Crib vs Pack ‘n Play (Differences & safety explained)

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Let me hit you with a common dilemma…

You’ve got a baby on the way and you’re looking to buy a new crib.

But maybe you just don’t have the space…

… or the budget …

… or you just don’t feel like putting it together!

Or maybe you just want something a little more portable.

A lot of parents wind up wondering if it’s okay to use a pack ‘n play instead of a crib, and what the differences are between a crib vs a pack ‘n play.

Here’s the quick rundown of the main differences between a crib and a pack ‘n play: Cribs are permanent pieces of furniture that can’t really be moved (aside from minor shifts) while pack ‘n plays are completely portable. Pack ‘n plays are also smaller than cribs, making them a good travel or temporary set up if you’re not sure about where to put the crib yet.

Pack ‘n plays can be used as cribs, but they’re not ideal for several reasons including aesthetic and their size.

To recap:

  • A crib is a (relatively) permanent fixture and can’t be moved
  • Pack ‘n plays are smaller (and have a smaller sleeping surface) and are portable
  • Pack ‘n plays can double as a play pen or play area
  • Cribs are more expensive (but also far more decorative)
  • Both are perfectly safe for a sleeping baby

Now let’s dive a little deeper into the differences and the pros and cons of each.

(And psst, pack and plays and travel cribs are essential for travel and overnights away from home — when our daughter was young, the Lotus travel crib was an absolute god-send. Easy to pack, set-up, and carry, we took it everywhere with us for years!

Click the link to check it out on Amazon.)

What is a crib? (Size, dimensions & more)

Photo by Leigh Kesler/Flickr

OK, OK, this seems like an obvious question.

Everyone knows what a baby crib is.

(Not everyone knows what crib shoes are, however!)

But it’s worth touching on really briefly because there are certain regulations and rules governing the size and safety of cribs.

(Hit the link above for a full breakdown of crib dimensions.)

While the ornate headboard and smaller design details of baby cribs can change, the actual sleeping surface is highly regulated, as is the height of hte side rail and the distance from floor to mattress.

The sleeping surface in a baby crib needs to be around 28 x 52 inches.

However, you should know that there are “mini cribs” available that don’t have to conform to this sizing. These are usually around 38 inches long vs the 52 of a standard crib.

Standard cribs are also quite heavy, usually weighing 30lbs at an absolute minimum and often weighing well over 50-100 pounds.

For this reason, they’re not very portable! Once you get your crib assembled in the nursery, it’s highly unlikely you’ll move it until your baby outgrows it.

As far as cost, a standard size baby crib will usually run you around $125 at a minimum, and often far beyond that for a higher-end model.

To summarize:

  • Cribs are size regulated (around 28 x 52 inches sleeping surface)
  • You can buy smaller mini cribs (around 38 inches long)
  • Cribs usually weigh at least 30-50 pounds, usually far more
  • Cribs usually cost at least $125, usually more

What is a pack ‘n play? (Size, dimensions & more)

Photo by Jordan Doneskey/Flickr

A pack n’ play is, as the name implies, a portable sleep and play area for a baby or young toddler.

(These are also sometimes called play-yards.)

They’re rectangular structures that usually have legs and/or wheels and are slightly elevated from the ground.

The sides of the sleeping/play area are most often made from a breathable mesh, which is an important safety feature that helps prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Pack ‘n Plays often have an optional elevated sleeping area for newborns that can be removed as needed. Children can sleep or play at the bottom of the pack ‘n play when the playform has been taken out.

(One of the main functions of a PNP is that it can be a contained, portable, and safe, though small, play area for a baby. You can move it from room to room easily depending on what you’re doing and keep baby entertained and contained!)

They may also have an attached, folding, or removable changing table for infants, as well. There could be mobiles and other toys attached to the pack ‘n play.

The rest of the structure will be made of a flexible vinyl or polyester type material that’s perfectly suited to folding.

As far as size, weight, and dimensions of pack ‘n plays go:

Pack ‘n plays are usually a few inches shorter in length than standard cribs. A common size is 28″ wide by 40″ long.

They’re often about as tall as they are wide, somewhere around 28-30 inches.

A pack n’ play should weigh around 15-30lbs, depending on how many attachments it has. And a very good quality playard should cost you less than $150.

And, of course, the biggest feature of a pack ‘n play is that they’re designed to fold up and stow away, usually in some kind of bag or case. The idea is that not only are they lightweight enough to move from room to room, but they’re a good option for travel.

