Trying to decide between a pack and play vs crib? This handy guide outlines the pros and cons of both, and the best choice for your situation.
Back when I was pregnant and getting ready to buy our nursery furniture, the first and most immediate item I wondered about was our crib. After all, the crib is the heart of the nursery. And it’s where your tiny little human will spend most of their time in those early days and months.
Cribs are a baby’s sanctuary for sleeping, keeping them cozy and safe when they’re away from their parents.
And while it’s lovely to imagine a beautiful crib in your nursery, it’s important to recognize that baby cribs are also expensive, big, and immobile.
If big, expensive, and immobile don’t work for your lifestyle at the moment, you may be wondering if there’s an alternative that is just as safe and just as cozy for your baby to doze and dream in.
Living overseas in a tiny apartment when our daughter was born, a huge crib just wasn’t in the cards for us, and I definitely started to wonder about alternatives, such as mini cribs, travel cribs, and pack and plays.
While I knew a pack and play would be handy at some point in my parenting life, I definitely remember some middle of the night internet searching when I was pregnant, wondering if there are any safety issues for babies sleeping a and or playard all the time, and whether a newborn could sleep in a playard, instead of a bassinet or cribs.
In this article, I take a look at the portable crib, more commonly known as a Pack and Play, and go through the facts around whether it’s possible for a baby to sleep in a Pack and Play every night.
Pack and Play / Pack n Play vs Crib: The Pros and Cons
What is a Pack and Play?
Pack and plays are essentially a foldable, easy to fold travel crib. They are meant to be portable and fairly simple to take on the road when you travel. And they’re fairly easy to move around your own house when you need to keep your baby safely contained or let them play safely on their own.
Typically, a pack and play consists of a metal frame and with breathable mesh sides, and a mattress.
You’ve probably seen it spelled Pack and Play and Pack n Play.
It’s worth noting the term ‘Pack N Play’ was coined by Graco, and they’ve actually trademarked the name after one of their Graco pack and play models.
A pack and play is the pretty similar to a playard or play pen. Playards are generally the term in British English, whereas in North America, the term Pack and Play is more common.
A travel crib is pretty much the same thing too, although they’re often made to be even lighter and more portable and easy to pack than a pack and play.
Differences Between a Pack and Play and a Baby Crib
A standard crib is different from a travel crib in terms of size, weight (and weight limits), price, and functionality.
Some new parents assume they are separate and need both a pack and play AND a crib, but for most families, this isn’t the case, at least until your little one is mobile, and you need to contain them. If you have a large home across multiple levels, having both may also be smart, as you can lay your little one in a pack and play while you do other things, like go to the bathroom, have a shower, or cook.
Let’s take a look at the differences between both, and go through cribs vs pack and play.
A Pack and Play is Portable
When comparing the differences between a standard baby crib vs pack and play, the most obvious one is portability.
Pack and Plays (or, Pack n Plays if you get the Graco model) are designed to be easy to pack up and move.
This means they are great for taking on the road, for sleepovers at grandparents’ houses, or for transitions from mom and dad’s bedroom to their own nursery. Some parents even opt for a pack n play in their room instead of a bassinet for newborns.
Pack and Plays are lightweight, and made from a foldable metal frame with breathable mesh sides. They often come on wheels too so they can be easily moved around.
Compare that to cribs. Once fully built, a standard baby crib is actually quite a large and heavy structure, designed to keep your baby safe as they sleep. Cribs are a permanent fixture and not easy to move from room to room in your house, let alone take it with you on a trip away from home!
A pack and play is relatively smaller in size than a standard crib. Usually, they’re few inches shorter in length than cribs, with a size of 28″ wide by 40″ long. Comparatively, the dimensions of a standard crib are 52 inches long, with the same width.
Like mini cribs, this smaller space is cozier for your newborn baby. If you want your child to sleep in a pack and play as their full time sleeping solution, this sizing means your child will outgrow a pack and play much faster than a crib as they get longer.
