How to pick between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play for your baby
If you’re like most parents-to-be, you’re completely overwhelmed by the abundance of choices for infant sleep spaces.
Playards and bassinets are both great options. But how do you narrow it down further?
In this post we’re going to compare and contrast the main characteristics of each.
Be sure to read the conclusion for my personal recommendation!
Table of Contents
- Key differences between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play
- Which is cheaper?
- Which has greater longevity?
- Which takes up less space?
- Which is more portable?
- Which has better bells and whistles?
- Which is safer?
- Final thoughts and recommendations
- Frequently Asked Questions about deciding between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play
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Key differences between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a quick overview of what separates the two classes of products, and where they overlap.
The primary differences between a bassinet and playard are:
- Bassinets are meant only for sleep; playards may be used for sleep and play.
- Bassinets are only safe for young infants (usually under 5 months); and playards are safe for much longer.
There are more similarities than differences between bassinets and Pack ‘n Plays (also known as playards).
Both have four walls and a firm flat surface for baby to sleep.
It used to be the case that bassinets were space savers and playards were cumbersome; but all of that has changed with some of the newer models currently on the market.
So, how can you decide between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play? Let’s compare!
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which is cheaper?
You can often find bassinets and playards for as little as $40.
As with most baby products, there are “budget-friendly” options and “high-end” options.
Keep in mind that bassinets and playards are tightly regulated to reduce the risk of SIDS, so there aren’t going to be any (safe) mind-blowing differences between pricy models and cheaper ones.
Here’s a relatively cheap (and safe) bassinet option!
When it comes to infant sleep spaces, a more expensive product isn’t necessarily any safer than a less expensive one.
cheaper ≠ less safe
Not to mention, spending more money isn’t going to convince your newborn that he prefers to sleep somewhere other than your arms.
Here are the main differences between high and low price points:
- Appearance (more modern = more money)
- Bells and whistles (vibration, music, rocking, etc.)
- Trendiness (I’m sort of kidding, but I’m not)
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel so much as slightly bad about purchasing a lower-priced bassinet or Pack ‘n Play.
Related: 12 Uncommon Baby Registry Items (That are Extremely Useful)
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which has greater longevity?
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, the other consideration is how quickly your baby will outgrow the product.
A Pack ‘n Play can often be used 4-5 times longer than a bassinet; so, what’s cheaper in the short term might actually be more expensive in the long term.
Example: Let’s say you have a $100 bassinet and a $100 playard…
Bassinet: $100 / 4 months of use = $25/month
Pack ‘n Play: $100 / 20 months of use = $5/month
The actual length of time you’re able to use a product will vary based on your baby’s development.
It’s time to stop using most bassinets when your baby meets one of these milestones:
- Infant can push up on hands and knees
- Infant can roll over
- Infant is 5 months old
Pack ‘n Plays are typically safe until whichever of these happens first:
- Child weighs 30 lbs
- Child is 35” tall
- Child can climb out
Be sure to read the user manual for the specific bassinet or Pack ‘n Play that you own, as milestones vary from product to product.
Here is Aden in our mini Pack ‘n Play!
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which takes up less space?
You might assume that bassinets have a smaller footprint than Pack ‘n Plays — but not so fast!
When you take into account the very wide base of certain bassinet models, Pack ‘n Plays can often be better for small spaces.
For example, the feet of the HALO stick out 43 inches, which is greater than the largest dimension of a standard size Pack ‘n Play (40 inches).
Not to mention, there’s actually a mini Pack ‘N Play model that’s comparable in size to many bassinets!
Here are the measurements of some of the smallest bassinets and playards:
Scroll to the right to view the full chart. Click any heading to sort.
Space-saving products *NOT* to buy
Particularly if your room is small, it may be tempting to purchase a bedside sleeper or a co-sleeper placed directly in your bed.
Neither of these is recommended by the AAP.
The safest place for your baby is a freestanding bassinet, Pack ‘n Play, or crib. These 3 product categories meet CPSC standards for infant sleep.