To summarize:

  • Pack ‘n plays are portable, combined sleeping and play spaces for babies and young toddlers
  • They’re a little bit smaller, shorter, and lighter than standard cribs
  • They’re perfectly safe and have to adhere to rigorous safety standards
  • You can get a super high-quality pack ‘n play for under $150

What are the main differences between cribs and pack n’ plays?

So the important thing to know is that it’s totally safe and acceptable to use a pack ‘n play as a sleeping area for a baby.

There are plenty of reasons you might find this preferable:

  • You haven’t decided on a crib yet and need something in the meantime
  • You want to save on space
  • You want to save money
  • You want better portability

But there are definitely trade offs to be made here. Here are a few important things to keep in mind as you weigh this decision (pack ‘n play vs crib):

Pack ‘n plays are smaller and have lower weight limits, so your baby will outgrow it faster.

The pack ‘n play or playard price tag is extremely appealing, but be ready to replace it in a year or two.

By the time your baby is 2 years old, or weighs around 30 pounds or so (whichever comes first!), he or she will be ready to move on to a more permanent sleeping solution. If not before then!

Cribs don’t last forever, either, but many of them convert easily into toddler beds. A good quality crib is a bigger investment up front, but could be your child’s sleeping place for a solid 5 years or more.

Pack ‘n plays should last about 2 years or so.

The ‘pack’ in pack ‘n play can be a bit of a stretch.

It sounds awesome to have a completely portable crib, changing table, and play area all rolled into one device that you can shove in a bag and travel with.

Just be aware that sometimes packing these things up, especially with all the bells, whistles, and attachments, can be a huge pain.

There are lots of toddler beds and travel cribs that fold easily and are super lightweight, but big, bulky pack ‘n plays designed for newborns aren’t always the best travel solution.

I know from experience! Our first pack ‘n play never left it’s spot in the living room because it was too difficult to get in the carrying bag.

There’s no reason you can’t do both (budget allowing)

I would say, if you can afford it, a good crib and a good pack ‘n play are both solid investments.

It’s nice to have a permanent sleeping place for your baby that will last them for years to come, and goes with your decor. (Hey, it matters! No one likes to feel like the entire house has been taken over by baby stuff.)

But a pack ‘n play that you can move around the house, change the baby on, use as a play center, and travel with can also be a lifesaver.

Are pack ‘n plays safe to use? Should you use a pack ‘n play as a crib or instead of a crib?

SIDS is something we take incredibly seriously in our country.

There aren’t a whole lot of cribs or pack ‘n plays that slip through to the market without being thoroughly and rigorously vetted.

There are certain safety standards that all infant sleeping furniture must meet, so you should rest assured that pack ‘n plays are safe for sleeping …

… assuming you follow general baby safe sleeping guidelines, of course!

The breathable mesh and firm surface of a pack ‘n play make it an ideal sleeping surface for infants, but make sure you:

  • Never let infants and newborns sleep with extra blankets or stuffed animals
  • Don’t put extra padding or bumpers into the crib or pack ‘n play
  • Follow all crib or play-yard assembly instructions and don’t have loose or ill-fitting parts jutting out!
  • Make sure your baby is monitored at all times, either by your presence in the same room or with a good baby monitor

Should you use a pack ‘n play as a crib or instead of a crib?

There’s no reason why you can’t use a pack n’ play instead of a crib except for a few small considerations:

Pack ‘n plays aren’t designed to be permanent furniture so they’re a lot uglier than regular cribs. They won’t go with your nursery decor.

They’re also smaller than cribs and your baby will outgrow them faster, though it’ll still take well over a year.

Finally, there’s your own comfort to consider. Once baby is too big to sleep in the built-in bassinet or elevated sleeping area in the pack ‘n play (if yours has one), they will be sleeping directly on the level of the floor. That’s a lot of deep bending down for you every time you put them down and pick them up!

The sleeping surface of a crib is much higher and more comfortable, and can be easily adjusted as baby grows.

Other than that, pack ‘n plays are perfectly safe if you plan on using it as a crib.

Wrapping Up

So there’s plenty to like about permanent, standard-sized cribs and pack ‘n plays, alike.

They’re both completely safe to use for sleeping newborns and infants assuming you follow all of the general guidelines. (Read more about that here from March of Dimes)

So the choice is really up to you and what works best for your budget, style, and household.

For me, I think there’s a valid place in most homes for a permanent crib and a travel crib or pack ‘n play, if your budget allows. The convenience of having both is a really nice bonus, so if you can make it work I highly recommend it.

I hope this helps, parents!