baby sleeping safely in pack n play

Pack N Play Mattress Safety 101: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

Nov 20, 2020

Pack N Play Mattress Safety 101: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

Ahead: An evidence-based guide to Pack N Play mattresses

Pack N Play mattresses are notoriously thin.

In fact, they’re less than one inch thick.

If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to swap out a playard mattress—or add a supplemental mattress to make it more comfortable—you’re in the right place.

In this Pack N Play mattress guide, we’ll talk about best practices based on scientific evidence, not personal anecdotes or opinions.

Below, we’ll see what the CPSC, the AAP, and Graco themselves have to say.

Let’s dive in!

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Why are Pack N Play mattresses so thin?

Playard mattresses are thin for a very important reason: to minimize the risk of suffocation.

Playards have flexible sides.

When pressed out, an infant can become wedged between the mattress and the wall of the playard.

This isn’t a concern with a regulated mattress pad that’s less than 1 inch thick.

However, 

Is it safe to add a mattress to a Pack N Play?

No. It is never safe to add a mattress to a Pack ‘n Play.

Anyone who tells you differently isn’t familiar with the scientific evidence.

And they clearly haven’t read the giant warning labels either.

 

pack n play mattress safety warning

“WARNING: Infants can suffocate in gaps between a mattress pad too small or too thick and product sides [and] on soft bedding. NEVER add a mattress pad, pillow, comforter, or padding. Use ONLY mattress pad provided by Graco.”

pack n play mattress warnings

“Unlike cribs that have rigid sides, the playard has flexible sides. As a result, the playard mattress/pad is specially designed to prevent suffocation. The playard mattress has a solid base, a certain length and width, and is less than one inch thick in order to meet safety standards. Using a thicker or a different sized mattress/pad may allow a child’s head to get between mattress/pad and the side of the playard causing suffocation”

These labels aren’t just for decoration. Infants have suffocated or nearly suffocated because their caregivers added padding to the playard.

Read this heart-wrenching story about a 4.5-month-old baby. “Garret suffocated because of the supplemental mattress.”

The CPSC, the federal regulatory agency that oversees the safety of consumer products, explains this well:

Quoted from the CPSC:

Play yard mattresses are thin for a reason.

The play yard is a flexible structure.

Adding extra padding, foam, or mattresses to the play yard can cause babies to suffocate in one of two ways:

1. The baby can get his or her face stuck in the added mattress or other soft items or

2. Because of the extra additions, the flexible sides of the play yard can be pressed out. This creates dangerous and deadly gaps between the side and the added material in which a baby can get trapped.

What about adding a mattress topper?

This would be unsafe as well. All of the aforementioned risks apply.

The AAP explicitly states,

“Mattress toppers, designed to make the sleep surface softer, should not be used for infants younger than 1 year.”

Soft mattresses “could create a pocket (or indentation) and increase the chance of rebreathing or suffocation if the infant is placed in or rolls over to the prone position.”

Related Post: Are Memory Foam Crib Mattresses Safe?

 

Is it safe to swap out the mattress that came with your Pack N Play?

No. Use only the mattress that came with the playard.

The mattress that comes with your playard has undergone rigorous safety testing to ensure that it is safe for infant sleep.

And not only was the mattress tested; the mattress was safety tested as part of the entire playard as a unit.

How to safely make a Pack ‘n Play more comfortable

Even if the Pack N Play mattress feels hard. Even if it seems thin. Even if your baby won’t sleep in it…

No padding should be added to a Pack N Play to make it more comfortable.

This means no supplemental mattresses, no mattress toppers, and no layers of blankets.

Any sort of DIY “hack” that you may come up with to make a Pack ‘n Play more comfortable has either failed safety testing or has not been tested.

The only safe way to make a Pack ‘n Play more comfortable for sleeping is to add a cozy sheet like this one.

 

How to clean a Pack 'n Play mat (without ruining it!)

I’ve got bad news for you: Most of the Pack ‘n Play cleaning hacks you’ve seen on other blogs should be avoided.

Cleaning your Pack ‘n Play mattress correctly isn’t just a cosmetic thing; it’s very much a safety thing too.

