The early days of parenting are full of big questions. Where baby sleeps and their actual sleeping area (bassinet vs crib vs pack and play) is right up there with one of the most commonly asked questions and concerns new parents have.
The fear of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is real and terrifying to many new parents (myself included). Thankfully, over the past three decades the rate of SIDS has declined markedly: from 130 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 38 per 100,000 in 2020. (source)
A large part of this declining trend seems to be thanks to clear safety guidelines around creating a safe sleep environment for newborn sleep, developed by paediatricians and other experts. Thanks to decades of public education, many parents know their baby should be placed to sleep on their back, on a firm surface / firm mattress, in a bare crib.
In addition to safe sleep guidelines, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has stepped up with clear regulations around product safety requirements to help ensure unsafe baby products aren’t available for sale. CPSC regulations cover essential baby gear, including but not limited to cribs, pack and plays, and bassinets. These guidelines have been developed over time, with the consultation of experts. If you buy a new pack and play in the United States today, that product has to meet current CPSC safety guidelines (this is partly why I recommend against buying used pack and plays, play yards, travel cribs, and some other baby gear – they may not meet current regulations or may have been recalled).
So where does this leave families who want to use a pack and play for a newborn baby?
Perhaps you want to use a pack and play – either in addition to or instead of a crib or bassinet – for infant sleep (naps or overnight sleep).
You might be wondering:
- Can a newborn fall asleep in a pack and play safely?
- Can a baby sleep in a pack and play without the bassinet attachment?
- Is it safe to use a pack and play as your newborn baby’s main bed, instead of a crib, side sleeper, or bassinet?
- Can babies sleep in pack and play attachments or accessories?
This article will cover newborn sleep in a pack and play or play yard. It will also cover pack and play bassinet accessories you might come across, including bassinets, changers, baby lounge chairs, nappers, and more.
I’ve consulted expert sources and the published evidence, so you can consult these sources as well (they’re all linked) when making your decision.
DISCLAIMER – This content is being provided for information purposes only and should not be seen as a recommendation. I am not a medical professional, and none of the content in this blog post or on this website is meant to substitute professional health, safety and medical advice. I’ve rounded up the best research and evidence I could find, but at the end of the day you should consult your pediatrician or family doctor when it comes to questions or concerns about your babies’ sleep environment and safety. Also note, you need to read the user manual for your specific pack and play, as different models have different rules for use, and ensure it is used as intended by the manufacturer.
(Final note: I use pack and play, play yard, and play pen interchangeably in this article. Pack ‘n Play® is a brand-specific term that refers to Graco brand play yards: a Pack ‘n Play®. I use the term Pack ‘n Play® when referring to Graco products specifically).
Can a Newborn Baby Sleep in a Pack and Play?
In the United States, it is considered safe to allow newborns to sleep in a pack and play that conforms to current Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, with some notable caveats. Follow safe sleep guidelines and safety guidelines set by the manufacturer, use the product as intended by the manufacturer, and ensure the product itself is correctly assembled, in good working order, and located in safe place. Pack and plays are federally regulated in the US for infant sleep (source), and are consistently mentioned as a safe sleeping environment across government and third-party safe sleep guidelines.
In Canada, most pack and plays are not approved for unsupervised sleep (i.e. nighttime sleep). Instead, many are intended for day time playing, and in some cases for supervised napping. You’ll need to check with your user manual and specific model.
Canada vs. USA: Different Regulations and Recommendations About Baby Sleep and Pack and Plays
Believe it or not, whether infant sleep in a pack and play is considered safe depends on where you live.
For example, take a look at the different messaging on the 4moms USA website (top) vs the 4moms Canada website (bottom). In the USA, they mention the Breeze Go is intended for playing or sleeping. In Canada, they indicate it is only for playing.
In Canada, pack and plays are not intended for unsupervised baby sleep. Here’s what the Health Canada website has to say on the matter:
“Playpens are not intended to be used for unsupervised sleep because they do not meet the same safety requirements and are not as durable as cribs.”
In the United States, it’s a different story.
In the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Updated 2022 Recommendations for Reducing Infant Deaths in the Sleep Environment, the organization has this to say about creating an environment for your baby to safely sleep:
“A crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard that conforms to the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is recommended.”
While I haven’t seen a statement from US organizations that is as clear as the above statement from Health Canada, US safe sleep guidelines consistently mention play yards in guidelines about creating a safe sleeping environment for your baby.