Comparing how long a crib vs pack and play will last your child, it could mean you’ll need to get a true crib for them to sleep in later (when they outgrow the pack and play, start standing in it, or are trying to climb out), or you may need to transition them to a toddler bed a little earlier than the recommended age of 3 years.
If you’re using the pack and play simply as a “sometimes sleeping solution” and not a full time sleeping location, this is less of a worry.
When shopping for everything you need for your new family member, it can run up a hefty tab.
If you’re on a tight budget, the price differences of a Pack and Play compared to a standard crib is noteworthy.
Pack and plays are typically cheaper than cribs at the outset, although as mentioned above they won’t last your child for as long, especially when compared to a 4-in-1 convertible crib.
A Pack and Play can, of course, be used for baby sleep. But you can also use a pack and play crib as an enclosed play space or play yard for your little one to safely play in during daytime.
This can be great for busy parents to know that their little monkey isn’t getting up to mischief when they are busy doing that never-ending list of ‘life stuff.’
Crib sizes are standard in the US, making it possible to switch up your baby’s crib mattress and change to a different one if you don’t like the included mattress that comes with your crib (and we do recommend doing so, to upgrade to a non toxic or eco friendly mattress).
A baby mattress is not meant to be soft. Indeed, a firm mattress is recommended to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But if you’ve ever inspected the mattresses in a Pack n Play, you might have noticed they’re a lot thinner and don’t provide much in the way of comfort for your baby. Often, you can feel the support bars along the base through the mattress. Plus, they fold up to pack for traveling, which means there are inconsistencies on the mattress surface.
While this may not be a problem for smaller newborns, I can only imagine this can get uncomfortable for your baby to sleep on regularly once they get older, heavier, and more opinionated.
As pack and plays come in varying sizes, you can’t replace the mattresses in them easily, which is why you might want to consider quality before deciding on a pack and play.
When it comes down to aesthetics, a pack and play is not as attractive as a crib for your home.
Standard cribs come in lovely neutral shades that can be accessorized with sheets to match the colors of your nursery. In contrast, a pack and play tends to come as a standard color, and most model varieties aren’t super attractive.
Pros and Cons of Pack and Play vs Crib
Pros of the Pack and Play
- Pack and Plays are cheaper than cribs
- You can fold and carry a Pack and Play with you for traveling and sleepovers
- It opens up as playard, for your baby to use as a playing area
- They are portable and lightweight. Most also have wheels on the underside, meaning you can easily roll them into any room you need
- A Pack and Play has smaller dimensions than a standard crib, so it may fit better in smaller apartments or inside the parent’s bedroom for the first 6 months of sleeping in mom and dad’s room
- Pack and Plays meet the same safety regulations as all cribs
- A lot of Pack and Plays have large storage pockets on the sides, which are great for storing diapers, toys, or other baby essentials
Cons of the Pack and Play
- A Pack and Play mattress is less comfortable for babies compared with a standard crib mattress
- They are smaller than cribs, so your baby will outgrow it sooner than a standard crib
- Their build quality isn’t as strong as cribs as they are designed to be moved and folded down
- They aren’t as visually attractive as a normal crib
- Some practicalities, such as correctly-sized sheets are more difficult to find for the mattress size of pack and plays
- Pack and Plays are difficult to clean and must be spot cleaned only, unless you use a travel crib with washable fabric.
Top Rated Pack n Plays
I only have personal experience with a few pack and plays (and I haven’t yet tried Graco Pack n Plays).
We used the Phil and Ted’s travel crib in Mexico, and on vacations around Europe. We also tried out the Baby Bjorn travel crib on an epic road trip through Italy and Switzerland.
Both held up really well for our needs, but I recognize our daughter slept on them temporarily, rather than full time.
I’ve also tested out the popular Guava Family Lotus travel crib, the Bugaboo Stardust, as well as the 4Moms Breeze playard.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Pack and Play be Used Instead of a Crib?
