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How to buy the best playpen

By Anna Studman

Playpens can provide a safe haven for your little one to play. Find out what you should think about before you buy.

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Playpens provide a convenient security zone for your baby – helping you to nip out of the room safe in the knowledge that your little one won't get up to mischief or in harm's way.

Some babies like the feeling of the playpen being 'their' place to play, nap or simply watch your activities.

Not all babies take well to being hemmed in, though – so you could find you've spent your money on a pricey, space-occupying storage box into which you keep all manner of baby-related items, but not your baby.

If you decide to buy a playpen, do it before your baby is moving around so you can get him or her familiar with it – there will be a better chance of it being a hit rather than a flop later on. For the same reason, if you have the space, go for a pen with a reasonably large floor area.

How much do I need to spend on a playpen?

You can find more basic plastic playpens for around £30, mid range about £50-60 and larger more elaborate playpens for more than £100. If you're budgeting, you could also use a travel cot as a playpen.

Types of playpen

As well as traditional wooden playpens, you can get brightly coloured plastic pens, playpens with a folding metal structure surrounded by mesh and travel cots that double up as playpens.

Multifunctional products that double up as barriers to doors and stairs are sometimes referred to as playpens or play yards. These don't normally have a base attached to the side barriers, so it's fairly easy for your baby or older siblings to move them around – meaning they're not as safe.

Wooden playpens

Traditional wooden playpens tend to offer lots of space for your baby to play in, and there are plenty of stylish options to choose from to complement the rest of your decor. On the downside, they're also usually the most expensive option, with prices starting from around £100.

Pros

  • Arguably the most attractive style of pen, simply because it generally blends in better with other furnishings (remember that even though you'll be able to fold the pen away, once it's up it’s likely to stay up for some time).
  • Usually has a larger floor area than other pens so more chance of it being popular with your baby.

Cons

  • Larger floor area also means it takes up more space and can dominate the room.
  • Tends to be the most expensive type.

Fabric-sided playpens

Soft playpens are a more compact choice for parents with limited space at home. Prices start from around £60.

Pros

  • Wipe-clean and easy to maintain.
  • Tends to be the least expensive type of 'permanent' pen.

Cons

  • Can be a garish-looking piece of equipment to have semi-permanently up in your home.
  • No support to help your baby pull up from a sitting position.

Travel cots

A travel cot can handily double up as a playpen for your baby – making it a cost-effective choice, although travel cots usually offer less space than a standard playpen. Our travel cots buying guide has more information on this option.

See which travel cots impressed us with our travel cots top picks.

Pros

  • Cot or playpen – you choose what suits you when you need it.
  • Can be folded for storage.
  • One of the cheapest options.

Cons

  • These have mesh sides, which your baby can’t see through as easily as bars, so may be less appealing.
  • Lack of bars also means less support for pulling up from sitting, though some may have grab handles.
  • Playpen floor space tends to be limited.

Playpen safety

As with any piece of baby equipment, you'll need to exercise care and caution when using a playpen. We've got some safety dos and don'ts.

Do:

  • Buy a playpen with the BS EN 12227:1997 safety mark
  • Regularly check the pen for holes in the sides or in the floor padding
  • Keep the playpen clean.

Don't:

  • Leave your child unattended in the pen unless absolutely necessary
  • Put anything in the playpen that your baby can use as a lever or step to climb out
  • Tie anything across the top as this could be a strangulation hazard
  • Use the pen if it's damaged
  • Place the playpen near an open fire or other heat source.
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