For example, this JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page published in October 2022 has this to say:
“Examples of safe sleep spaces include cribs, bassinets, and play yards without any pillows, blankets, loose sheets, crib bumpers, or toys.”
This CPSC post similarly indicates a play yard is a safe environment in listing safe sleep guidelines.
Pack and Play Bassinets and Attachments for Sleeping Babies
When shopping for a pack and play, it’s helpful to understand some of the different accessories, and what is and isn’t considered safe for baby sleep.
First up: pack and play bassinets.
Some pack and plays come with bassinet attachments designed for use with newborn babies up to 15 pounds.
The difference between letting your newborn sleep on a play yard floor (the lowest level, with the manufacturer included mattress) vs a bassinet attachment really comes down to parent comfort vs baby safety guidelines.
Just as it’s more comfortable for parents to use the top crib mattress height when babies are newborns, so are bassinet attachments more comfortable and easy for most parents’ use.
In those early days of newborn babies, when they require so much holding and so much care, it’s nice to be able to pick them up and put them down into something that’s closer to an adult’s hip height. This means less bending and lifting for all caregivers.
However, where it really makes a difference is for c-section parents, who’ve had a major surgery and need to treat their body with a bit of extra care while recovering – while still caring for their babies!
When shopping for a pack and play with a bassinet, you’ll generally come across a few different styles and sizes.
Pack and Play with Full Bassinet
Many pack and plays have a full bassinet, which spans the entire length of the playard frame.
Often, but not always, a full bassinet consists of a raised surface closer to the middle or top of the crib, using the same play yard mattress as the base. In this way, it’s similar to raising or lowering the crib mattress in your baby’s crib.
Importantly, the bassinet sleep surface is still firm and flat. The pack and play mattress for the bassinet is just as firm as for the play yard floor, and fits just as snuggly against the play yard walls, without gaps. This type of bassinet meets federal safety standards and is therefore safe for infant sleep.
Whereas many pack and plays include the full bassinet, others only include it on some models (for example, the 4moms Breeze Go vs Breeze Plus) or sell it as an add-on accessory from the manufacturer (i.e. Phil & Ted’s Traveller and Guava Lotus). Others – notably lightweight travel cribs such as the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light – don’t offer a bassinet option.
Examples of Pack and Plays with a full bassinet include the Graco Pack ‘n-Play Dome LX-Playard, the current model 4moms Breeze Plus, or the Maxi-Cosi Swift Lightweight Portable Playard. Of these three, I’ve only personally tested the 4moms Breeze Plus. You can read my review here.
The weight limit on a full pack and play bassinet is typically 15 pounds, or until your baby starts pushing themselves up (whichever milestone arrives sooner). However, you should check your user manual to be sure.
Pack and Play with a Newborn Insert
Some pack and plays also come with a newborn insert. Unlike the full bassinet, a newborn insert doesn’t take up the entire footprint of the pack and play. Rather, it’s smaller – sometimes sitting across the width of the pack and play near one end, and sometimes sitting higher up, above the full bassinet.
Newborn inserts are substantially smaller than the full bassinet. They typically snap on to the top railings of the main pack and play frame. While the weight limit may be the same, you may find your baby outgrows this attachment faster than the full bassinet feature.
In order for newborn inserts to be safe for baby sleep, they should be firm and flat, and intended for infant sleep, as per the user manual.
Inserts that are inclined, padded, or have straps and buckles to secure your baby are not safe for infant sleep, even if you supervise.
The Graco Pack ‘n-Play Dome LX-Playard has this style of infant insert, in addition to having a bassinet “platform” that sits about halfway up the play yard walls.
Play Yard Seats, Nappers, or Loungers for Infant Sleep
Many play yards have additional accessories that are not intended for infant or baby sleep, and don’t provide a safe sleeping place.
These include a seat, lounger, or “napper” attachment, and changing table or diaper changing station.
In the past, some pack and plays have had an attachment called a napper.
Despite the name, pack and play nappers are not safe for baby sleep – not even for supervised naps. They are typically padded and slightly inclined: two no nos when it comes to safe baby sleep. They also often have a harness of some sort to secure the baby.
Typically, nappers are now called seats, but they are still not safe for baby sleep. If a baby falls asleep in one of these attachments, you should remove them, and place them on their back in the pack and play bassinet or lowest play yard level, or their crib.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Sitting devices, such as car seats, strollers, swings, infant carriers, and infant slings, are not recommended for routine sleep in the hospital or at home, particularly for infants aged <4 months. When infants fall asleep in a sitting device, remove them from the product and move them to a crib or other appropriate flat surface as soon as is safe and practical.”
