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One of the most common questions I’m asked as a sleep consultant is “Is it safe for a baby to sleep in a Pack-n-Play every night?” And, to answer briefly, yes, it is safe to let your baby sleep in a Pack-n-Play or play yard every night. Some parents prefer a Pack-n-Play over a traditional crib or bassinet.
When you choose to use a pack-n-play instead of a crib or bassinet, you need to make sure you are following all of the regular safe sleep practices recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This includes but is not limited to keeping a clear sleep space, which means no bumpers, pillows, positioners, or stuffed animals. Additionally, you should become familiar with your specific play yard’s safety guidelines like weight and height limits.
Here’s everything you need to know about letting your baby sleep in a pack-n- play every night:
While pack-n-play is the most popular term, it may also be referenced as a “play yard,” “travel crib,” or “playpen.” A pack-n-play is a portable baby-safe space.
Pack-n-plays are traditionally used while traveling thanks to their compact size and portability. Alternatively, the same features that make it great for travel make it a great choice for families that live in smaller homes and spaces.
Some pack-and-plays vary in size, but there are specific requirements manufacturers must follow. For example, a play yard or playpen must be less than 35in high. The interior length dimension must either be greater than 55in or smaller than 49 ¾ in, or an interior width dimension greater than 30 ⅝ in or smaller than 25 ⅜ in, or both. If a pack-n-play contains a bassinet, it must meet additional safety requirements.
Play yards are also subject to additional tests on their strength, sides, accessories, latching mechanisms, and more. These guidelines are in place to prevent the risk of injury. You can read through the full CPSC requirements here.
For a pack-n-play to be considered a safe sleep space, it must:
Be aware that 3rd party sellers like Amazon and retailers like Target are not required to post the correct information about a product! So please always get product information, including confirmation that it passes the relevant standards, from the manufacturer’s website or contact the manufacturer directly.
All pack-and-plays state that you should stop use when your child reaches 35 inches in height or can climb out. Most also have a weight limit of 30 lbs. Check your play yard’s manual for its specific limits.
Here are a few additional instructions found in almost all pack-n-play manuals:
If you do read all the safety information in your pack-n-play’s manual (which I highly recommend), you may come across a misleading statement about “supervision” and so I want to clear up any confusion on that.
Almost all manuals will say something along the lines of “You must provide continued supervision when used for sleeping.” Statements like this often lead parents to believe that a product is safe for naps, but not for overnight sleep. The concern here is that many products state that supervision is required for sleep because the product does not pass the standards to be a safe sleep space. Unfortunately, supervision doesn’t make an unsafe sleep space safe. This means that those products aren’t safe for any sleep – not for overnight and not for naps even while you are sitting right there!
So a product either is safe for all sleep or it isn’t safe for any sleep. This is determined by whether or not it passes standards, not by any statements from the company/manufacturer. If a play yard does pass standards, then why does the manual specify that you need to supervise your baby while sleeping in it? It’s just a CYA statement. If you have verified that your pack-n-play passes the safety standard for a play yard, then it is safe to use for any and all sleep.
Although a pack-and-play may look uncomfortable, it’s a completely safe and and secure place for babies to sleep. Infant mattresses must be firm, so the mat in a pack-n-play isn’t that much different than a crib mattress. Nonetheless, parents’ concerns that their baby would be uncomfortable or not sleep well in a pack-n-play has led to a large market of “supplemental” mattresses. These are designed to be used instead of or on top of the pack-n-play mat.
A supplemental mattress is unnecessary and unsafe. Adding a mattress to a pack-and-play can create gaps and ill-fitting corners which can cause suffocation and potential entrapment. So even if the mattress itself is considered safe for sleep, it is not safe when added to a pack-and-play for use.
What about sheets? Most pack-and-plays will allow sheets. Some manufacturers, such as Graco, only allow their own brand of sheets to be used. Others allow any fitted crib/pack-n-play sheet as long as it is the right dimensions and tucks far enough under the mat.
For parents still concerned that the pack-n-play mat isn’t comfortable, a safe option is to use a fitted “quilted” sheet. These sheets are thicker but not padded, so this makes it a little comfier without sacrificing the firmness needed for safe sleep.
Since it is completely safe to use either, it’s a personal choice. Cribs offer a long-term solution for sleep. Most cribs are convertible, meaning that they grow with your child because you can convert them to a toddler bed and ultimately to a full bed frame. Even cribs that are not convertible have a higher weight limit than most pack-n-plays (usually 50 lbs instead of 30 lbs). All cribs still have a height limit of 35in.
The same mattress you use for the crib can also be used when your child progresses to a toddler bed. The downside is that cribs and their mattress are typically more expensive in comparison to a play yard. So pack-n-plays are an affordable option for your baby’s primary sleep space as well as a secondary sleep space if you want somewhere the baby can sleep in another room or on another floor of your home.
Pack-and-plays or play yards are also smaller than regular-size cribs. If you want the higher weight limit of a crib that is also convertible to grow with your child but is the size of a pack-n-play, you could go with a mini-crib.
A final piece to consider is that while a crib is bulky and unmovable (or at least not easily moveable), a pack-and-play can be placed and moved easily. With a pack-n-play, this means you also have the ability to take your baby’s sleep space with you! Families often use pack-n-plays when traveling. This ensures they have a safe sleep space whether they are staying in hotels, at grandma’s house, or even when camping!
While either is equally safe to start, certain circumstances can make a pack-n-play a better option.
1. When your baby’s sleep is being disrupted by getting their arms or legs stuck in the crib bars.
2. When your baby is trying to climb out of the crib.
3. When your baby is chewing on the crib rails to the point of eating chunks of wood. (Yes, beaver-parents – I see you!)
Even with governmental guidelines, not all pack-n-plays are made equally. While uncommon for a pack-n-play, unsafe sleep spaces are promoted online. It can be hard to distinguish when shopping – particularly on platforms like Amazon or Walmart which allow 3rd-party sellers.
To ensure that you are purchasing a safe pack-and-play, be sure to read the product details. Here are a few things you should do before buying:
With so many different pack-n-plays out there, it can be overwhelming to choose! Here are two that I recommend that pass safety standards:
Still unsure which option is right for you? Realizing there may be other baby items you aren’t sure are safe or how to use them safely? Consult our guide on all the Baby Sh*t You Need (And Don’t) to create an evidence-based, safety-conscious registry!