Is It Safe for a Baby to Sleep in a Pack 'N Play?

baby in playpen

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If you’ve heard the expression “sleep when the baby sleeps” right before or after having a newborn, you might still have one lingering question: If your baby hates sleeping in their crib, where else can they sleep?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many alternatives to a crib or bassinet when it comes to giving your baby a safe sleep environment, but the good news is that you can add a pack ‘n play to the list. When used safely, pack ‘n plays (sometimes called play yards/playards or playpens), are generally a safe option for sleeping babies of many ages, weights, and sizes. 

Whatever your reason for needing an alternative to a crib, here’s what you should know about using a pack ‘n play for infant sleep.

Using a Pack ‘N Play for Sleep

You might have added a pack ‘n play to your baby registry because, well, everyone does! It’s nice to have a secure place to put your baby when you need to be hands-free (or just need a break). A pack ‘n play keeps a baby contained in one area—no worries about crawling out of sight or getting into trouble before you’ve baby proofed the house—and helps teach them how to entertain themselves when you can’t be right by their side.

But a pack ‘n play doesn’t have to just be a daytime distraction zone; some parents use a pack ‘n play for extended sleeping, whether it’s naps or even nighttime sleep.

Pack ‘n plays take up way less space than a full-size crib, so if you live in an apartment, have multiple kids sharing one bedroom, or simply don’t want to devote an entire wall to a massive crib, a pack ‘n play can be a great space-saving alternative.

Additionally, if your baby will be sleeping at another house while you or your partner go to work, it might be easier to have a pack ‘n play serve as a temporary crib when your baby is there. It’s the perfect way to give your baby a consistent and familiar sleep environment away from home without asking other caretakers to permanently keep a crib in their home.

Pack 'n plays also work well if you need something packable and portable for travel. These products are meant to be folded up compactly and serve as a simple, lightweight way to let your baby catch some zzzs wherever the wind happens to take you (whether that’s to a hotel while on vacation or just your local park on a nice day).

Some babies also prefers sleeping there. Lots of babies struggle to sleep in their cribs in the early months, because the environment is so dramatically different from what they’re used to. (They spent nine months all curled up in a warm, snug little sac, remember?) For babies who prefer to feel tucked in, a pack ‘n play can seem less empty than a crib—and some babies truly prefer sleeping in one.

Safety Guidelines

Unlike many “Is this safe?” questions that new parents find themselves wondering, this one is actually a yes!

“A pack and play is generally a safe place for an infant to sleep if you follow specific recommendations,” says pediatric hospitalist Charnetta Colton-Poole, M.D., FAAPS. 

What kinds of recommendations? We’ll get to that more in a bit, but for the most part, if you’re using the pack ‘n play as it was intended by the manufacturer and following the directions for correct use, you’re good to go as far as putting your baby down for a nap or even to bed in there.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission outlines several metrics designed to keep infants and young children safe when playing or sleeping inside a pack ‘n play.

These include mesh sides for breathability, latching mechanism testing (so it doesn’t accidentally fold up when a child is inside), floor strength, and accessory testing (such as decorative mobiles or removable bassinet attachments, for example).

Best Ages for Sleep in a Pack 'N Play

The other piece of good news here is that there aren’t really age limitations for when a baby can safely sleep in a pack ‘n play. Rather than age, it’s better to consider whether or not your baby still fits in it (and hasn’t exceeded any height or weight restrictions laid out by the manufacturer).

“It’s not age, but size,” says Gary Kramer, MD, a private practice pediatrician in Miami, FL. “Typically, this means up to about 30 pounds and 35 inches, which will probably take you well past the first year of life [with your baby].”

Newborns can definitely sleep in a pack ‘n play and so can older babies, assuming they haven’t physically outgrown the space yet.

How to Make a Pack ‘N Play a Safe Sleep Environment

For the most part, a pack ‘n play comes ready-made as a safe sleeping place for your baby. You likely don’t need to make any adjustments to turn it into a safe environment, since it already is one.

“As long as it meets the latest consumer product safety ratings, I’m okay with it [for sleep],” says Dr. Kramer.

Dr. Colton says it’s all the things we parents might be tempted to add to the pack ‘n play that can reduce its safety for sleeping.

“A parent should NOT change the mattress that comes with the pack 'n play to something more soft and ‘comfortable,’” she explains. “Safety beats comfort any day—the mattress should be firm and sheets should be tight fitting.”

On top of that, you should continue to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for safe sleeping in cribs for your child’s pack ‘n play. In other words, you should not add any stuffed toys, pillows, or blankets, as these pose a suffocation hazard and can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

Always lay your baby down alone on their back and keep the sleeping surface clear, flat, and firm. Make sure you always follow any instructions for care, use, and cleaning that come with your specific product; this helps ensure you’ll be using it safely.

One last thing to note: If your pack ‘n play comes with a bassinet attachment, as many of the current models do, it’s okay to use it for diaper changes—but nothing else, including sleep or unsupervised play time.

“Even though most babies don’t roll over until four or six months of life, an agile baby could roll over in the bassinet sooner,” says Dr. Kramer.

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3 Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Playpen safety. Updated November 2, 2009.

  2. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC approves new federal safety standards for play yards. Published June 29, 2012.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to keep your sleeping baby safe: AAP policy explained. Updated June 1, 2021.