Pack and play playards have become a prominent item on many parents’ list of essential baby gear, thanks to their convenience and practicality. There is a large variety of playards to choose from, whether you’re looking for a simple, contained play area where baby can safely spend some time, or a deluxe, multi-use space with built-in changing table, toys, and storage. No matter your budget or the intended use of your playard, you’ll be able to find one that suits yours and your baby’s needs. To help you navigate the extensive range of playards available, we have compiled a list of our 5 favorite pack and plays:
Top 5 Pack and Play Playards
- #1. Graco Pack’n Play Playard with Reversible Napper and Changer
- #2. Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet Changer with Cuddle Cove Rocking Seat
- #3. Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet with Automatic Folding Feet
- #4. Graco Pack’n Play Playard with Change’n Carry Portable Changing Pad
- #5. Fisher-Price Ultra-Lite Day and Night Playard
Below, we have included detailed descriptions for each of our top 5 pack and plays, highlighting the key features that make them stand out from the rest.
The standout feature of the Graco Pack’n Play Playard with Reversible Napper and Changer is the multi-tasking napper/changer station, which switches from a cozy napping space to a changing platform with an easy push-and-lift motion. The napper side is slightly sloped and its shape cradles baby securely, while the changer side is lined with an easy-to-clean fabric.
Another advantage of this playard is its continued usefulness even as your newborn grows into a toddler. After your baby outgrows the napper (use up to 3 months) and changer (use up to 15 lbs), you can convert the unit into a portable, full-sized playard, perfect for toddlers up to 35” tall.
A removable, full-sized bassinet (for babies under 15 lbs), well-ventilated mesh sides, removable toy bar, carrying bag, and simple assembly round out the list of great features for this playard. On the negative side, the napper/changer station doesn’t fit in the carrying bag, making this playard more suitable for home use rather than travelling, and the material lining the napper can only be spot-cleaned. Overall, the pros certainly outweigh the cons for the Graco Pack’n Play Playard with Reversible Napper and Changer, making this one of our top picks .
The feature that most impressed us in the Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet Changer with Cuddle Cove Rocking Seat is the integrated rocking seat, which has a built-in vibration mode for soothing fussy babies. Better yet, the seat is removable and has useful carrying handles, so you can leave the seat securely docked in the playard, or carry it with you to another room without having to bring the entire playard. Suitable for babies under 15 lbs, the rocking seat includes a protective canopy and is covered in machine-washable fabric.
Other handy features in the Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet Changer with Cuddle Cove Rocking Seat include a bassinet (which is also equipped with vibration), cushioned changing table, 3 storage cubbies, and an electronic module that plays entertaining songs and sounds. We also liked that this playard transitions as your baby grows, retaining its value from newborn all the way through to the toddler stage.
Ease of use is probably the best feature of the Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet with Automatic Folding Feet. As its name suggests, this playard has convenient automatic folding feet and wheels which make it easy and super-quick to assemble or dismantle. With its compact design and push-button folding, this playard is the perfect choice for parents on the go.
The Graco Pack’n Play Playard Bassinet with Automatic Folding Feet also comes with a full-sized, removable bassinet (for babies under 15 lbs) and a removable toy bar with soft toys. Though this playard has less features than some of the more deluxe models, its relatively low price and sturdy, easy-to-use design more than make up for it.
What makes the Graco Pack’n Play Playard with Change’n Carry Portable Changing Pad different from many other playards is its oversized, removable changing pad which allows you to comfortably change baby practically anywhere. It has built-in storage pockets for diapers, wipes, and other changing necessities, and folds up into a compact pouch that you can easily take with you.
Along with a changing station lined with wipe-clean fabric, this playard also has a separate, cozy nest bassinet, ideal for comfy naps, and a detachable mobile with 3 soft toys. The playard is constructed with ventilating mesh on all 4 sides, and conveniently converts to a full-sized, portable toddler playard after baby outgrows the bassinet and changer.
The Fisher-Price Ultra-Lite Day and Night Playard certainly lives up to its name. At about 15 lbs, it is half the weight of many other portable playards, making it easy to bring along with you, and its multi-purpose design (sleeper, changer, and playard all in one) ensures a versatility that comes in handy during the day or night. The removable sleeper is gently inclined for optimal comfort, and has built-in support for baby’s head and back. We also love that the liner fabric is machine-washable.
Other noteworthy features include a travel changing pouch, a wipe-clean, vinyl changing pad with attached storage compartment, and a sturdy design that ensures easy setup and disassembly.
Choosing a Pack and Play Playard
What is a Pack and Play?
Pack and play playards are portable playpens that provide a safe place for baby to play or nap in, and are very convenient for travelling or everyday use. Many parents also use pack and plays as a nighttime sleep environment for their newborns instead of traditional bassinets, due to the playard’s portability, ventilated mesh sides, and thin, firm mattress.
Pack and plays generally include many more features than the playpens from decades ago. Designed to be an all-purpose baby care center, playards often have bassinets for sleeping, a space for changing diapers, a storage compartment, and a mobile or toy bar suspended above. With its multi-function capability and usefulness from newborn stage all the way up through the toddler years, it’s no wonder that pack and plays have become an indispensable item for new parents.
Types of Pack and Play Playards
There are almost endless varieties of pack and plays available on the market. From the most basic models to the fully-loaded ones, the right playard for your baby will depend on its intended use.
