Prev NEXT  


How to Choose Baby Equipment

How to Choose a Playpen

A playpen, also called a play yard, is an essential part of standard baby equipment. It's a good place to put your baby when momentary restraint is needed for a phone call, meal preparation, or perhaps housework. But use it sparingly.

The ideal arrangement is a carefully childproofed house where a younger baby can be allowed to exercise on a blanket on the floor and an older baby to roam under watchful eyes. It's important for babies to be able to practice pulling up and crawling in an unrestrained environment. You can talk to your baby as you work around the house and give him physical freedom. This provides an excellent learning environment.

Playpens can be ideal for a safe place to put your baby while you attend to an urgent phone call.

Playpens can be ideal for a safe place to put your baby
while you attend to an urgent phone call or chore.

Many families find the playpen soon becomes a bulky, possibly unsafe toy depository that takes up too much space. Indeed, more than 3,000 playpen injuries serious enough to require emergency treatment occur every year. Safety standards for playpens are voluntary, so manufacturers that meet them tag their products to notify buyers.

There are two basic types of playpens: those constructed of wood and those made with metal tubing and nylon mesh. Wooden playpens are usually heavier than mesh-sided playpens; they fold down when their two hinged sides sandwich inward as the two floor panels lift up from the center. Mesh-sided playpens call for a variety of folding maneuvers, in some cases even requiring that the playpen be turned completely upside down.

Mesh-sided playpens come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from rectangular crib-size models to larger square and multipaneled designs. The supportive tubing of the playpen is usually constructed of chrome, chrome-plated metal, or aluminum. Some models have straight legs with caps to protect the floor, while others have a bent-tube design; some of the latter may have uncovered metal U-joints that cause floor abrasion and rust stains.

Most soft-sided playpens use vinyl with heat-welted seams for a border at the base of the mesh (providing draft protection) and at the top of the playpen to cover the hinge assembly and the bars. More expensive models have thick foam padding between the vinyl and the bars to prevent injuries should babies fall.

If you decide to buy a playpen, consider the following points.

Railings: Railings should have the following features:
  • Ability to support 50 pounds without breaking or bending

  • A locking device to prevent the playpen from collapsing accidentally

  • Side railings at least 20 inches tall to prevent a baby from climbing out

  • A locking device to prevent the playpen from accidentally folding up or the baby lowering the sides

  • Dual action to unlock the sides

  • Hinges with no scissoring, cutting, or pinching potential
Vinyl: Check the vinyl thoroughly:
  • Older models and second-hand vinyl-covered playpens often have vinyl on the top rail that, if torn, the baby could bite off and choke on.

  • Make sure the vinyl upholstery is thick and has no tears or holes. Hundreds of incidents of babies biting off sections of vinyl and ingesting or aspirating them occur every year. Pinch the vinyl. Thick vinyl is difficult to crease and feels heavy when separated from the padding; thin vinyl creases easily and is less durable.

  • Make sure vinyl seams are heat-welted or stitched. Look for smooth seams. Heat-welted seams should appear even to eliminate splitting problems. Machine-stitched seams should leave no dangling threads, gaps, or holes where the stitching has missed the vinyl.
Floors: Playpen floors should have the following features:
  • Ability to withstand 80 pounds of static weight

  • Ability to withstand 50 pounds of bouncing weight without giving way

  • No metal staples or hardware a baby could pull loose and swallow

  • No sharp bolt heads a baby could fall on if the padding slips out of place
Edges: Be sure it has no sharp edges, protrusions, or points that could hurt a baby

Wooden Playpens

Wooden playpens are heavy and awkward to move but much safer than mesh ones. Wooden playpens provide babies with a better view, back support, and bars that can help them pull up into a standing position. As with cribs, there is the potential that babies can hit their head on the bars.

Look for these features:
  • Slats spaced no more than 2 3/8 inches apart (like crib slats)

  • Wooden surfaces that are well finished and splinter-free

  • Teething rails on all four sides, which should adhere securely so little fingers cannot get under them
Mesh Playpens

Be sure the mesh is tightly woven so clothing can't catch in it, which could result in strangulation. But note that when the mesh is woven tightly enough to be safe, the baby's view is limited, and the world outside the pen is a blur. Be aware that a potentially fatal suffocation pocket exists between the mesh and the mattress when the drop-side is down. Also, with the drop-side down, children may cut or pinch their fingers in the locking mechanism.

So far we've focused on baby equipment in the home, but in the next section we'll concentrate on some equipment you'll need for outside the house -- strollers and carriages.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.