Can a Baby Sleep in a Playpen Instead of a Crib? (And Which Playpen?)

Quick story – I know a couple who’ve used a playpen for their baby to take a nap in. Just naps though.

Kid turned out fine and was perfectly safe in the playpen.

I’ve personally used a playpen/ playard for my baby to sleep in as well. And there are millions of parents worldwide, who’ve used playpens for overnight sleep, even for their newborns.

So, can a baby sleep in a playpen instead of a crib, you ask?

Well, that actually depends on the playpen.

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In a Hurry? Here’s The Key Takeaway

Here are some key details in this article:

  • Yes, a baby can sleep in a playpen instead of a crib. 
  • But it has to be a specific type of playpen.
  • Safe playpens that your baby can sleep in are pack n plays/playards or those freestanding playpens with paddings.
  • For pack n plays/ playards, as long as it has a proper mattress and is certifiably safe, with no recall records, then your baby can safely sleep in it, even for nighttime use.
  • Your baby can also take quick naps in their freestanding playpens.

What Exactly Is a Playpen?

When I hear playpen, I immediately think of these:

But according to Merriam Webster, a playpen is “a portable usually collapsible enclosure in which a baby or young child may play, –> called also play yard.”

This means, that pack n plays or playards are also considered playpens.

But that’s not all if we’re going by that definition.

Types of Playpens

According to the Flo website, there are 5 main types of playpens.

But if you think about it, there are playpens that you can lump together under one category, just to make things simpler.

So here are 3, not 5, types of playpens:

Playards/ Pack n Plays

This is the most popular type, which comes in various designs and options.

These types of playpens come with a lot more accessories that can help in taking care of your baby, such as storage for diapers, bassinets, toy mobiles, etc.

All pack n plays come with a mattress, which can be thin, but it’s made like that for safety reasons. 

Freestanding Playpens

These are collapsible play area enclosures that keep your baby in and prevent them from roaming freely around the house.

Most come with comfortable padding and a gate.

They are primarily used as a playpen. 

They are typically spacious and durable enough to support a baby who’s learning how to stand and is holding on to its walls.

Some are small but portable and can even be used outdoors.

Expandable Baby Gate

These are also considered playpens, as they provide an enclosure when installed at doorways or entrances, to keep your baby safe.

They don’t have paddings or mattresses but most don’t require tools or drilling and can easily be installed.

Most can accommodate large spaces while some are built for small entrances, doorways, and even stairs.

So, Can a Baby Sleep in a Playpen Instead of a Crib?

Yes, babies and even newborns can sleep in a playpen. 

Playpens such as pack n plays/ playards are popular crib alternatives, which are multipurpose and can also save you money and space! 

Check out the differences, pros, and cons of using a pack-n-play vs crib here.

A freestanding playpen with padding and no sleep hazards (no pillows, blankets, stuffed toys, etc) can also be used for sleeping. 

A lot of parents online have shared that their baby has taken a lot of naps inside their freestanding playpens.

It’s highly recommended though to only use freestanding playpens for playing or supervised naps and not for nighttime sleep.

Playpen Sleep Safety

According to CPSC, several playpen (playard) deaths have been caused by improper or extra use of mattresses. 

Other baby sleep hazards were also identified, such as older-style playpens which lead to entrapments, strangulation, and such.

So be vigilant.

If you want to ensure the safety of your baby while they sleep in their playpens/ playard/ pack n play, check the following:

  • Always check for safety certifications such as JPMA, ASTM, or CPSC.
  • Make sure that the playpen is not part of a CPSC recall.
  • It must have at least a 1-inch firm mattress, attached to the playard bottom or floor.

If you’re considering a used playpen, check it for wear and tear.

And check its manufacturing date. Those that have been manufactured AFTER Feb 2013 are under a new, updated safety standard.

Just take note that this applies only to playpens that are playards or pack n plays.

Not freestanding playpens.

Freestanding playpens have no mandates or laws yet for safe baby sleep.

Playpen Hazards

Here are more potential safety hazards to take note of when using a pack-n-play or freestanding playpen for sleeping:

  • Not installed properly

Check the manual, call customer service, check how sturdy it is, see if something is poking, take note of if something is falling or collapsing, etc.

Shake it a bit if you must. Just check it and test it out first before putting your baby in.

  • Pillows, blankets, toys

They are not necessary, especially for newborns.

The only newborn essential you need in a playpen is the mattress and mattress sheet.

Or the padding, if you’re using a freestanding playpen.

Any other items placed inside it could be a suffocation hazard for your baby.

  • Near window blinds, curtains, baby monitor

It’s a disaster waiting to happen if your playpen is placed near the window blinds or baby monitor, and your baby is active and mobile.

They can grab onto the ties, blinds, or cords and it can put them in danger.

So make sure your baby won’t be able to reach for any of those curtains, ties, or cords.

Alternative to Playpens and Cribs

The only alternative there is, that has a much more similar setup to a freestanding playpen, is a floor bed!

It’s convenient, it can save you a lot of money and space and it can jive well with a minimalist, Montessori interior.

BUT take note that you need to babyproof the entire room and install a baby gate, if you’re going for a floor bed.

We actually have this setup when my daughter turned 1 year old.

We just had a regular mattress on the floor, with play mats surrounding it. I taught her how to get down from the mattress safely. Her room was bare to the bones and we had a baby gate installed, plus a trusty baby monitor of course.

FAQ on Baby Sleeping in Playpen or Pack N Play

Can a baby sleep overnight in a playpen?

Yes, a baby can sleep overnight in a playpen (playard/ pack n play).
As long as it’s sturdy, has a firm mattress, is far away from curtains or cords, and doesn’t have any unnecessary items such as a pillow, blanket, etc. laying around.

Can my baby sleep in a pack n play instead of a crib?

Yes, your baby can sleep in a pack n play instead of a crib.
There are certain advantages and disadvantages to getting a pack-n-play vs a crib, however.
You can check out my crib vs pack n play article here to learn more.

How long can a baby sleep in a playpen?

A baby can sleep in a playpen/ pack n play/ playard for a few years or until he or she is trying to climb out of the playpen.

The Bottom Line: Can a Baby Sleep in a Playpen Instead of a Crib

Playpens that are playards or pack n plays – are great crib alternatives as they’re multipurpose and can save you a lot of space and money!

For the other kind of playpen – a freestanding playpen – just take note that this doesn’t have any regulations or laws yet on baby safety sleep.

So it’s better to just use them for quick, supervised naps.

But for pack n plays or playards, these types of playpens are perfectly fine and safe, either for naptimes or overnight sleep.

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