Even those who embraced the playpen, however, did so somewhat reluctantly (“a necessary evil,” ran one headline), and when I reached for the parenting bookshelf, it seemed the anti-playpen voices began to dominate. In Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach, I was told that “babies who spend hours confined in cribs or playpens, with few toys and minimal adult attention, are very slow in learning to reach out and get hold of things and that means they are also slow in discovering what can be done with things.” In a book called Smart-Wiring Your Baby’s Brain, we are advised to “minimize the time she is confined to a crib or a playpen during waking hours.” Mavis Klein, in The Psychodynamic Counseling Primer, writes that “it has actually been shown that children of about seven or eight years of age who were, as infants, regularly confined in playpens, are less competent at reading and writing than those who were not so imprisoned”; while John Rosemond’s New Parent Power! warns that “there is evidence suggesting that children who spend lots of time confined in cribs or playpens suffered delayed speed and are less coordinated.”
When you’re building your baby registry, you may not yet be thinking about a playpen. I know my motto was “worry about what I need right now—products will still be there later if I decide I need them.” But did you know that playpens aren’t just for squirmy toddlers? In fact, many playpens are versatile enough to take you from the early baby days through the wiggly toddler stage. For example, some playpens come equipped with removable bassinets and even changing tables! How convenient (not to mention money-saving) to have all of those features baked into one product. We made use of a basic version of the Graco Pack N’ Play for our firstborn to sleep in during his newborn days. The bassinet feature made it easy to pick him up for late-night nursing sessions. Then, as he got older and we started traveling, the playpen came in handy as a place for him to sleep on overnight trips. I can’t overstate how invaluable this product was during the first year of our son’s life, and on into the second.
Some basic models may be easier to cart around because they don't have any extra parts. You can also look for bags that leave the play yard's wheels free, so the whole thing can be rolled once it's packed up. If you plan on taking frequent trips (especially by air), you might want to consider a heavy-duty bag that you can buy separately, such as the Rover Gear Easton Travel Yard Bag (about $34).
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Entertaining a baby can be a lot harder than you think. The fact of the matter is, we've come a long way from when jingling your keys was going to cut it. Still, as you pick out various playpens and other areas for your child to play in, it's important that you keep a few key factors in mind. Obviously, safety is at the top of the list, along with comfort, price and style. Luckily, shopping this extensive variety of products will mean that you never need to compromise on any of these.
Play yards have also been associated with 29 infant deaths due to suffocation, strangulation, or entrapment from 2005 through 2007. Most of those deaths were due to positional asphyxia, where the infant becomes wedged between the mattress and the side of the play yard. Children have also strangled while in their play yards on nearby window-blind cords or suffocated in soft bedding such as blankets. Just as with a crib, nothing should go in the play yard or bassinet attachment with the baby besides a fitted sheet meant to be used with the floor pad that comes with the unit. That means no stuffed animals, bedding, or pillows.
The debate over the playpen, in the end, seems less about the thing itself than one of the eternal conditions of parental pathos: the fact that children demand so much of our attention and that we cannot always give it to the extent we (and they) would wish. As I’ve been writing this I—a modern father with “manifold duties”—have had to occasionally give time to the nearby girl I’ve stashed in the Fisher-Price “Cradle ‘n’ Swing” (some bylaw must require that children’s product names use ’n’ in place of and), which for all I know may simply be the infant forerunner to the playpen. (My friends nervously and jokingly call it the “Neglect-o-Meter.”) Yes, my lack of attention may be stunting her development—shaving a notch off that IQ—but my failure to write portends more sweeping consequences, like the lack of a roof over our heads.
To avoid potentially fatal entrapment between the station and the yard's top rail, never put your baby in a play yard that has the changing table in place. Removing the table also eliminates the possibility of entrapment by any loop from the changing-table restraint strap, although no loops should be present in a play yard that is said to meet safety standards set by ASTM International.
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The 4moms Breeze Play Yard is a high quality, large and durable playpen. It also contains a bassinet and changer for three products in one. This playpen is literally a breeze to set up (see the video below for details). The mattresses (yes, it comes with a separate mattress for the playpen portion and the bassinet portion) each come equipped with Velcro to attach directly and securely to the playpen unit. This product comes with a carrying bag, so technically you can use it for travel, though it is on the heavy side at 25 pounds. Some consumers say that they have a difficult time getting all of the pieces back into the bag for storage or transport. The 4moms Breeze Play Yard will set you back $299.99, but you are getting a high quality product that will last a long time, through multiple kids.
The word, on the face of it, is rather contradictory, combining play—a word with inherent jouissance—with a suffix that suggests confinement. Given that even pens for livestock have fallen under scrutiny—battery cages for chickens, for example, are critiqued because in them, hens “endure high levels of stress and frustration”—it’s not surprising to find parental discomfort with a product that seems so, well, penitential. Of course, the word yard itself has prison overtones, and when examining a product like the “North States Superyard XT Gate Play Yard” it’s not hard to get some serious Gitmo vibes. (Such misgivings about the playpen are exemplified in sculptor Robert Gober’s X Playpen, a bifurcated enclosure that, as one critic put it, “emphasizes this domestic space’s claustrotraumatic quality.”)
As much as I wanted to, it’s impossible to keep your eyes on your toddler 24/7. It is not even possible to take a shower peacefully or make a delicious dinner, for that matter, it is not possible to do any other daily chores when your toddler is crawling every corner of your house. That is why many people today are finding this playpen as a better solution to keep your toddler safe and also to do their chores peacefully.