Basic playards have a minimum of features (such as bassinet and/or change table), but are economically priced at anywhere from $30 to $100. If you only need an enclosed space where baby can safely play while you are occupied, then a basic playard would be suitable. Basic models are lightweight and easier to transport, making them ideal for travelling, short day trips, or as a back-up playard at the grandparents’ house.
Combining the features of basic playards with additional premium details, deluxe playards serve a variety of purposes and can help make life easier for parents. Extra features might include a roomier bassinet or change table, extra cubbies for storage, rocking or vibrating seating, thicker mattresses, or electronic modules that provide entertaining music, lights, and sounds. Though many of these extras are nice to have, they also mean that the playard is likely larger, bulkier, and more expensive, costing up to as much as $200.
Advantages of Using a Pack and Play
1. Keeps Baby Safe
With the strict safety regulations that today’s playards must adhere to, a pack and play playard is the perfect place for you to safely leave your baby when you are temporarily occupied. Many new parents also use playards as baby’s first sleep environment beside their own bed for the first few months after birth.
Pack and plays have more than just their wheels to make them extremely portable. They are also easily folded up into travel-ready dimensions, and quickly assembled when and where they are needed. A handy carrying tote is usually provided for extra convenience.
Pack and play playards serve a variety of purposes, providing designated areas for sleeping, changing, and playing. In addition, some features allow for added functionality, such as detachable changing pads, storage spaces, and entertainment. Together, these characteristics translate to a multi-purpose, centralized baby care station that has just about everything you and your baby need.
4. Stimulates Early Learning
The soft toys, colorful mobiles, music, lights, and gentle vibration included in some playards produce valuable visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation necessary for enhanced brain development. It also helps babies develop their coordination and sharpen their senses, making them more engaged and aware of their surroundings.
Best Pack and Play Features
Though price might be a significant deciding factor when choosing a pack and play playard, the features that each playard has to offer are also important to consider:
- Bassinet: The bassinet is a removable sleeping module that is positioned at the top of the playard frame, making it easy to pick up and put down your baby. The bassinet can be removed after baby reaches about 15 lbs, and baby can then occupy the bottom portion of the playard.
- Changing table: This is a detachable, lined surface that is also fastened at the top of the playard frame, and is a convenient place for quick diaper changes.
- Mesh sides: Having mesh on all sides of the playard is important for maximum ventilation as well as for keeping an eye on your child.
- Storage: Whether as a fabric pocket or removable cubbies, having designated space in the playard to organize and store baby necessities helps keep everything conveniently close at hand.
- Portability: Pack and plays are, by definition, designed to be portable. They can be folded and stored in a handy carrying case on the go. If you’re a frequent traveller, however, you may want a basic model that is more compact and lightweight, but also extra durable. Furthermore, it’s important to take into account how easily the playard assembles and dismantles, and whether it has wheels for greater mobility.
- Entertainment: A bored baby is a fussy baby, so many playards have added features to keep baby entertained and stimulated. While basic models often come with a suspended mobile or toy bar to visually divert baby, some deluxe models offer sounds, music, and light as entertainment, or vibrating functionality to soothe and calm. These features often require batteries, though, and the overall cost of these decked-out playards can be relatively high.
- Canopy: A canopy shields your baby from bright indoor lights or sunlight, and provides a measure of privacy when it’s nap time and you want to keep distractions to a minimum.
- Padding: It’s important to ensure that there is adequate padding on the floor of the playard, where baby sleeps, plays, and might take a tumble, and along the top rails, which teething toddlers are likely to target. Floor padding should be a minimum of ¾” thick.
- Style: If you’re hoping to coordinate your baby gear with your home décor, you’d probably be able to find a playard in just about any color, pattern, or theme you desire. From traditional-looking wood frames to sleek, modern styles, playard designs are as varied as their features.
- Clean-up: If quick and easy clean-up is a top priority for you, then it’s a good idea to consider playards that have wipe-clean surfaces or come with detachable linings that are machine-washable.
If you’re in the market for a playard, one of the most important features to consider is your baby’s safety. In 2013, new federal safety standards were implemented for all playards sold in the U.S., making stability, entrapment, and structural integrity testing mandatory.
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when shopping for your pack and play playard:
- Examine the playard frame for sturdiness and durability. It should be strong enough to endure frequent assembly and disassembly over a significant period of time. Ensure that once set up, it locks firmly in place and won’t collapse with your child inside it.
- Note the weight limits and age restrictions for bassinets and changing tables, which may vary from one playard to another. Some accessories may also restrict usage based on baby’s ability to sit up or roll over.
- Check the playard’s fabric, lining, and/or mesh for any holes or frayed threads that may snag on little hands and feet. Tightly-woven mesh sides with holes no bigger than ¼” are ideal.
- Look for the safety notices on the packaging to ensure that the playard’s materials are free from BPA, lead, phthalates, and other chemicals.
Things to avoid:
- Previously-used playards that were made prior to 2013, or seem worn-out or unstable.
- Replacing the mattress that is included with the playard with a thicker, softer one. Firm surfaces are safer for infants to sleep on, as soft, cushioned materials pose an increased risk of suffocation or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you feel that you still want to replace the included mattress with something more comfortable, it should be firm and fit perfectly in the playard with no gaps.
- A sheet in which a baby could become entangled. If you prefer to use a sheet, ensure that it fits tightly on the playard mattress and is made specifically for your model.
- Toys hanging from cords or mobiles that your baby can reach and pull down, as these are a potential strangulation hazard.