard Play Yard - This indoor/outdoor model from Amazon is extremely popular with consumers because it's lightweight, folds and sets up easily, and it's practical. It consists of six panels, each 30-inches wide, which can be configured in a variety of ways. You can also purchase extra panels for an even larger space. At 19.5 pounds, it's also very lightweight, and it includes a handy carrying strap for transport. While reviewers note that it isn't the best looking playpen around, it does the job well, and many reviewers seem to like the versatility of being able to configure the pen in a variety of ways. This model retails for about $70.
  • Friendly Toys Little Playzone - Featuring an engaging display of sounds and lights to keep baby occupied, this indoor/outdoor model from Target is another great choice. It's smaller and heavier than some other models, measuring 46-inches square and weighing 40 pounds. However, it offers a removable toy area with pretend phone, piano keyboard, light-up display, and spinning balls. Reviewers like the durability of this model, as well as the integrated toys. It retails for about $125.

Travel Play Yards

If you're planning to do a lot of traveling and need a bed for baby, there are lots of great options out there. In general, these playpens are smaller than other types, and they also tend to fold up a bit more compactly. Depending on the features you need and the size of your baby, you can expect to spend between $70 and $250 on this type of playpen.

The following models may suit your needs:

  • Graco Pack N' Play with Reversible Napper and Changer - The Graco Pack N' Play has long been a top choice for parents when it comes to travel playpens. Sold on Amazon, this model includes a napper for babies under three months old, a bassinet for babies weighing less than 15 pounds, a changing table for infants under 25 pounds, and a 28-inch by 40-inch enclosed area for older babies less than 35-inches tall. It also has a toy bar for keeping baby entertained and a diaper stacker for organizing changing supplies. The steel and mesh frame weighs 29 pounds, including all the parts. Reviewers love the versatility of this product, which retails for about $100.
  • Eddie Bauer Complete Care Play Yard - This feature-packed play yard from Babies R Us includes a bassinet, a changing station, and a 42-inch by 28-inch enclosed area for older babies. It also has two vibration speeds, a mobile with 10 different songs, an integrated night light, and storage for diapers. It weighs 33 pounds and is rated for babies under 25 pounds. Reviewers praise the height of the changing station and bassinet, which don't require you to bend over to tend to your baby. The frame is mesh and steel, and the unit retails for about $150.
  • Chicco 4-in-1 Lullaby LX Play Yard - This model, sold by Diapers.com, features a changing station for babies up to 25 pounds, bassinet for babies up to 15 pounds, toy bar, and 40-inch by 28-inch play space for babies up to 30 pounds. Its steel and mesh construction is durable, and it's easy to set up and put down. It also includes integrated diaper storage, sounds, lights, and vibrations. It weighs 33 pounds and has wheels to move it around easily. Reviewers like the quality construction and attractive color options. It retails for $190.

Safety of Playpens

Like all baby products, it's important to consider safety when purchasing a playpen. Keeping up with product recalls is a great way to do this. Keep these tips in mind to help:

  • Send in the registration card that comes with your playpen. This will help the manufacturer contact you if there is a recall.
  • When you're in baby retail shops, scan the bulletin boards for recall notices that may apply to your item.
  • Enter the brand of your playpen in the recall search field to see if it has been recalled by the Consumer Products Safety Commission, which is the government body that handles recalls of baby gear.

Do Your Research

Ultimately, choosing a baby playpen comes down to assessing your needs, budget, and other factors. The right play yard for you may be a travel model, and indoor/outdoor enclosure, or a simple and affordable option that folds compactly. Whichever model you choose, doing your research will help ensure you're happy with the end result.

Choosing a Baby Playpen