When in doubt, it’s best to check the user manual for your specific brand and model of play yard, and / or consult your family doctor or pediatrician.
As examples, the Graco Pack ‘n Play Portable Seat & Changer Playard AND the Graco Pack ‘n Play Quick Connect Portable Seat both have a bassinet platform that sits like a platform within the play yard walls. However, they also have an infant seat and changer that sits on top of the play yard, clipped to the top rails. The bassinet platform is considered safe for sleep in the US, but the infant seat and changer combo is not safe for sleep.
When in Doubt, Check the Manual Before Baby Sleeps In It
As of mid-2022, “any product intended or marketed for infant sleep must meet a US federal safety standard” (source). Sleep products for infants or babies under 5 months are “defined as any product with packaging, marketing, or instructions indicating that the product is for sleep or naps, or with any images of sleeping infants.“
Previously, this rule didn’t exist, and marketers could use language that may have made parents think a product was safe for sleep, when in fact it was not. It’s possibly within this old operating and regulatory context that “napper” accessories were advertised.
According to CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler, the new rule “ensures that when a product is intended or marketed for sleep, it will indeed be safe for an infant to sleep.” (source)
As a parent it’s still worth doing your own due diligence. Infant sleep products manufactured and sold before mid 2022 may still include some misleading marketing terms.
Some pre-mid-2022 infant sleep products are likely still out on the used market, and don’t comply to the new rules.
It’s best to check your user manual and contact the manufacturer or your baby’s doctor if in doubt about sleep safety or products.
What Else to Keep in Mind about Sleeping Baby in a Pack and Play
When using a pack and play for baby sleep, it’s important to keep the following safety considerations in mind.
Manufacture Date and Buying a Used Pack and Play for Baby Sleep
Before using a pack and play with your baby, ensure it meets current CPSC safety guidelines.
US federal safety regulations for play yards were last updated in 2013. Any pack and play manufactured or originally sold before March 2013 likely won’t meet current safety guidelines and therefore shouldn’t be used.
As noted above, the CPSC also approved a new federal safety standard for infant sleep products that went into effect in 2022. Products originally purchased before mid-2022 may not meet these safety standards.
If you do purchase a used pack and play or use an old one from a friend or family member, it’s important to note and check the following:
- Check the date on it and ensure it wasn’t manufactured before March 2013. If it was, it’s likely not up to date with current federal safety standards. In June 2022, additional regulations came into effect for infant sleep products (including but not limited to inclined sleepers, travel and compact bassinets, and in-bed sleepers). Your best bet is to ensure the product you buy was sold after those new regulations came into place.
- Inspect the mattress to ensure it still offers a flat and firm surface, and hasn’t warped/bent/become misshapen over time from incorrect care or storage.
- Look at the mesh or fabric sides for tears and stretched out fabric. These present a risk of entrapment and aren’t safe.
- Inspect the entire pack and play for spills, stains, etc that may indicate it wasn’t well cared for or may be unhygienic, particularly if it doesn’t have a waterproof mattress cover. You don’t want your infant sleeping on a mattress that unknowingly contains mold or mildew.
- Ask the seller if they’re the original owner (if not, I recommend not purchasing from them, as they may not have the answers to the following questions). Ask them:
- Has a different mattress ever been used with the play yard (i.e. a mattress made by a third party, and not intended for use by the play yard manufacturer). If so, it’s possible the third-party mattress has stretched out the play yard and mesh or fabric sides, and it’s no longer safe to use. (If yes, don’t buy it).
- Has the pack and play ever been broken and repaired? Have any modifications been made to it? (If yes, don’t buy it).
- Is the pack and play from a non smoking home? (if no, don’t buy it).
Pack and Play Recalls
Baby gear is regularly subject to recalls. When you purchase a new product, be sure to register it with the manufacturer. This way, if there is a recall, they’ll be able to get in touch with you about next steps.
If you purchase a used pack and play, or use an old one, search whether it’s been subject to any recalls in advance of using it. If it is subject to recall, don’t let your child use it until you’re sure it’s safe, as per manufacturer instructions.
In the US, you can check the CPSC website.
