Which are the best baby play yards?
Playpens or play yards? What’s the difference?
Not much, really. In the old days, those mesh and metal baby corrals were only known as playpens. Countless caregivers placed their babies in them to keep them out of harm’s way while mom did the essential domestic tasks to keep the family alive and well.
The term has fallen out of favor in the last couple decades. Why, I have no idea, except some people speculate it may have to do with “pen” having a negative connotation, as in a livestock pen or a cage. No one wants to think they’re imprisoning their babies, I guess, though I doubt the babies really care as long as they’re safe, fed, and happy.
Like almost all baby equipment or parenting techniques, debates have raged over whether parents should even use the playpen/yard at all. “It will lead to neglect and learning disabilities”, the naysayers have claimed. Um…yeah, if you put your baby in one and never pick him up again. But the majority of moms, like you and me, aren’t neglecting our kids in the least.
Today’s play yards (sometimes written as playards) tend to have more bells and whistles than playpens. They often come with attachments like bassinets, changing tables, mobiles, organizers, shelves, etc. Some can function like a portable nursery with all those amenities, which could be useful if you often take extended trips.
When should my baby use one?
When my first baby no longer stayed where I put her and began rolling, crawling, then walking, it became necessary to provide a safe place for her to play and nap so I could vacuum or clean spit-up off the carpet. That girl could fast crawl out of my sight in the blink of an eye, and by the time she was walking, she was too heavy to pack around in a baby carrier. My back can only take so much, after all.
So, enter the Pack N’ Play, aka playpen, now aka play yard. We had a very basic one but loved that it folded up into a portable size so we could take it to Nana’s house or outside when we grilled burgers. My second daughter even took her afternoon naps in it to the soothing sounds of her favorite show, Caillou.
My son wasn’t as much of a fan and showed it one Sunday morning before church by taking off his diaper and painting the playpen with…I’ll spare the details so you won’t lose your lunch. Needless to say, we were late to church. But the point is, if your baby is mobile, a playpen or play yard becomes an essential safe area, especially if you’re a stay-at-home parent or a daycare provider.
When your child reaches 30 pounds (~ 2 years old) or more, it’s probably time to retire the playpen, especially if it’s one that has a built-in bottom. Play yards that act more as corrals can be used longer, but by that age, they’re usually able to get out of both types easily.
Which of these baby play yards do you think is right for your baby? Here’s a summary table for quick reference:
|Summer Infant Pop N' Play Portable Playard||★★★||Yes||$|
|Graco Pack 'n Play Playard On The Go||★★★★||Yes||$$|
|Chicco Lullaby Dream Play Yard||★★||No||$$$$|
|Graco Pack 'n Play Playard with Automatic Folding Feet||★★★||Yes||$|
|Gupamiga Activity Centre Play Yard||★||No||$$$|
|North States Superyard Colorplay 8 Panel Playard **EDITOR'S CHOICE**||★★★★||Yes||$$|
|Graco Pack 'N Play Playard Portable Napper and Changer||★★||Yes||$$|
What should I look for in a baby play yard?
When shopping for the perfect play yard/ playpen for your baby or toddler, there are several things to consider. Here are a few:
- Safety – Stay up-to-date on product recalls from sites like SafeKids.org. This is especially important if you buy a used one or get a second-hand one from family or a friend. Also, remember that just because they’re contained doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way. Little walkers can sometimes climb out, so peek in on them often. Look for see-through material on all four sides, lock buttons on the rails where they fold, and lockable wheels if it comes with wheels at all.
- Lifestyle – Do you travel a lot? A portable model will work best for you. Make sure it’s lightweight, compact when folded up and has a carrying case. If you’re primarily going to be home with the baby, a stationary model with accessories will work well. A good all-in-one bassinet, changing station, and play yard is a good option if you have a small living space and can’t fit a whole set of nursery furniture in the room.
- Baby’s personality – Some babies absolutely hate to be left alone for any amount of time or hate being enclosed in small spaces. If your child is one of those, chances are the play yard will just collect dust and stray toys and would ultimately be a waste of money. Or you could try one of the larger corral-type play yards so they feel less cramped.
Are you ready to shop? Have a look at our picks for best baby play yards.
This Pop n’ Play play yard is designed for indoor and outdoor use. At 14 sq. feet and 48 inches wide, it provides a nice big space for baby to relax and play. Mesh sides all around provide visibility. It folds up into a compact size and comes with a carry bag so you can take it anywhere.
Since it’s four feet wide, this one might not be great if you don’t have a lot of space. At 28 inches in height, a toddler who can climb might get out fairly easily. Also, since there’s not a lot of padding, babies who topple easily might hit the metal support frame when they fall over. Some reviewers also noted the one they received was not the same as the one shown.
- Spacious at 4 ft. wide
- Lightweight and portable
- Indoor/outdoor use
- Too big for small living spaces
- Lack of padding
- Models in ad may not match the one you buy
Graco is the undisputed champ in the sheer number of play yards they manufacture. This comfy play yard has a full-size bassinet for infants to nap. The changing station comes with a changing pad that can easily wipe clean. Mesh on all sides provides great ventilation and wheels make it easy to move around. The toy bar has soft toys to keep baby entertained as well.
