• Extremely versatile
• Comfortable for baby
• Comes with a range of great features from storage to a sound machine
• The more add-ons you want to use, the less portable it becomes
• Hard to install the napper and changer
• When used together, the napper/changer combo can feel a little cramped
The only playard designed to transition from newborn to infant to toddler, this Pack ‘n Play has a ton of great features you can use or lose depending on your needs.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Graco has tons of Pack ‘n Play options ranging from a no-frills travel playard to more deluxe models complete with a sound machine and vibration settings. The Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard With Newborn Napper Elite model offers a range of great features, including a changing station and a convenient storage hamper to hold diapers, wipes and all the gear you need for those middle-of-the-night diaper changes.
This model is positioned as the only playard designed to transition from newborn to infant to toddler, and that’s thanks to the several attachments it comes with. First is the Newborn Napper, designed to hold infants up to 3 months, as well as the changing station that accommodates babies up to 30 pounds. Then when the time comes, you can detach the napper and changing table to start using the removable full-size bassinet, which wraps over the whole playard and is also great for napping. Finally, once baby reaches 15 pounds or is mobile enough to push up onto his or her hands and knees, it’s time to remove the bassinet and begin using the 33.3-inch-deep playpen (which can also be used for sleep on the go).
The Newborn Napper has a vibration setting and an MP3 docking station that can be installed. But you may want to add these items only if you’re planning to use the Pack ‘n Play a lot. While it’s not complicated, adding these extras does make for a longer set-up time, and as new parents know, a few minutes is the difference between a happy baby and one that’s basically inconsolable. Because portability is the Pack ‘n Play’s calling card, it’s nice that elements can be added or removed as needed.
My 3-month-old daughter, Lucy, has been sleeping in her Pack ‘n Play exclusively since the day she came home from the hospital. (Editor’s Note: Graco does not recommend using the Pack ‘n Play as an overnight sleeping solution.) She loves snuggling into the plush velour-covered Newborn Napper, and having the noise machine is a bonus. There are a range of sounds, from waterfall to nature, but I stick to the can’t-fail white noise. Having it come with the playard was a money-saver, since I didn’t have to go out and buy a separate machine or drain a cell phone battery to use a white noise app. I quickly learned that Lucy doesn’t like vibrations, so I’ve only tried that function once, but other moms tell me their infants love it, although some say it stops working after a while.
The brilliance of the Pack ‘n Play is you can figure out what works and what doesn’t for both you and your infant and customize accordingly. Don’t need the changing station? Don’t install it. Is baby bothered by noise? Keep the sound machine in the storage bag for use as needed. Heading out of town for a day trip? Pull the playard from the storage bag and snap it into place for an instant playpen wherever you end up.
It’s also relatively easy to pop open and set up the playard—the first time I tried it I did it solo as Lucy watched from her stroller. Just make sure all four rails latch together and are rigid before pressing and lowering down the center of the floor or you’re going to have trouble getting it to open. If the rails won’t latch, lift the center of the floor up higher and try again until they do. The thin mattress at the bottom of the playard then needs to be snapped into place, which also adds an extra step in the process. As for closing the playard back up, it’s not too hard either. You just push the side buttons to release and then pull up firmly on the strap in the center of the bottom of the yard. If you’re planning to add all the other extras at once, be prepared that it’s time-consuming to assemble. And one thing I did find is the Napper and Changer are kind of a pain to install, so I ended up just leaving them permanently in place to avoid that repeated hassle. If you don’t plan to use one or both of them, you may actually want to leave them off. You can also try watching this video to help with the installation.
The Pack ‘n Play is all about instant access to the things you need—and the flexibility to remove the things you don’t. Personally, I felt it was a bit cramped to use the changer and storage unit, so I tended not to use those items as much. But the Newborn Napper was the best, and the most surprising element of the system. Lucy loved it and I knew when I put her down in it, she was going to get at least three hours of sleep. She even had a rough time transitioning to her crib when she hit the 15-pound mark and outgrew the Napper, and I think it’s because it was so soft and cozy.
Other design elements of the Pack ‘n Play I love: the muted color palette (it comes in a taupe/black/gray pattern called Vance and a soft blue/charcoal/beige pattern called Cascade), and the fact that it didn’t take up too much room in an already-crowded New York City apartment. The sides are a breathable mesh, so not having to worry about Lucy getting an arm or a leg stuck in crib slats during her first few months helped this new mom breathe easier too.
After just 20 minutes or so of assembly, boom—you’ve got an all-bases-covered infant control station. The neutral pattern and color scheme works well in adult bedrooms, and I love that the Pack ‘n Play can be as temporary or permanent as you like. Even if you’re not sure how you’ll use this yet, trust me, once baby is here, you will—a lot. It’s not hard to assemble and disassemble but it does take some time and attention with all the parts, so if you’re planning on keeping it set up with all the add-ons I’d recommend getting a spare one for travel only. We ended up getting a second one for my dad’s house that he would just put together before we arrived and then break down after we left. It made things a lot easier! I’m a huge fan—and I’m still mourning the fact Lucy has now outgrown the Newborn Napper. Seriously, if Pack ‘n Play made an adult version, I’d have no problem cuddling up in it. All in all, a definite must-have.