From the time they start to understand toys, little kids love having a space to call their own. Playpens offer the perfect option for parents to keep them safe. Also termed travel cribs or pack ‘n plays, these portable play spaces provide plenty of room for your child and a few toys to keep them entertained, and most fold up for easy transportation after.
As the parent of an increasingly mobile six-month-old, I’m newly appreciative of having a designated safe space where I can stow my little crawler that will entertain her until I come back.
But, as all parents know, little kids will inevitably put everything they come in contact with into their mouths. While you would hope that baby brands would make safety their top priority, many playpens are made with questionable materials that may cause long-term health problems.
Thankfully, there are excellent options available for nontoxic playpens to keep your little one safe.
Here’s a closer look at the top options to consider for your child, as well as the compounds you need to stay away from.
Dimensions: 42″ x 24″ mattress, 25″ deep; 13 lbs
While it’s marketed more towards travelers than as a baby playpen, the Guava Lotus travel crib will serve both needs exceptionally. It weighs just 13 pounds and can be set up in 15 seconds for an ultra-convenient space to stow your little one. The crib itself is GREENGUARD Gold Certified and completely nontoxic. This means that both the frame and included crib mattress are BPA-free, phthalate-free, PVC-free, and free of flame retardants.
This travel crib comes with breathable mesh sides that provide good ventilation to the child inside while still allowing them to feel cozy and protected. Parents can zip open these mesh sides for easier access to their child—no straining your back bending over required. It can also create a fun access point for older kids who use it as a playpen to begin crawling and standing. There’s no need to worry though, the zipper is only accessible from the outside, so little kids can’t break out.
As a bonus, it also includes an airport-friendly backpack for stress-free travel. You can also purchase a bassinet conversion kit to use the playpen with newborns.
Customer reviews show that parents love this playpen’s small size and convenience for a broad age range. Some didn’t like that it left their baby sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and others thought the base itself didn’t seem sturdy.
Dimensions: 43 x 30 x 29 inches, 23 lbs
This easy-setup portable play yard is free of toxins like BPA, PVC, lead, and flame retardants. It weighs in at 23 pounds, which is almost hefty compared to other models on this list. However, it’s still easy for parents to handle and take away from home.
The 4Moms Breeze GO stands out for its easy folding strategy—you only need to pull up or down on the middle section to cinch it up like a tent. The mattress is also designed to rest above the ground. This might be more comfortable for infants, but it possibly doesn’t offer enough support for heavier babies. In any case, the playpen has a 30-pound weight limit.
As with the other listed models, it comes with a travel bag for easier storage.
Dimensions: 44 x 24 x 32 inches. 13lbs total.
The BabyBjorn Travel Crib is frequently compared to the Guava model, so you’re forgiven for thinking they look the same. Both weigh 13 pounds, have full mesh sides, and are designed to have the mattress on the ground. One notable difference is that the Bjorn model lacks the side zipper for easier access to the baby.
However, the BabyBjorn model is made from Oeko-Tex certified fabric, one of the best-known labels for certifying toxin-free textiles. It’s also certified safe by the JPMA and ASTM International, complies with the EN 716 safety standard for folding cribs, and is BPA-free, phthalate-free, PVC-free, and flame-retardant-free.
This crib/playpen combo is suitable for children up to three years old and packs up in seconds into an included carrying case for maximum portability.
Customer reviews show that parents love this lightweight design and never hesitate to pack the playpen along on trips. Some wish it included a side zipper like the Guava Lotus, and others weren’t sure why this model cost over $100 more than it does.
Dimensions: 29 x w 30 x l 41.3 in, 22 lbs
This luxurious playpen gives babies and toddlers a safe place to sleep and relax. It weighs just 22 pounds and will support children from birth to 30 pounds without a problem. Unlike other lightweight models listed here, the Nuna’s mattress is above the floor to keep your little one away from chilly drafts. The littlest babies will be further elevated within the included bassinet attachment.
Nuna Sena’s playpen is Greenguard Gold Certified and includes full mesh sides to maximize airflow. The triple-layered mesh mattress has an innovative ventilated design to pull both heat and humidity away from the baby, and the included GOTS certified organic cover sheet zips off easily for convenient washing. Everything is guaranteed free of flame retardants, and BPA, PVC, lead, and phthalates.
You can also purchase a SENA series changer accessory to make it even more convenient away from home. Everything comes in a convenient travel bag to make storage simple.
Style is a primary selling point for many parents with this model. Many praised its neutral coloring and high-end design elements like the aluminum frame. The primary customer complaint about this playpen is the price, as it costs well over $100 more than competing playpens. It also weighs close to 10 pounds more than the Guava Lotus and Baby Bjorn.
Dimensions: 86.2″ L x 57.9″ W x 24.8″ H, 33 lbs
This playpen offers a decidedly different model than the others on this list. Rather than giving babies a place to sleep, it provides a roomy 30 square feet for small children to crawl around in. These thick, rounded panels come in four colors and are free of phthalates, BPA, lead, latex, formaldehyde, and EVA. The entire playpen is tested to European Toy Standards EN71 for supreme quality.
It’s sized to fit around the Baby Care play mat (View on Amazon) and can attach to other play yards for extra space. You can also remove individual panels to shrink things down. The entire system is made from waterproof materials and is easy to wipe down, almost guaranteeing that it will still look new long after your child has outgrown it. Parents will appreciate the protected space for their little ones to learn to walk and the double lock door that prevents adventurous toddlers from breaking free.
Customer reviews show that this playpen is a big hit with parents who have babies six months and older that wanted space to move around and play. Some thought the material flexed too much on their floors, which created the potential for little kids to knock it over or escape from the bottom.
What to Avoid in a Baby Playpen
As with many childcare products, baby playpens can contain potentially dangerous compounds in their frames and plastic components. Here’s what tops the list.
Flame Retardants: While flame retardants could conceivably give your child a few extra seconds of safety in an emergency, the reality is that they might cause more harm to babies over the long term. Chemicals such as HBCTD, UBC, and TDCPP are the big ones to look out for.
It was legally required that baby products like playpens include flame retardants until 2014, but brands today can choose whether or not to include these compounds.
BPA: Commonly used to harden plastics, BPA (bisphenol A) is best avoided. BPA plastics are occasionally used for the framing components of playpens.
PVC and Phthalates: Considered to be the world’s third most common synthetic plastic, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is typical in thin, water-resistant fabrics like the liners of baby mattresses. Phthalates are used as additives to PVC, and both compounds are linked to health problems.
Lead: Often used as an additive to PVC, lead can cause a host of health problems for young children, including nervous system damage, lower lifetime IQ, and ADHD. For safety reasons, keep anything that might contain lead far away from babies eager to put everything in their mouths.
To keep your baby safe during playtime, look for playpens that are guaranteed not to contain these compounds; the above brands are all worthwhile options.