Some users have noted that the mattress isn’t thick enough. Though it is accessorized, keep in mind it’s meant for “on the go”, meaning a travel play yard. So it’s not going to be as padded/heavy as some of the other models. A few reviewers complained of strong musty or chemical odors when it arrived, which may have to do with individual warehouse storage, but check the return policy before buying.
- Comes with changing station
- Full-size bassinet
- Toy bar for entertainment
- May have thin mattress
- Possible musty or chemical odor
This luxury model from Chicco comes with all kinds of cool stuff. The newborn napper can work as a bassinet in the play yard or on the floor. The detachable changing table comes with a removable zippered cover that is machine washable (nice, huh?). Even the mattress is machine washable. That would have come in handy about ten years ago for me.
An attachable mobile with a push-button console provides music, nature sounds, and a nightlight. The handy organizer on the side keeps all your diapers, wipes and diaper cream right at your fingertips. If you have a small space or want a second baby care area in another part of the house, this one would be a great option.
That being said, if you’re looking for a portable play yard, this one isn’t a great option. Though it has wheels to help move it around, it’s big and heavy so it’s not something you’d want to take on a quick trip to Nana’s. It’s also pretty darn pricey, but once you add the cost of a separate changing table, bassinet and play yard, it’s a good value.
- Changing table with washable cover
- Removable, dual-use bassinet
- Plays music, nature sounds and has a nightlight
- Washable mattress
- Mobile only works when bassinet is attached
- Instruction manual for assembly may be poorly written
- Too big to travel with easily
This Graco Pack n’ Play looks familiar. It’s almost as basic as the one we used for years at an affordable price too. What does it have that ours didn’t? Wheels for easy moving and a storage pocket on the side for baby essentials like wipes, toys, etc. Like ours, this one folds up into one compact rectangular package and slips right into the carrying bag to keep it clean. It’s light and easy to toss in the trunk for family trips. Or you can store it away easily in a closet when not needed (i.e. between having babies).
As far as downsides, the mattress isn’t machine washable (the carry bag is), but you can add waterproof mattress covers and sheets that are. Some reviewers say this model isn’t as sturdy as the older models or the newer, more expensive ones. But it is what it is, a basic playpen/play yard meant for travel and temporary use. If you’re looking for plush comfort or other accessories, this isn’t the one for you.
- Lightweight and portable
- Comes with machine washable carry bag
- Easy setup
- Mattress not machine washable
- May not be as sturdy as other Graco models
This is one of those kid corral play yards. The inside play area is 5′ x 5′, good for the claustrophobic babies, and the 2′ height is good for keeping those little explorers contained. It’s BPA free with no toxic paints or fumes or any of that stuff. The rubber base keeps it in place on hard floors.
Little gear and bead toys are built in on the gate panels, and it’s a perfect place to store a toy bin stocked with board books and crayons/coloring books when they’re old enough. Some people even make a ball pit with it. Fun! With the way it’s designed, you can put it up in a circle or square or triangle or whatever shape you like. Some people like to buy two and attach them together to get a much bigger play area.
Cute as it is, a few reviewers found that arms and legs could get stuck in the gaps, so always keep an eye on the kiddos when they’re playing inside it. Reviewers have noted that the instruction manual is also badly written. This play yard is also one of the more expensive ones on the market, but for the size, it’s probably a good deal. Might be one of those try-it-before-you-buy-it things if you can find one set up locally.
- 5′ x 5′ play space
- Rubber non-skid mat
- Versatile set up in any shape
- Can put two or more together for larger area
- Limbs could get stuck in gaps (parental supervision advised at all times)
- Badly written instruction manual
Another corral-type indoor/outdoor play yard is this brightly colored one from North States. It’s very roomy, with up to 34 square feet and some change. The gaps aren’t big enough to get any limbs stuck, either. It’s lightweight and folds up compactly enough to travel with when needed. Non-slip pads keep it in place and won’t scratch your floors. Best of all – it’s moderately priced and made in the USA.
Some reviewers noted that theirs broke during shipping, shortly thereafter, or while folding it up, leaving sharp edges. Just like all baby products, thoroughly inspect it every time you’re ready to use it and check the company’s warranty and return policies before buying.
- Very roomy (34 square feet)
- Non-skid base
- Gaps too small for arms and legs to get stuck
- Folds up for easy portability
- Broken pieces could be sharp – inspect before use
Rounding out our list is another moderately priced play yard from Graco. This is one of those all-in-one models, but unlike the Chicco one we listed above, it’s much easier to travel with. The napper and changing table are easily switched out. A roomy diaper stacker attaches to the side (because you can never have too many diapers on hand). The wheels let you move it around the house from one room to the next without breaking a sweat. Wipe-clean fabric helps you keep those leaks and spit-up stains under control.
Now the downsides. The napper and changer covers aren’t removable so you can’t pop them in the wash. You could probably cover those with an extra waterproof pad, however. Some reviewers noted the napper/changer attaching mechanism can be too loose, allowing it to tilt and cause the baby to roll out. Like I said before, inspect it thoroughly before use, and never leave the baby unsupervised for very long. It’s probably best to use a separate bassinet at night and save this one for daytime naps.
- Moderately priced
- Easy to transport
- Interchangeable napper & changer
- Cute mobile with soft stars
- Napper/changer attachment mechanism could be defective (inspect before use)
- Changer height may not be ergonomic for parents/caregivers
- Napper/changer covers not removable