A Pack ‘n Play playard is a cot that you can pack i.e. you can fold it up and take it with you. And you can also play in it! It is big and sturdy enough for an infant to spend time in doing more than just sleeping.
New Pack ‘n Plays or ‘playards’ have replaced the traditional square playpens our parents used which are now considered a bit unsafe. The modern version is rectangular and has sturdy, lockable sides that won’t pinch little fingers or collapse on an unsuspecting baby.
The frames are usually made of metal tubing with mesh sides providing ventilation and allowing you to see your baby.
As travel cots go, a Pack ‘n Play is at the opposite end of the spectrum to a popup cot. It’s got all the advantages a popup lacks – it’s sturdy, durable, comfortable and, depending on which model you choose, has those extra bells and whistles like a toy bar, bassinet, changing station, musical mobile etc. The downside is that for actual traveling, as in getting on a plane and moving from hotel to hotel, it’s not nearly as handy as a popup in that it’s heavier, more cumbersome to carry and takes longer to assemble and take down.
Optional bells and whistles
There are loads of add-on features to choose from. Some of them may be really practical for your lifestyle and others are handy to amuse your baby. However they all add to the cost and the weight, so if superfluous to your needs, stick with the basics.
Here are some of the more popular add-ons:
Useful for newborns, this is a raised padded area that clips securely on to the top of the cot. It provides a handy place for naps without you having to lower a sleeping baby in to the bottom of the cot – hard on your back and precarious for light sleepers. They are unsafe to use past a certain weight though, generally 15 pounds or when baby can sit up, pull up, or roll over.
All Graco Pack ‘n Play Playards have removable, full-size bassinets.
Often confused with the bassinet, most of the “care station” Graco Pack ‘n Plays have this feature as well as the bassinet. It’s a separate smaller padded little bed with curved sides that can clip on to the top of the cot or you can take it off and place it on a flat surface. It is strictly for newborns or for babies weighing up to 15lbs or that can roll over.
Toys and mobiles
Playards often feature little teddy bears or soft animals that are either suspended above the cot or dangle from a bar that stretches across the top of the cot. Sometimes you can attach them to the bassinet mattress on the floor to create a baby gym.
e.g. the Graco Pack ‘n Play Modern Playard with Play Mat, Shout has overhead toys and a removable on-the-floor play mat you can also attach them to.
These feature various combinations of music, nature sounds, vibrations and light shows, some activated by remote control. They usually require C or AA batteries which aren’t included.
e.g. the Baby Trend Deluxe Playard comes with an electronic music center including an input for your MP3 player, with volume control, nightlight, and vibration.
This can be handy if you want to keep your baby with you for day-time napping rather than putting him in his nursery. In a bright kitchen for example, it will shield baby from the light and some of the noise.
e.g. the Graco Silhouette Pack ‘n Play comes with an old style fold-away domed canopy
These usually attach to the top rail, flipping into position from the side and back again when not in use. Like the bassinet they generally have a weight limit of 15 pounds.
e.g. the Chicco Lullaby LX Playard has a thickly padded base and is elevated for ease of use
Useful for diapers and baby wipes etc, in the form of fabric shelves, zippered side pockets, pouches or small clip-on organizer bags.
e.g. the Safety 1st Satellite Premier Playard which comes with attached shelves and a small laundry hamper.
Why I loved my Pack ‘n Play
A home away from home
What I loved about the playard we had for our first son was that he always had a familiar place to sleep and play in no matter where we went. We traveled a lot in those days. It was a total pain to take on a plane, and expensive! no arguing there. But it was definitely comforting for him when we got to a hotel to have the familiar smell and feel of his own cot to fall asleep in.
It was also really handy for us to be able to leave him to play while we were showering or getting dressed rather than let him loose in an un-baby-proofed room.
The other reason I loved our son’s playard was that it sucked up all the other baby paraphernalia in the room. I had the Chicco Lullaby LX Playard which has an attached mobile, a changing table that flips out to the side when not in use and storage shelves for wipes, nappies and extra clothes underneath. It sat in our living room for pretty much two years, but wasn’t too much of an eyesore as at least all the baby bits and bobs were in one area.
I see the difference now whenever I go stay at my sister’s with our baby daughter, I take the Samsonite popup as it’s so quick and easy to put up even for a klutz like me, plus a changing mat, toys, nappies, clothes etc. You can imagine… within half an hour of arriving the place looks like a baby bomb has just exploded.
Versatile and portable
Why the playard really worked for me with my first son was that I was running around a lot then. Now that I’m working for myself I’m mostly in the house, but back then I had meetings etc so relied on my mum-in-law to take him a lot. With the Pack ‘n Play everything was in one place, so when I had to go out, I didn’t have to go to his nursery and start thinking… I need extra babygros, pants, socks, look for nappies, wipes, a changing mat. I could just empty whatever was in the playard into a bag – which is basically a day’s supply of everything you will need for a baby – and then fold up the cot, get it in the bag and throw it in the boot. I could then leave him at my mum-in-law’s for a whole day knowing he had a place to nap, play and had all his essential bits and bobs for the day.
Not sure you want a playard or a lighter travel cot?
My Essential guide to Travel cribs should help narrow your focus.
Leaning towards a playard?
Read my Guide to Graco Pack n Play playards
Think you’d prefer something lighter and faster to assemble?
Learn more about Portable travel cribs, the best solution for traveling