For a great overview of the safe sleep basics, check out Safe Sleep 101 (How to Prevent SIDS).
Click here to email it to yourself.
Next, we’ll talk about (safe) options that you can easily move from room to room!
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which is more portable?
Bassinets and playards can be equally portable; it all comes down to selecting the features that work best for your lifestyle.
- If you’re likely to travel by plane and bring baby’s bed along, you’ll want something light that comes in a protective carrying case like this one.
- If you’ll be regularly driving to grandma’s house, you might prefer something super lightweight that you can lift in and out of the trunk with one hand. (There’s a super light bassinet that only weighs 7.5 lbs!)
- If you’re just looking to be able to move the bassinet or playard from room to room, you might appreciate having wheels. (We have this one and it’s worth every penny).
- If you take lots of day trips to the park or beach — or if you want a safe place for baby to hang out (or sleep) while you’re cooking dinner, this wildly popular unicorn will be your best friend.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you people are obsesssed with this thing. 10/10 recommend!
All of these options fold up for easy mobility—and they are safe for infant sleep.
Scroll to the right to view the full chart. Click any heading to sort.
Portable products *NOT* to buy
The following products are NOT safe for sleep (even supervised naps) and do not meet CPSC standards:
- Dockatot, Snuggle Me, or any “nest”
- Any “bedside sleeper” (bed with 3 sides)
- Any product with a “memory foam” mattress
- Lulyboo Bassinet To-Go Infant Travel Bed
- Baby Delight Snuggle Nest Dream Portable Infant Sleeper
- Munchkin Brica Fold N’ Go Travel Bassinet (unethical advertising as a bassinet)
List not exhaustive.
These products pose risks of suffocation, rebreathing of CO2, and positional asphyxia.
If you’d like to understand why it’s not safe to let your baby nap in a Dockatot or a Snuggle Me, read this evidence-based article.
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which has better bells and whistles?
Bassinets take the cake for added features designed to help your baby sleep. This includes vibration, music, rocking capabilities, a mobile, and even light projection.
Keep in mind that these are helpful for some babies but totally fall flat for others.
Other perks of certain bassinet models: 360-degree swivel, storage space underneath, a built-in mosquito net, and a ‘Back to Bed Reminder’ to keep you from falling asleep while baby is feeding.
None of these are must-haves in my book.
As far as Pack ‘n Play features go, some are equipped with basic mobiles, but that’s about it for sleep-related bells and whistles.
That said, Pack ‘n Plays have perks in other categories…
Some of them come with a diaper changing station and a detachable bassinet.
The real perk of a Pack ‘n Play is that it can be used for awake activities, not just sleep.
Bassinet vs Pack ‘n Play: Which is safer?
Good news: Bassinets and Pack ‘n Plays are equally safe.
Both are federally regulated infant sleep spaces and have undergone rigorous safety testing.
Bad news: If you’re trying to decide between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play, this won’t help your decision 🙂
The important thing is that you use the product you choose in the proper way. This means:
- No additional padding
- No supplemental mattresses
- No blankets under or over baby
- No alterations or “hacks”
- No wedges or positioners
- No loveys or stuffed animals
To reduce the risk of SIDS, this also means:
- Placing baby on his back, even if he’s likely to roll over on his own.
- Stopping swaddling upon first signs of rolling and no later.
- Layering baby’s clothes appropriately to prevent overheating.
Learn more about practicing safe sleep.
Now that we’ve completed our in-depth comparison of Pack ‘n Plays and bassinets, I’ll give you my advice about which one to get…
Choosing between a bassinet and a playard: Final thoughts and recommendations
When deciding between a bassinet and a Pack ‘n Play, the truth is you can’t go wrong. Both are safe for your baby, which is the most important thing.
If your top priority is making a cost-effective purchase, get a Pack ‘n Play instead of a bassinet.
The only reason this wouldn’t be the right choice for you is if:
- Aesthetic is more important (no judgement, that’s how I decided last time around!)
- There are specific features that you strongly desire such as swivel, vibrations, or storage underneath.
