How to Make Pack n Play More Comfortable: 5 Ways Parents Do It (Plus Which are Safe and Which Aren’t)

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Wondering how to make pack n play more comfortable? Perhaps you’re shocked by how thin and hard your baby’s new pack and play mattress is, or are worried they’ll be cold sleeping so close to the floor. If you’re wondering how you can safely make a pack and play more comfy for baby, keep reading for my ideas.

Pack and Plays are one of the handiest inventions for parents of young babies. Way more portable than your average crib, they offer a safe place for your little one to sleep whenever you’re on the move. They also offer a great “second sleeping” spot if you live in a larger home, and want a safe and comfy place for baby on each level.

Whether you’re planning regular sleepovers at Grandparent’s house, or you’re planning an epic vacation in Europe, a pack and play folding crib is one of the great baby products, loved by parents (and for very good reasons!).

baby bjorn travel crib in a hotel room. Many parents wonder how to make pack n play more comfortable, but babies generally don't need extra padding and it's not necessarily safe to do so

The Problem with a Pack and Play

Despite being extremely convenient and pretty darn affordable in terms of what you get, many parents complain their pack and play seems uncomfortable for their baby.

Indeed, pack and plays are meant to be portable and safe first, and that means things like folding, thin mattresses are a necessity for functionality. And while it’s true that due to its portable nature, comfort level can be a bit lacking, it’s not necessarily an issue for all babies.

While a pack and play mattress looks to leave a lot to be desired in terms of comfort compared with other crib mattresses, babies are actually safest on firm mattresses.

Why is a Pack and Play Mattress So Hard?

Parents who own a pack and play know.

While the mattress pad included is safe, it can also feel thin and hard for your little one to sleep on. While babies don’t require as much padding that we adults and our aching old bones do, it’s a common for parents to wonder how to make a pack and play more comfortable.

When we think about going to bed as adults, we envision a high quality mattress, with a plush mattress topper, and goose-down duvets for total sleep luxury.

But for babies? Sleeping requirements are very different, for both safety and in terms of necessity.

Pack and plays are designed with safety at the forefront, and comfort and design become secondary considerations.

For babies, the AAP recommends that all sleeping arrangements need to: have a tight-fitting, firm mattress and fitted sheet designed for that particular product. A firm surface is a hard surface; it should not indent when the baby is lying on it. 

This advice holds true even more so for a pack and play vs a normal crib. The mattresses are firmer, and that’s intentional!

As it’s a portable crib with fabric sides (instead of the wooden slats of a crib), a pack and play is designed to have an even thinner and firmer mattress deliberately. This is a safety issue, because you don’t want the fabric sides to stretch out, creating gaps between the side of the mattress and the pack and play frame. (Note: this can also happen if you wash your pack and play incorrectly)

Many parents add extra padding and layers to their pack and play mattress, which increases the overall stack height of the mattress. This can create strain and pressure on the fabric sides, stretching them out, and allowing a gap to develop between mattress side and pack and play frame. It can also mess with the weight limit.

This, I need to point out, is a safety hazard, as your baby could get caught between this gap. Even more alarmingly, these gaps create a suffocation risk for your child.

To our adult brains, seeing an empty pack and play with just a sheet over a thin, firm mattress doesn’t really look cozy at all. (And seems especially sparse and un-cozy for a newborn baby).

In reality, this is the safest situation! A firm and tight fitting pack and play mattress with a tight-fitted sheet, with nothing else to make it seem softer or cozier.

If you’re really worried about it, you could also purchase a pack and play that already has a fairly comfortable mattress from the manufacturer, so you don’t need to make any adjustments. There are some portable baby beds, such as the BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light and the Guava Family Lotus Everywhere Crib, known for having pretty comfy mattresses, and I’ve tested both and agree. The Bugaboo Stardust mattress is similar in comfort, in my opinion.

How to Make a Pack and Play More Comfortable

If, despite my advice above to only use the pack and play and mattress as directed, you’re still concerned and want to make a softer sleeping surface, there are a few ways to improve the mattress surface.