Absolutely, so long as you buy one intended for overnight sleep and use according to directions.
A pack and play portable crib is a great idea for transitional periods, and its smaller and more portable size means they are great for having in your room for baby to sleep in while your child is below 6 to 8 months of age. Once your child gets a bit older and heavier, a firmer, properly constructed mattress is a better choice to give their growing bodies the support they need. If, at this point, you don’t want to shell out for a crib, you could always consider a mattress on the floor.
Pack and plays are great for vacations, too. They fold up into a travel bag, which can be stored in the trunk of the car for safe sleep on the go. Speaking from personal experience, I definitely recommend a travel pack and play (I have personally used and like the Baby Bjorn and the Phil & Ted’s versions) over a more traditional one, as they’re much lighter weight for hauling to and from the airport.
They CAN be used instead of standard baby cribs, but consider the pros and cons to make the right choice for you and your baby.
How Long Can My Baby Sleep in a Pack and Play?
With Pack and Plays, there isn’t an age limit, but more size and weight guidance that limits the use.
Typically, they suit babies up to about 30 pounds and 35 inches, which will probably take you well past the first year of your infant’s life. But always check the advice from the manufacturer for your specific pack n play model.
Is a Crib Safer Than a Pack and Play?
As long as you follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice for safe sleeping, it is absolutely fine for your little one to sleep in a use a pack and play to sleep in, so long as you use it according to the manufacturers’ recommendations and intended use. But for the longer term, a crib is still your better option.
Due to the movement of a pack and play, after time the structure can be a little looser on a play yard, plus the sides of a pack and play are made from fabric sides, meaning that there is a chance of your baby falling in the portable crib with their face squashed against the fabric which could cause breathing difficulties. This won’t happen on a wooden crib.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is always a worry, no matter where a baby sleeps, and luckily both cribs and pack n plays are thoroughly tested to meet a high level of safety standards before being allowed in your home.
Safe Sleep Guidance
Just always be sure to follow the general safe sleep habits for all cribs, which include:
- Never let infants (under 12 months) sleep with blankets or stuffed animals. Just a tight fitting fitted sheet, and nothing else.
- Don’t use crib bumpers ever.
- Ensure a crib or pack and play is assembled correctly and is firm before allowing your child to sleep in it
- Make sure the sheets fit tightly and properly, and don’t use crib sheets on a pack and play
- Monitor your baby as they sleep by being in the room or with a baby monitor
Is a Pack and Play Safe for a Newborn Baby to Sleep?
Some parents decide to use a Pack and Play for their newborns instead of a bassinet. Although a full-sized crib can be used from birth, the large space can be overwhelming for a baby that has just escaped a cozy warm womb.
Some pack and plays have a convertible bassinet attachment for newborns too – check this as it varies per model.
As bassinets can only be safely used until a baby can roll over (usually around 4-6 months) they have a shorter usage – whereas a Pack and Play can be used until a baby is much bigger, and also has the multifunctional benefit of being able to be used for travel or as a playard too.
Final Thoughts on Cribs vs Pack and Plays
Although technically it is possible to buy a travel crib, or pack and play, to use instead of a crib, IMHO it really isn’t the best idea for a long-term option.
Your baby will spend more than half of their life in their crib, especially for the first few months, so you really want the best for them. If you have space and affordability for a full-size crib, this will be better for your baby in the long run in terms of comfort, but also is much more attractive in your nursery than pack and plays are.
It can be good to have a pack n play crib for naptimes and they are a definite investment if your baby spends a lot of time sleeping at grandma’s house or visiting family members.
But when making a decision for the long-term sleeping environment for your baby, weighing up the differences between pack and play vs a crib, a crib is always on my go-to list for the nursery.
Please feel free to share this helpful article with other new parents who may be considering the best solution for cribs for their baby to sleep in, and looking at options for crib alternatives.