Is a playpen necessary and is there another alternative?
It’s a common question among new parents with limited space who might also have a hyperactive baby.
I have several playpen alternatives in this article, but before we get to the meat of it, there’s another related topic that might be bugging you about playpens – its drawbacks.
Let me address some of them first. Then we’ll get to its advantage and finally to the various playpen alternatives.
I hope you’ll love the products we recommend! Just a quick note: if you click on a product link below and decide to buy it, we may earn a small commission.
The Cons Of Using A Playpen
Fewer opportunities for exploration
Playpens/pack-n-plays/ playards are not fun areas for your kid to play and explore in.
It’s as big as a crib, there’s not much space, and leaving them there for a long period is quite detrimental to their overall development.
They need to move around, test their bodies and boundaries, look, touch and explore around.
That’s the best way for them to learn and improve their gross motor skills, cognitive skills as well as emotional skills.
For eg., if you let them crawl on the hardwood floor, they might fall but they will learn from that fall.
They will learn how to be more careful next time and that falling on hardwood floors can hurt.
That’s just one example of the things they can pick up when they’re out of a pack-n-play/ playpen!
Playpens that occupy a lot of space like the one below:
The ones that are made to corral crawling babies and even toddlers, might not be a practical choice if you live in a small house or apartment.
There won’t be enough room for everyone to be comfortable maneuvering around so the best thing to do is to really look for another alternative.
They might climb out of it
Pack n plays, playards, regular playpens, expandable playpens – whatever playpens it might be, there’s always the possibility that your child can climb out of it.
You might have a little daredevil or a rough-and-tumble kind of kid that can hang over a pack n play or lift themselves and climb out of an expandable playpen.
Your child might hate it
My daughter hated being left in her crib for even 10 minutes.
Literally a day after her first birthday, she decided that it sucks to be there and just started climbing out of it.
I wasn’t in the mood to try out dozens of ways to make her stay in her crib so I just said, fuck it, I’ll just baby-proof her room, co-sleep with her on a floor mattress, install a baby gate and let her have free crawling/ exploring reign of her room.
So if you have a baby like mine, they will probably hate being contained in a pack n play or regular playpen/ expandable playpen too!
Are Playpens Always Bad For Kids?
No, playpens are not always bad for children.
It’s a safe space for them to stay in, especially if you need to run to another room, get something by the door or just fill your cup and do some self-care activities.
You can’t entertain or look after your kid 24/7.
You need some time to rest and recharge, so having a playpen can be beneficial in that sense.
When mom is happy, the kid and the whole family are happy!
It’s just that, you can’t let your baby stay there the whole day, without interacting with them regularly. Especially in a pack n play/ playpen.
They need a lot of space to move and explore.
So below are the best types of playpen alternatives you can consider.
Best Playpen Alternatives
If you don’t want to confine your baby anywhere or if you don’t just have a dedicated space for them to crawl, then baby-proofing your entire home is the best alternative to a playpen.
You can give your baby the full crawling or walking reign of the house, just as long as you’ve baby-proofed every room.
Remember to get a checklist for everything you need to babyproof in each room and most importantly, look at every room from your baby’s POV.
That means, lying down on the floor and looking around the room.
You’ll be able to see things much more clearly and notice items that can be choking hazards or that can possibly hurt your baby.
If you find it tiring and quite hard to baby-proof the entire house, then just choose a room to babyproof.
Then install a baby gate to corral your kid.
You can just have a baby gate like the one below in your bedroom.
Or you can go for a large baby gate/ expandable play center and corral your kid in a specific area, like the living room.
Foam Bumper Mat Set
I kept seeing these foam bumper mats on my social media feed when my baby was in her rolling phase.
And it just looked absolutely adorable!
My hormones persuaded my husband to buy it and while I can’t remember the exact brand, our bumper mat kinda looks like this, but simpler, without the frills.
Although I wasn’t able to contain my baby in it for longer than 8 months, it was still quite helpful to have.
FYI, my baby is now 5 years old and we are still using it!
I use it around her floor mattress when she turned one year old.
It was mainly to cushion her fall.
Now she does some gymnastic activities on it!
Other Alternatives to Playpen
Foam Ball Pit
Other parents used a foam ball pit to contain their babies and even toddlers aged 18 months or younger.
It’s not a long-term playpen alternative though as most babies can easily climb out of it.
But you can use this for your preschoolers or even older kids to play in.
This is a temporary solution for those times when your baby wants to stay close to you but you don’t want them crawling or walking around when cooking, doing chores, or even working.
You can plop them safe and sound in their high chair, provided that they have some age-appropriate baby toys to play with.
You might need to change up their toys now and then just so they won’t get bored too much in their chair.
Take note that this is just a temporary playpen alternative that you can only utilize for quick sessions.
You can’t really just leave your child in it for too long as they also need to move and explore for their overall development.
If you have a newborn or a younger baby and you’re having a hard time getting anything done, you can just babywear them.
It might not be the most convenient thing but if you really need to do something and your clingy, crying baby just can’t be left alone in their pack n play or even crib, then just use a baby carrier.
With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to work, clean the house and even cook a meal, while babywearing your baby!
Again, this is not a long-term alternative playpen solution but you can try it, especially if you still haven’t found the time to babyproof your room, your budget is quite tight for a regular/ expandable playpen or you don’t have enough space.
Other parents suggested using a travel crib instead of a pack n play/ playpen but I feel that it’s not that different from the latter.
The upside of having one is its multiple purposes.
It’s lighter than a pack-n-play, you can use it also as a crib or playpen, it can also be a “baby jail” and obviously, as a travel crib!
It’s downside is, your kid can learn how to escape out of it.
It’s better to use this one from the get-go when you have a newborn so you can fully utilize it and get more bang for your buck.
Some parents in online forums also suggested using a jumperoo to keep your baby contained yet happy.
This is again, a very temporary, quick alternative to playpens as you can’t really let your baby stay in it for too long.
Not even for 20 minutes a day!
And this product can’t also last for too long, especially if your baby is raring to go and can climb out of it.
They need to explore and move around without any contraptions on them.
FAQ on Playpen Alternatives
What can I use instead of a playpen?
The best alternative to a playpen is baby-proofing an area in your house and installing a baby gate.
Is a baby playpen necessary?
Yes and No.
Yes, a playpen can help to provide a safe space for your baby to stay in if you need to do some quick chores in another room or just have a breather.
But it’s not a newborn essential, and if you’re lacking space, it’s not practical to have a regular/ expandable playpen.
At what age do you stop using a playpen?
When your baby reaches that age, where they’re trying to climb out of a playpen, is the time to stop using it.
Best Playpen Alternatives: Takeaway
It’s ideal to have a playpen but all families are different.
You may not have the space for one or your baby might hate staying in it so luckily, there are a couple of playpen alternatives to choose from.
I highly recommend babyproofing your baby’s nursery room, installing a baby gate, and just letting them explore in it!