Today we’re going to discuss the differences between a pack and play vs crib.
Which do you actually need? Well, the short answer is… both!
We’re going to deep dive into every way you can (and will) use not only the pack and play but also a crib.
You’ll also find our top recommendations for both portable playards and full-size cribs to help you make the best choice.
Let’s get started…
Disclosure: Affiliate links are used in this post, at no cost to you.
What is a pack and play?
It may sound like a silly question, but not all new parents know what a pack and play is.
Graco actually trademarked the term “Pack ‘N Play” when it launched in 2002.
Since then, people tend to refer to all play yards as pack and plays. A play yard is a great way to safely confine baby to one play area.
However, a lot of parents know that a pack and play is also a great option to use as a portable crib, because you can easily pack it up and move it from one place to another.
What is considered a standard crib?
A full-size crib is required to have interior dimensions of 28″ wide and 52 3/8″ long. These dimensions can vary by plus or minus 5/8″. All standard crib mattresses are designed to be slightly smaller to allow them to fit within these dimensions.
Most cribs these days are made as a convertible crib, which means it converts to a toddler bed or even a full-size bed.
While shopping online, make sure you read the product specifications because some full-size cribs are sold as non-convertible which means the front crib rail will not come off at all.
This only works for parents who do not wish to move their child from the crib to a toddler bed. Some parents choose to move their toddler right to a Queen sized bed so they can use that room for guests as well.
What’s the main difference between the two?
The most important thing to remember is that a pack and play is portable.
This means you can bring it with you anywhere… to use as a bassinet next to your bed or even for sleepovers at grandma’s house.
A regular crib obviously does not move easily. You’d have to take it entirely apart to fit it through the doorway.
When you’re deciding between a pack and play vs crib though, both meet the safety standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics for baby to sleep.
Following all AAP guidelines will greatly reduce your risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
When would I use a mini crib?
A mini crib is not portable so it is not the same as a pack and play.
It is simply a smaller version of a standard size crib, so you would buy a mini crib if you’d like baby to sleep in a spot where space is limited.
Many parents only have one room available for a nursery and sometimes there is not enough space for a full sized crib plus a glider chair, dresser, etc.
The dimensions for mini cribs can vary, but they are typically between 36 and 43 inches long and anywhere from 24 to 28 inches wide.
Considering a mini crib? Here’s a great post outlining everything you’ll need to know about them.
As new parents, which do we need – pack and play vs crib?
The short answer is you are going to need both.
Here are the scenarios in which you’ll use both…
Ways to Use the Pack and Play
1. Bassinet Substitution
As mentioned above, you can use the bassinet feature on a pack and play instead of a buying an expensive, stand alone bassinet.
Safe sleep experts recommend baby sleeps next to you in your bedroom for the first 6 months, but some mothers choose to move their babies to the crib sooner than that.
Whatever duration you choose, this sleep situation is temporary. A pack and play is a very affordable option for this time.
2. Changing Station
Another brilliant way to use a pack and play is to set it up in your living room as a changing table.
This is extremely helpful for baby’s first few months when diaper changes are very frequent and the mother is still recovering from birth.
You’ll have all of your diapering supplies next to where you are spending most of your day. No steps upstairs required.
3. Sleep Space During Travel
Finally, the most popular use for a pack and play is for travel.
It is the most portable option for safe sleep while traveling.
Pack and plays are lightweight and roll up into it’s own bag with a carrying handle.
If budget allows, having two pack and plays is helpful so that you can leave one set up as the changing station and the other for baby to sleep next to your bed.
You can add always one to the “Baby Gear” section of your baby registry, but an idea for the second pack and play is to purchase a gently used one off of Facebook marketplace.
I noticed there were many for sale in my area for between $20-$40.
Why You’ll Want a Standard Crib
1. Safe Sleep Surface in Their Own Bedroom
After the first six months, you’ll move baby to his/her own room and into a crib.
For some mothers who are very light sleepers, this move may happen earlier so that mom can get more sleep.
Eventually babies will learn their own independent sleep skills and the crib will become their safe environment.
You may be wondering… if I can save money, why not use a pack and play forever?
That’s because eventually their height will outgrow the width of the pack and play. Remember… they are smaller than a full size crib.
2. Fortress to Keep In Climbing Toddlers
Many toddlers start to crawl out of a pack and play because the sides are not as tall as a crib’s.
If and when they do climb out of the big crib, you can actually move the crib mattress to the ground giving you another 6 inches of crib rail height.
This buys you more time before having to transition them to a toddler bed!
2. Focal Point for the Nursery
The crib is typically your focal point in the nursery and serves as an anchor to the rest of your nursery furniture.
You’re going to spend A LOT of time rocking your baby to sleep during their first year of life… you might as well enjoy a room that’s decorated in a way you love!
Need some help designing your nursery? This is a great tutorial on how to design the nursery of your dreams.
Will baby sleep better on one option over the other?
This really depends on the child, but when we are comparing a standard crib mattress to the bottom of a pack and play, a crib does appear more comfortable due to mattress thickness.
Remember that children are adaptable and having been sleeping on these for many years!
You can opt to purchase a pack and play mattress for comfort, but keep in mind these are not approved as a safe sleep by the AAP. Therefore I would only recommend these for older babies who can already crawl on their own.
What attachments should I get if any?
You can buy a pack and play with no attachments, or they offer “care station” options that come with some or all of the attachments below.
A removable bassinet is a comfy and familiar place for baby to rest, at home and away. Because it has straps and a buckle, it’s a safe place set your baby down for a few moments if you need to walk into another room.
Changing Station Attachment
The large, extended-use changing station is a good option for easier diaper changes. It kills your back bending down on the ground and you won’t want to change a blow out on your sofa!
There are so many options to choose from. Which do you recommend?
Here is a great post with our favorite crib recommendations which deep dives into the pros and cons of each one.
In summary, you’ll want to choose a crib with…
- Adjustable mattress positions
- Greenguard Gold certified
- Converts to a toddler bed
- High weight limit of 50 lbs
You’ll love these crib picks, both neutral and colorful!
Pack and Play or Play Yard
Ideally, you want a pack and play or play yard with some or all of these features…
- Quick setup time
- Lightweight and easy to carry when packed up
- Breathable mesh sides
The all around best option is the Graco Pack N Play because it has all of the useful functions listed above, and all available options are priced between $100-$200.
We’ve included the top-sellers below. They have different attachment set-ups, all of which are removable once your child gets bigger.
Our top pick for travel cribs is the Lotus Travel Crib, which has some amazing, unique features we haven’t seen in other brands.
The down-side to the Lotus Travel Crib is that it does not come with the Bassinet or Changing Station attachments, so you’ll have to purchase the Lotus Bassinet separately.
Some of these extra features include:
- The Lotus Carry Bag converts to a comfortable backpack, to keep your hands free while traveling.
- It has a lockable side door, which you can unzip to help your little one fall asleep or turn the travel crib into a crawl-friendly playard.
- An insulated, waterproof mattress made out of high quality padding for more comfort and protection.
It’s best used as a portable crib, not as a bassinet or changing station.
Verdict: Both the Pack and Play AND a Crib will be useful for your little one.
We hope this gave you every piece of info you needed to know to decide between a pack and play vs crib.
Next, let us answer this question for you…