I can’t honestly say I remember physically being in a playpen as a child—though I was—but I remember them as a fact of 1970s child life, a rubber-and-mesh piece of living room furniture as ubiquitous as mahogany-cabinet-enclosed Magnavox televisions (with family photos crowded out by a giant Betamax on top). But as the clock ticked toward my recent entry into fatherhood and I trawled various hip and modern baby-product sites, mentally equipping our nursery-to-be, I noticed that among all the titanium-framed Norwegian strollers and German educational toys (or was it vice-versa?), I didn’t seem to see any playpens —whether rendered in sustainably sourced wenge wood or not. The word didn’t really seem to surface very much among all the proper parenting discourse on the chat sites either. Which left me wondering: Do parents still use playpens? Or are they some relic of me-decade indulgence forsaken in an era of more enlightened child-rearing?
The Fisher-Price Ultra-Lite Day & Night Play Yard gets the vote for the most portable playpen. Weighing in at just 15 pounds, it is half the weight of some other playpen models. This playpen comes loaded with extras: an inclined sleeper/bassinet for infants, as well as a changing station and pocket to store diapers and wipes. The fabric on the changer is machine washable, making it easy and convenient to clean. This product is easy to assemble and fold up for storage or travel. At around $80, this product is firmly in the mid-range of prices for playpens. Some consumers do not like that the bottom of the playpen sits on the ground and that the mattress for the playpen is very thin and flimsy. Because the bottom is low to the ground, it can be difficult for some caregivers to lay their baby in the bottom portion for naps.
This play yard is an Amazon bestseller and comes at a steal of a price, making it a smart buy as a crib to leave at grandmas house or one for the car. Just because this comes at a budget price doesn't mean it doesn't perform well. It weighs 19.75 so a little large for an airplane, but it comes with a storage bag making it easy to throw in the trunk for weekend getaways. Setting this up is easy and can be done by one person. The breathable mesh sides make it a safe space for baby to sleep and play, giving parents easy viewing access while they cook or get organized for the day. The added wheels make this pick the perfect choice for grab and go practicality when traveling or if you want to move a sleeping baby around your home for convenience. This does not have dual levels so if you are using for a smaller infant bending over might cause some strain on your back.
Many play yards, such as the Graco Silhouette discussed in Types, offer a bassinet that covers the entire length and width of the play yard. That is a good feature because it reduces the likelihood that your baby will fall into the play yard. But a baby could still fall outside of the play yard so stop using any bassinet attachment once your baby can push up on his hands and knees. The Safety 1st Travel Ease Elite Play Yard (about $112) also comes with this type of bassinet, and a changing table and removable toy bar. It measures 30 x 46 1/4 inches and has lockable wheels.
At the higher end of the price spectrum, you'll see a lot of add-on features. For example, the Graco Silhouette Pack ‘n Play Playard with Bassinet and Changer, about $170, has a removable changing table (with an "organizer" to hold diapers, wipes, etc.) and a bassinet feature. The bassinet has a maximum weight capacity of 15 pounds and the changing table has a weight capacity of 25 pounds. This model also comes with a vibrating mattress, electronic mobile, canopy, console with music, and night light. The manufacturer says you should only use the play yard with children under 35 inches tall.
Now, a simple visit to a site like Babies ‘R’ Us will confirm that, yes, playpens do still exist. But they seem to have been rebranded, for these devices are no longer called playpens. Instead, searching for the term on Babies ‘R’ Us will yield a range of “Pack n’ Plays” (a trademark of the kid-product manufacturer Graco, and which purists insist is less a playpen in the traditional sense than a traveling crib), and various takes on the “playard” (a word that seems vaguely French but is actually a contraction of “Play Yard”). Rather tellingly, a Google search for playpen seems to yield as many entries for contraptions to corral pets as children.
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Play-yard frames are typically made of metal tubing. Mesh on three or, better yet, all four sides provides ventilation and allows you to see your baby. Most models have hinges and lock buttons in the center of the top rails. To set up a play yard, you'll need to pull the top rails up so that they're locked, then push the floor down and secure the play yard mattress or pad. To fold this design, you'll need to pull the floor up, and then raise the top rails slightly while pressing the release buttons to unlatch and collapse the top rails. Before assembling or using your play yard, read the owner's manual carefully and keep it handy for future reference.
Having a young child around the house means having a host of new expenses to take care of. With that in mind, you want to ensure that whatever you buy for your child is going to last as long as possible. Luckily, all of the playpens, mats, yards and bouncers come from trusted brands, so you can breathe easy knowing that you're getting a good value. Choose from great manufacturers like Graco, Summer Infant and Prince Lionheart to find the perfect option for your son or daughter!