A portable play yard that acts as a combination playpen and bassinet is not an absolute must when it comes to baby gear. But it definitely makes traveling easier. Whether it's a quick afternoon trip to a friend's house or a week at the beach, play yards give babies a comfortable place to sleep and play.
"Often when parents leave the house they don't have access to a safe crib at a hotel or the grandparents' house," said Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Play yards are a very popular alternative to a crib. It's a safe option."
New safety regulations governing the manufacture of play yards went into effect in February, Tenenbaum said. The updated standards ban play yards with side rails that make a sharp "V" when the unit is folded; require stronger corner brackets to prevent collapsing; and strengthen the attachments that keep the mattress from moving around, Tenenbaum said.
Bare is best. Just as with any crib, you should have only a snug fitted sheet over the mattress, said CPSC's Tenenbaum. Do not use any pillows, quilts, blankets, stuffed animals or other soft items. Babies can wear footed pajamas or sleep sacks to help them keep warm in cooler weather, Tenenbaum said.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Make sure your child is within the weight and height recommendations for your model, including any attachments such as bassinets and rocking seats. Most play yards are intended for children who are less than 35 inches tall, Tenenbaum said.
Do regular inspections. Check your play yard often to make sure no parts are damaged, loose or missing. Make sure there are no holes in the mesh or cracks in the plastic. Visit the CPSC's Web site at cpsc.gov or saferproducts.gov to find out about product recalls.
Keep it clean. Wipe your play yard with soap and water and allow it to drip-dry, said Ashley Mowrey, a spokeswoman for Graco, a manufacturer of baby gear. Never use bleach. You can machine wash the carrying bag in lukewarm water, and if your play yard has a rocking seat, machine-wash it separately in cold water on the delicate cycle, then drip-dry.
Be careful in the sand. Remove sand from all surfaces before packing your play yard into its bag after a day at the beach, Mowrey said. Sand can damage the top rail lock, making the play yard unsafe.