Again, most manufacturers advise against using any additional mattress or switching the mattress in a pack and play from the original one supplied.

For infants under 12 months old, you really shouldn’t try these, as they may create an unsafe sleeping situation. However, if you have a toddler with opinions, consider using manufacturer approved solutions.

#1 – Use Padded Sheets (Not Recommended for Babies Under 12 Months)

Some parents like to use thicker quilted sheets to make a pack n play more comfortable.

Manufacturers such as Graco makes a thicker, quilted pack n play sheet that fits over the mattress pad of all Graco Pack n Play models.

While you can also buy third-party versions, you really should use sheets made by your pack and play manufacturer, and made to fit your specific pack and play model. In other words? Graco padded Pack ‘n Play sheets might work for Graco Pack ‘n Play models, but not other brands of play yard.

It’s best to use sheets made by the manufacturer, and made specifically for your Pack ‘n Play model. to ensure fit.

These padded sheets are comfy and have a thickness sewn in, but should still be tightly-fitting for your little one to lie on. I also don’t recommend these for babies under 12 months.

Always make sure you measure your pack n play carefully to get sheets that fit it perfectly, as having excess fabric can bunch up and cause a hazard for your baby.

When in doubt, check with your baby’s doctor before using a new product.

#2 – Use Waterproof Sheets (Follow Safe Sleep Guidelines)

Adding waterproof sheets to your kid’s pack n play helps you to clear up when there are accidents in the night, but will also add an additional layer for your baby to sleep on.

As a mom, a waterproof layer (either a sheet or a bed wetting pad) is a life saver. It’s also a great way to make a pack n play a little more comfortable without compromising safety.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines recommends only using a thin, tightly fitting waterproof sheet – nothing too thick.

Make sure the sheets are fitted tight and match the model and size of pack n play that you own.

The crib sheets for the 4Moms Breeze play yard are waterproof, which is another plus for that pack and play!

#3 – Use a Mattress Topper (Not Recommended)

There are many types of pack and play mattress toppers for a pack n play mattress available on Amazon.

Although these mattress toppers are designed specifically to fit inside a pack n play/Playard, are often sold by baby safe retailers, and are often designed to be firm, these still go against manufacturer’s guidelines.

In terms of how to make a pack n play more comfortable, it’s definitely not something I’d recommend, especially compared to the options below.

I don’t recommend this as it goes against safe sleep guidelines.

If you do go ahead with this option, make sure the mattress topper you get is non-toxic and free of unsafe chemicals. Also, look for one that has elastic straps to ensure it stays firmly in place. Never use a soft mattress topper for a baby under 12 months.

#4 – Change the Crib Mattress (Not Recommended)

Some parents opt to switch out the mattress pad of their pack and play completely and swap it for another mattress. Generally, all crib mattresses are the same size, but pack n plays are smaller than standard cribs. Some parents look for a mini crib mattress that fits the playard.

This isn’t recommended by manufacturers, and it’s not something I’d personally feel comfortable trying.

In other words? I don’t recommend it. Please don’t do it!

Pack and play mattresses need to fit the base of the pack and play snugly, leaving no gaps around the side, nor at the bottom. There shouldn’t be any sort of gap between the mattress and the frame, even in the corners, as your baby could get a limb or their face stuck in the gap, creating a suffocation risk. That’s why it’s so important to keep the original pack and play mattress, and not swap it with one from a third party.

Additionally, pack and play mattresses that come from the manufacturer are firm enough according to safe sleep guidelines. A third-party mattress may not be firm enough, especially for babies under 12 months.

Finally, a third party mattress may make the mattress too tall, so that your toddler could climb out, if they are at the standing in their crib and trying to escape stage.

Again, I don’t recommend this option. And I especially don’t recommend it for babies under 12 months.

#5 – DIY Foam Pad (Not Recommended)

Another parenting hack that I don’t recommend (seriously – it’s not safe) involves a DIY way of making a pack n play more comfortable by using a piece of 1 or 2 inch foam as a foam pad.