If you clean your Pack ‘n Play incorrectly, it can compromise the safety of the product by causing warping, sagging, bubbling, rotting, loosening, etc.

Let’s look at some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for cleaning a Pack ‘n Play mat safely:

DO

  • Use a damp cloth with soap and water to clean the mattress.
  • Follow the directions in the user manual for how to clean the Pack ‘n Play and all of its attachments.

DON’T

  • Do NOT submerge a Pack ‘n Play mattress in water. (Do NOT soak a Pack ‘n Play mattress in the tub!)
  • Do NOT use a cleaning solution other than regular household soap or detergent.
  • Do NOT use bleach to clean a Pack ‘n Play.

Here’s a great method for SAFELY cleaning your Pack ‘n Play mat:

Materials needed: 3 rags, 2 bowls, warm water, dish soap

Step 1: Prepare one bowl of warm water mixed with soap and a second bowl of just warm water.

Step 2: Use the first rag to clean the surface using the warm soapy water.

Step 3: Use the second rag, dipped in just water, to wipe away the soap.

Step 4: Use the third rag to blot the surface dry. Then just let the mattress air dry.

If you think that extreme measures are needed to clean a really filthy playpen, you should probably just replace it. Nothing is worth compromising your baby’s safety.

FAQs about Pack N Play mattress pads

Do all Pack 'n Plays come with mattresses?

Yes, they do!

According to Graco Consumer Services,

“All our playards come with a mattress which has been designed specifically for the playard. For the safety of your child, we do not recommend adding any aftermarket mattresses or soft bedding to playards.”

If I remove the supplemental mattress, is it safe to continue using the Pack 'n Play?

If you’ve added a supplemental mattress to your playard at any point, the playard needs to be replaced if you want to use it for sleep.

The additional mattress can change the structural integrity of the Pack ‘n Play by stretching out the mesh, which makes it an unsafe sleeping environment.

(You can still continue to use the mattress for supervised play time, though!)

What if my Pack 'n Play mattress is sagging, warped, or bubbling?

If you suspect that your Pack ‘n Play mattress has any sort of defect, you should discontinue use and contact the manufacturer about a replacement. This is a common complaint and is typically handled efficiently.

How to contact Graco about a mattress for your Pack ‘n Play:

What mattress fits Graco Pack 'n Play?

Technically, there are lots of mattresses that may fit your Pack ‘n Play, but that doesn’t mean they are safe to use.

The only mattress that should be used in your Pack ‘n Play is the one that came with it.

Graco Consumer Services confirms what we know from the evidence,

“For the safety of your child we do not recommend using any after-market mattress or extra soft buntings in our playards. Unlike cribs which have rigid sides, the playard has flexible sides and playard mattresses are specially designed to prevent suffocation. Using a thicker or a different sized mattress/pad may allow a child’s head to get between mattress/pad and the side of the playard causing suffocation.”

Where can I find a Pack 'n Play mattress?

If you need to replace your Pack ‘n Play mattress, contact the manufacturer.

Do not purchase a mattress online, even if it appears to have the correct dimensions.

You only want to use a mattress that has been safety tested with your specific Pack ‘n Play model.

If you’re looking for a supplemental mattress to make your Pack ‘n Play more comfortable, this isn’t safe. More on that below.

How to contact Graco about a mattress for your Pack ‘n Play:

Tips for getting your baby to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play

I’m pretty sure every new parent in the history of the world has wondered how to get their new baby to sleep in his bassinet, crib, or playard for more than 2 seconds.

I’m being hyperbolic, of course.

But, seriously, if you’re pulling your hair out because you can’t get your baby to sleep in his Pack ‘n Play, or anywhere but your arms for that matter, you are FAR from alone. This is not only common, but normal.

Before I give you this list of tricks, I want to alert you that the vast majority of “hacks” you’ve seen on the internet for getting your baby to sleep better in his Pack ‘n Play are unsafe. We’ll get to those in a moment.