Use As Directed
Assuming your pack and play meets current federal CPSC safety standards, isn’t subject to a recall, and is in good working order, you also need to ensure you read the user manual for your specific pack and play, and follow the directions to use as directly.
The manual should indicate definitively which part of the pack and play is safe to use from birth (i.e. play yard floor and / or bassinet), and which is not, and whether it’s intended for supervised sleep, overnight sleep, or play time, only.
This also includes guidelines for when to stop using a pack and play.
Maintenance and Condition
If your pack and play is missing hardware, has broken parts, or is in otherwise poor condition, don’t use it with your child.
Once you’ve assembled a pack and play according to the instructions, ensure any collapsible pieces are properly locked into place (typically this means the legs and top rails on most pack and plays).
Place the mattress and ensure it fits tightly, with no gaps between the edges of the mattress and the play yard sides. Gaps can be a suffocation hazard. The mattress should also sit flat and snug without effort.
Weight Limits, Height Limits, and Age Limits
While many pack and plays max out around 15 pounds for the bassinet and 30 pounds for the main play yard floor, check your user manual to ensure you don’t exceed recommended weight limits.
In addition to pack and play weight limits, most pack and plays have height limits (typically 35 inches), as well as milestone limits.
For example, once your baby starts pushing themselves up on their hands and knees, you need to discontinue use of the bassinet. And once your baby starts standing in the pack and play (for some) or trying to climb out (for all), it’s time to stop using it.
When placing a pack and play, it’s important to be aware of dangers in the environment. Keep the pack and play away from anything that could pose a danger:
“The infant sleep area should be kept free of hazards, such as dangling cords, electric wires, and window covering cords, because these may present a strangulation risk.” (source)
Inside the Pack and Play
Use a fitted pack and play crib sheet made by the same manufacturer as the pack and play, and intended for use with your exact model. This will give you the best fit, and a good fit is a safe fit when it comes to crib sheets, as you don’t want a bunch of loose bedding if a sheet is too large.
Don’t be tempted to make the pack and play more comfortable with extra bedding, bumper pads, mattress pads, etc. Use only the mattress provided and a tight fitting sheet. A waterproof mattress cover can be used if it fits properly and is thin to prevent stains on the mattress, which can only be spot cleaned.
Additional Guidelines Around Creating a Safe Sleep Surface and Environment in a Pack and Play
Regardless of whether your baby sleeps in a crib or in a pack and play, it’s essential you follow safe sleep guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Place your baby on their back to sleep, for every sleep until they’re over the age of one.
- Only use firm, non inclined surfaces for baby sleep. The surface should be firm enough that it doesn’t indent when you place your baby on it.
- Only use a tight-fitting fitted sheet with the play yard mattress, and use a sheet that is made for use with your specific play yard to ensure an ideal fit. The mattress shouldn’t change shape once the fitted sheet is added, and make sure it fits properly and won’t come off.
- No other bedding or soft objects in the play yard – no stuffed animals, pillows, wedges, bumpers, etc.
- Make sure the mattress fits snugly and flatly in the play yard base, and that there aren’t gaps between the mattress edge and the play yard wall.
- Don’t replace the mattress in your pack and play with an off-brand one: only use the mattress that came with it from the manufacturer. Don’t add mattress toppers or anything to make it more “comfortable.” Mattress protectors should be thin and fit tightly.
- Don’t use soft bedding or extra bedding like blankets, pillows, bumper pads, or stuffed animals.
- Sleep in the same room as your baby for the first year, as room sharing without bed sharing (i.e., parents sleep in their bed and baby sleeps in their own separate bed placed nearby the parents’ bed) has been shown to be protective for the first year.
Can a Baby Sleep in a Pack and Play? Final Thoughts
In the US, the CPSC includes pack and plays amongst cribs and bassinets as baby gear regulated for sleep. Leading American organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, list pack and plays or play yards as safe for infant sleep.
Which makes it reasonable to conclude that pack and plays are indeed safe for newborn sleep.
However, parents still need to take precautions and use common sense when creating a safe sleep space for their new little one.
Ensure the pack and play is a current model that meets up to date safety regulations; if you purchase used, do some research to ensure it’s still considered safe by current rules.
Follow general safe sleep recommendations, such as a firm flat mattress that fits tightly into the play yard (and is provided by the manufacturer; don’t go and get your own third party solution).
And check it to make sure it’s assembled correctly, is sturdy, and is in a safe spot for your little one.
I hope these tips help you with your own baby sleep journey.