Parents who’ve tried this get the foam pad from a local soft furnishings store and have it cut to match the existing pack n play mattress, using it as a template.

They then put the thin (1 to 2 inch) foam pad below the pack n play mattress pad, and cover it all over with a fitted sheet to hold them all in place.

They then put the new padded mattress back into the pack n play.

Again, this isn’t recommended and doesn’t follow the manufacturers guidelines. It’s not safe for babies under 12 months, and likely unsafe for babies over 12 months too, as it will make the mattress taller (a climbing out hazard). The new pads may not fit correctly, creating an entrapment or suffocation risk, and may stretch out the side walls of the pack and play, impacting structural integrity. (I don’t love adding extra polyurethane foam, either).

Other Ways to Prepare a Pack n Play for a Great Night’s Sleep

As a pack n play often isn’t a baby’s usual resting place, you may find that your baby may struggle and not settle as easily as they usually do when they’re in the pack and play.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re uncomfortable – it could simply be a sign they know they’re in a different than usual environment.

Before going whole hog on the mattress, trying to make it more comfortable (which you really shouldn’t do, as it may not be safe), consider the sleeping environment.

Make the Room Darker

Being in a dark and secure space will help your baby drift off to sleep. Make sure they have the best chance of being able to sleep perfectly by making the room blackout dark.

This can often mean makeshift measures, such as putting towels up over windows at a vacation home.

You can also get travel blackout blinds or a pack and play blackout cover, which may be worth it. Whatever helps the little one rest, right?

Adjust the Temperature

Always make sure that the room temperature is right for your baby, depending on the season and how they’re dressed.

Wrap them in a sleep sack and pajamas that are the right thickness and tog level to keep them warm enough if it’s a bit chilly, or leave off the layers if it is unseasonably warm.

Room thermometers help, and most of them are slim enough to pack with you on a trip (some bathtub thermometers double as a room thermometer, which can be handy when packing space is limited).

Generally, babies sleep better in a cooler room, so set the thermometer lower, and dress them to be warm enough.

Remove all Accessories from the Pack and Play

As tempting as it may be to pop in baby’s favorite stuffed animals or a blanket inside the pack and play to comfort them, don’t.

Nothing else should be in the pack n play except for the baby. This goes for all babies under the age of 12 months.

Having additional things in the crib with a baby increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and is a bad idea.

Play White Noise

Research shows that white noise is soothing to help baby sleep. If you’re on the go and trying to travel light, you can download a white noise app that you can play through your phone to help your baby drift off.

We have a UE Boom speaker that we travel with, and a Spotify subscription that we play a white noise playlist on.

Smells Like Home

A different bed, in a new environment, with different sights and sounds, is bound to be unsettling for your baby to try and sleep. And if you’re away on vacation or visiting family, your bedtime routine for your little one probably won’t be the standard either.

All of these things can cause your little one to feel fussy before bed and they may struggle to sleep more than usual.

One thing you can do is to make their pack n play smells like you. Take their sleepsack, or bottom sheet of the pack n play, and wear it on your body (like an awkward scarf!) for a couple of hours before you put your little one down to sleep for the night. The smell of a caregiver on them as they drift off to sleep will help keep them calm and reassured.

Final Thoughts on How to Make a Pack and Play More Comfortable

If you’re a fan of pack and plays (or playards) for a travel crib solution, you need to know that you don’t need to pad or soften the manufacturer included mattress to make it cozier.

The manufacturers of these things aren’t missing out on some marketing ploy. If there was a safe way to make that inch-thick crib mattress mat more soft, they would have sold it to you by now! Instead, the only solutions they offer are minimalistic ones, such as a quilted fitted sheet.

Please take care with the ideas above. If you’re going to try them, only do so with children over 12 months of age. I recommend you leave the pack and play as is, however, and don’t try to make it more comfortable for any age group.

Check the manufacturer’s suggestions, too and never add additional blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals to any sleeping place with children under 12 months old.

Finally, stop using the pack and play once your child has outgrown it, according to manufacturers limits and guidelines.

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