How to get baby to sleep in Pack 'n Play

Here are some safe tips you can try:

  • Warm the sleep space. Before putting baby down, place a heating pad or hot water bottle on the Pack ‘n Play mattress. Be sure to remove these objects and don’t forget to touch the surface to make sure it isn’t too hot.
  • Make baby’s sleep sack smell like you. Wear it like a scarf or put it under your shirt as long as possible before you put it on your baby!
  • Loud white noise. This one’s a game changer. Here’s my favorite sound machine.
  • Extremely consistent bedtime routine. Establish sleep cues by doing the exact same process, step-by-step, every single night. We do: bath, lotion, pajamas, sleep sack, bottle, lullaby, white noise, dark room, down in crib.
  • Make sure the room is pitch black. Either invest in some great blackout curtains, or go the cheap route and cover the windows with tin foil.
  • Put baby down drowsy but awake. You might not have much luck with rocking your baby to sleep and having him STAY asleep. So, try putting him down when he looks like he’s about to fall asleep. Always give baby a chance to settle himself.
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency. Even if it doesn’t work, keep repeating the steps each night! Stick with your routine for at least a week before you change anything.

Keep in mind:

If you’re having trouble getting your baby to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing anything wrong.

Here’s an excerpt from an AAP article:

Sometimes caregivers — and others — associate longer sleeping with happier babies and that is another misconception, according to Dr. Moon. It’s normal and appropriate for newborns to wake up a couple of times during the night, especially if breastfeeding, said Dr. Goodstein.

What's unsafe: How NOT to get baby to sleep in a Pack 'n Play

If the tips in the previous section don’t work, unfortunately, there’s nothing earth shatteringly different to do without putting your baby’s life at risk.

There’s no magical parenting hack to safely getting your baby to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play.

The internet (and plenty of mom bloggers) will tell you otherwise, of course.

There are tons of UNSAFE ideas for getting your baby to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play.

Your radar should go off when you see things like:

  • Any tip for making a Pack ‘n Play more comfortable such as adding/replacing the mattress or putting a blanket underneath baby.
  • Placing a DockATot, SnuggleMe, Boppy, or any similar type of nest or cushion inside the playard.
  • Giving a baby under 12 months any sort of “security blanket” like a lovey, stuffed animal, and of course an actual blanket. (Pacifiers are safe, though).
  • The “weighted glove hack” or anything that involves simulating your presence by adding an object to baby’s sleep space.

All of these are known SIDS/SUID risks and can lead to suffocation, entrapment, and rebreathing of CO2.

Your baby’s Pack ‘n Play should be completely empty for sleep.

How to get baby to sleep in Pack 'n Play on vacation

My #1 tip for getting your baby to sleep in a Pack ‘n Play in a different environment is to mimic your bedtime routine and the usual sleep conditions as closely as possible.

Here’s everything I did during our recent trip to get Aden to adjust to sleeping in his Pack ‘n Play:

1 – We started Aden’s bedtime routine just like we always do: A warm bath followed by diapering, lotion, pajamas, and a sleep sack.

(The sleep sack is such a powerful sleep cue! Aden starts rubbing his eyes the second we put it on).

2 – We designated an official “pre-bedtime chair” to take the place of the rocking chair we normally use at home. Since it wasn’t a rocking chair, I just rocked my body back and forth.

3 – We figured out how to make the room super dark. We also played around with the placement of the playard until we found the darkest corner. 

Ways to make it really dark in baby’s room while on vacation:

[Just keep in mind when deciding where to put the Pack ‘n Play that it should be at least 1 foot away (on all sides) from any surrounding objects or furniture.]

4 – We did our exact pre-bedtime routine of a bottle and then a lullaby.

5 – Lastly, we turned on loud white noise like we do at home. Here’s a great portable sound machine.

I was blown away by how easily Aden went down to sleep in the Pack ‘n Play, despite being used to sleeping in our crib at home.

The reason this worked so well is because we already had a well-established bedtime routine and strong sleep cues.

Keep in mind that it might take a couple of nights for your baby to adjust to sleeping in a Pack ‘n Play in a new environment.

Final thoughts on Pack N Play mattress safety

If you’ve read this entire evidence-based guide, you should have a strong handle on how to use your Pack ‘n Play safely.

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Pack N Play Mattress Safety 101: What\'s Safe and What\'s Not?