Of all the decisions you need to make when you have a new baby, you’d think where they sleep would be an easy one.
And more to choose from.
Which one is the best, the safest, the most convenient?
In this article, I’m going to break down the main differences between pack ‘n plays vs bassinets.
(Or pack and plays vs bassinets, however you prefer!)
The quick version:
A bassinet is a small sleeping space for a newborn, usually with a hood, handle, and maybe wheels. It’s very convenient for letting baby sleep anywhere in the house while you keep an eye on them, or for sleeping in your room at night. Bassinets are small and newborns quickly outgrow them.
A pack ‘n play is a multifunctional piece of furniture that acts as a crib, travel crib, napper (like a bassinet!), and play yard depending on the model and how you have it set up. It’s much larger than a bassinet and will be useful for a couple of years most likely.
There’s a lot more to talk about so let’s dive a little deeper into both of these baby sleeping options and how to best use them.
Pack ‘n Plays explained
A pack ‘n play is basically everything a baby or small toddler might need, rolled into one.
There are lots of different models and brands to choose from, but usually a pack ‘n play will act as:
- A playpen
- A crib
- A bassinet or napper
- A changing table
- Diaper & baby essentials organizer
- And sometimes more
Pack ‘n play dimensions and size vary by the model, too, but in general, they’re a little smaller than a full sized crib.
(And they usually sit only a couple of inches off the ground.)
You can expect a pack and play to be roughly 3 feet long, about 3 feet high, and just over 2 feet wide.
The majority of the pack ‘n play will most often be made of some kind of firm polyester over a metal or hard plastic frame. The siding of the sleeping area is made of a breathable mesh for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) safety.
Some pack and plays are stripped down and basic: Just the play yard and a place to sleep.
Others have removable changing tables, nappers or bassinets, diaper storage, elevated mattresses, and more.
These are sort of the Swiss Army knife of baby sleeping. If you don’t know what you need, you get pretty much everything in one neat little package that’s very convenient in baby’s early days.
And better yet, it should last your baby for a few years before they outgrow it.
There’s a lot to like about pack ‘n plays!
Cost effective: Everything in one affordable package
Convenient: Great to set up in the living room for play, sleep, changing, storage and more
Versatile: Again, use it as a contained playpen, a crib, or just use it as a changing table and portable napper (if it has one)
They’re not completely perfect, however. Pack ‘n plays have a few drawbacks.
Can be hard to pack: They sound great in theory, but most pack and plays (in my experience) are bulky and difficult to collapse back into their packaging for travel.
Mostly stuck in one room: They’re meant to be portable, and they are, but realistically you probably won’t be moving your pack ‘n play around a whole lot once you have it set up. Take it from someone who’s been there. The attached napper/bassinet, though, is a great workaround.
Need a pack ‘n play recommendation?
You’ll probably want to go with a Graco. They’re generally considered the best on the market, and they have a model for every price range depending on which features you want.
If you want a package that has it all (bassinet, changing table, etc.), check out the Graco Pack ‘n Play Newborn Napper DLX Playard (Amazon link) — it’s one of the best you’ll find and is super affordable considering what it includes.
A bassinet, on the other hand, has only one purpose:
Simply put, bassinets are small, safe, cozy beds for newborns and small infants.
They can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, but you’ll probably be most familiar with the “cradle” style bassinet.
It may have a hood on top, a handle for carrying, be on wheels, or even all three.
It may even have none of those. A lot of small, foldable rock and plays are actually, technically a kind of bassinet.
Bassinet dimensions can vary greatly, but the sleeping surface will usually be around 2.5 feet long and 1.5 feet wide.
They may not look like much, but they’re perfectly, 100% safe for baby if you follow general safe sleeping guidelines.
(Newborns don’t really need much to sleep. Just a soft surface with no loose material. They can even sleep in a cardboard box!)
Most parents use bassinets to have their newborn sleep in the bedroom with them at night. They can keep the bassinet right next to the bed for feedings, diaper changing, and other late-night emergencies.
I know ours was a lifesaver during our daughter’s first weeks!
Bassinets definitely have a few advantages.
Portable: They’re made to easily move from room to room. Some will even fold up pretty flat for easy storage. They’re great for having baby sleep in your room, the living room, the kitchen while you cook, or wherever you might need it.
Small: They don’t take up much room at all! They’re only barely bigger than a newborn itself. Pack ‘n plays, on the other hand, have nearly the same floor footprint as a full-sized crib and can take up a lot of space.
Bassinets have a few drawbacks, though, in comparison to pack and plays.
Not very versatile: If your baby isn’t sleeping or resting, it won’t want to be in the bassinet. It’s really only meant for newborns, as there’s no space in a bassinet for babies to roll around or play.
Outgrown quickly: Bassinets will probably only last you a few months until baby is big enough to sleep in either a crib, a mini crib, or even a pack ‘n play. These are small sleep spaces meant for newborns and infants. 6-months is probably the best you can hope for.
Need a bassinet recommendation?
They’re less versatile and cost-effective, but bassinets truly are perfect for baby’s earliest days at home when they need to sleep near you.
People absolutely swear by the Halo Bassinest (Amazon link) swivel sleeper. It’s a safe and cozy bassinet that’s perfect for your bedside, and it allows you to easily reach over and swivel baby toward you if you need to check on them!
Check it out!
Is a pack ‘n play or a bassinet safer?
Safety standards of baby products are extremely high these days.
If you go with a pack ‘n play or bassinet that’s new or in good condition, from a well-known brand, it should be 100% safe for a baby.
The most important thing, no matter where your baby sleeps, is that you follow safe baby sleeping guidelines:
- No loose materials in the bed. No pillows, blankets, or extra bumpers.
- Lay baby on its back to sleep.
- No toys for sleeping.
- Don’t let baby sleep in your bed (only next to it in a bassinet or similar sleeper).
If you follow the best practices, it won’t matter much if you’re using a pack and play or a bassinet for safety reasons.
Just be sure you’re using a product that’s approved for your baby’s age!
As you research this, you’ll find parents who swear by pack and plays, and other parents who swear by bassinets.
The truth is that they’re both incredibly useful for different situations.
If your budget allows, I’d consider both.
A bassinet will SAVE YOUR LIFE when you first bring baby home and need to keep a close eye on him. Bassinets that rock or vibrate are especially helpful for tough sleepers.
A pack ‘n play will better serve you as baby grows and you need a playpen, changing station, and more rolled into one. It can kind of be your warzone headquarters in the living room or somewhere else in the house.
In any case, I hope this guide helped you understand the differences between these two products as you get ready to welcome your new baby!
Best of luck, parents.
(And don’t forget to check out my other comparisons, like Bassinet vs Cradle.)