Don't buy used. For safety's sake, don't use a hand-me-down or garage-sale play yard. Older models may have a top-rail hinge that can collapse, forming a steep, V-shaped angle that puts children at risk of being trapped or strangled. They may also have changing-table restraint straps that can form a loop beneath the changing table, posing a strangulation hazard to a child in the play yard. For example, in 2007 the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of 425,000 Kolcraft play yards for that reason. And in January 2009, the CPSC announced a recall of 200,000 Fisher-Price Rainforest Portable Play Yards manufactured by Simplicity Inc. and SFCA Inc. after 1,350 reports of side-rail collapse; injuries included cuts, bruises, and broken bones. In the past, incidents of side-rail collapse have resulted in more serious injuries and some deaths. Even if you plan to buy new, protect yourself by signing up for e-mail recall notices at www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx. And send in the registration card to the manufacturer to ensure that you'll be informed of any recalls. Play yards are one of the 18 types of juvenile products that must, by law, include pre-addressed, postage-paid product registration cards and an easy way to register your product online. Manufacturers are forbidden from using or sharing the information you put on those cards for marketing purposes.

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She continued: “It’s as if you asked a climate-change scientist whether the fact that you bought a Prius would make a hurricane less likely in New Orleans this summer. Carbon makes a big difference and so does care-giving, but not at that scale. Of course if you kept a baby confined in a playpen and never took him out that would probably make a difference, but nobody actually would do that.” While science does suggest crawling strongly influences the way babies think and learn, she points out “babies in playpens are crawling and exploring too, of course.” Her last bit of advice? “Parents should try to think not ‘How will this affect my baby in the long run?’—who knows?—but ‘Is this helping my baby and me to thrive right now?’ ” That, she says, depends on what you and your situation are like—and only you know that.


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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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• Remove mobiles and toy bars when your child can roll over or push up on hands and knees so he can't reach them and pull them down, due to the hazard of strangulation. If your child uses a play yard at a day-care center or someone else's home, be sure it's a recent model, preferably manufactured in 2008 or later. Also check its condition as your would any item your child might use. Visit Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure that model has never been recalled.

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).
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.
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