- You want the lightest thing possible to carry for travel or easy portability.
If you can, get both…
If it’s within your means or you have some generous loved ones, it’s worth getting both. We really enjoyed having a safe sleep space upstairs and downstairs.
We used the HALO upstairs, mostly at night, in the master bedroom.
Downstairs, for daytime naps, we had a mini Pack ‘n Play that we wheeled from room to room. We frequently used it as a changing table too.
What I’d do differently
If I were to do it all again, I would 100% get the mini Pack ‘n Play… but, I’d probably skip the HALO.
I found the base of the HALO to be too cumbersome.
It’s super heavy, 40 pounds, about twice the weight of most bassinets.
The swivel feature was really nice, but I could never get the positioning right so that I could easily get out of bed.
I would be most interested in trying the Soothing Motions Bassinet next time around.
It’s about one-third of the price of the HALO and has some really cool features.
If I had to pick just one…
If I had to pick only one item to own, I would hands down go with the mini Pack ‘n Play that I’ve mentioned a number of times.
Why it’s great:
- It takes up very little space. It’s MUCH more compact than a normal Pack ‘n Play.
- It will last your baby a long, long time — possibly until early toddlerhood.
- It’s the only product that has TWO bassinet levels. One level can be used up to 15 lbs and the other goes to 20 lbs.
- It easily fits through doorways and can be wheeled from room to room.
- It makes a great diaper changing station and play area as well.
If you’re still on the fence about which bassinet or playard to get, pull the trigger and grab yourself one of these.
It will be one of the most useful things you’ll own.
Frequently asked questions about
bassinets and pack and plays
Do babies need to sleep in a bassinet?
No. Babies can either sleep in a bassinet, crib, or playard. All three of these product categories meet CPSC safety standards for infant sleep.
Can a Pack 'n Play be used as a bassinet?
Pack ‘n Plays are federally regulated for infant sleep by the CPSC, just like bassinets are! (Cribs too). This means that they are legally held to the highest of safety standards.
To use a Pack ‘n Play instead of a bassinet, it’s not necessary to purchase a model that has a bassinet attachment or a bassinet level. (Those options are safe, but not required).
It’s fine for a baby of any age to sleep on the bottom of the Pack ‘n Play, i.e. the lowest level.
Is a Pack 'n Play bassinet safe for sleeping?
Yes! A Pack ‘n Play bassinet is safe for infant sleep, as it meets CPSC safety standards.
Pack ‘n Play bassinets, which are federally regulated, have four walls and a mattress that is firm and flat.
Parents often ask, “Is it safe for baby to sleep in pack and play bassinet?” and the good news is that a Pack ‘n Play bassinet is equally as safe as a regular free-standing bassinet (as well as a crib).
Keep in mind that there is a critical difference between a Pack ‘n Play “Bassinet” and a Pack ‘n Play “Napper”. In order to be safe for sleeping, even supervised naps, the Pack ‘n Play attachment MUST be called a Bassinet.
You should check your user manual (not the sales description online) to be sure.
Can baby sleep in Pack 'n Play with changer?
Here is the wording from a Graco manual:
“Strangulation Hazard: Child can lift changing table and get neck trapped between changing table and playard frame. Always remove the changing table when your child is in the playard.”
Once you remove the changer, it’s safe for your baby to sleep in the Pack ‘n Play.
Can baby sleep in Pack 'n Play napper?
No. It is unsafe to allow your baby to sleep in a napper, even if you are supervising.
“Nappers,” despite the name, aren’t safe for naps, or any infant sleep for that matter.
They pose a risk of suffocation and positional asphyxia, and are either too padded or too inclined to meet CPSC standards.
Can a newborn sleep in Pack 'n Play without a bassinet?
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Articles related to choosing between a bassinet or Pack ‘n Play:
- Pack N Play Mattress Safety: The Evidence-Based Guide
- How to Clean a Pack N Play Mat (without ruining it!)
- How to Keep a Baby Warm at Night (Evidence-Based Guide)
- Intro to Safe Sleep + Preventing SIDS