Many parents use a playpen for their babies on a regular basis, since playpens allow the parents to go about their necessary tasks while the baby is playing or napping. However, parents need to be aware of playpen safety, since every year many young children are injured while in their playpen.
The most important rule of playpen safety is to not leave your child unattended in a playpen. Many parents see their playpens as a babysitter, when in fact, babies should still be supervised during this time. Playpen manufacturers have made playpens much safer in recent years, but it is always better to supervise your children than to leave them alone while they are playing.
The measures that need to be taken to ensure playpen safety differ, depending on the type of playpen owned. Most playpens currently being manufactured have mesh sides, although some still have wooden slats. Both kinds of playpens should lock securely, to ensure that the sides stay up and your baby is not able to escape from the playpen, and that the latches will not pinch fingers that might get stuck. In addition, all latches and bolts should not be accessible to your baby, with no protruding hardware on the baby's side of the playpen.
Playpens with mesh sides should have no tears in the mesh, and the holes in the mesh should be an appropriate size; under 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) across, so that babies cannot get their toes or fingers caught in the sides. All sides of the playpen must be able to be locked upright. If one side of the playpen is left lowered, the mesh siding can fold in on itself and a baby could potentially suffocate if he or she rolls into that area.
For wooden playpens, slats need to be less than 2.4 inches (6.1 cm) apart so that babies do not get their heads caught. Make sure that the wood is smooth, without splinters or rough spots.
Any playpens with rail coverings need to be checked periodically, as babies might chew on the fabric covering the rail. Rips should be repaired with cloth tape. Rails should be padded and located at least 22 inches (56 cm) off of the floor of the playpen to stop babies and toddlers from flipping themselves out of it.
Bedding in the playpen should be minimal or non-existent. Adding blankets or soft bedding adds to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), since babies cannot move their heads easily and may be at risk of suffocation. To ensure playpen safety, only the original mattress should be used, since it will fit perfectly on the floor of the playpen with no gaps that an infant could get stuck in.
It is safe to leave toys in the playpen, as long as the toys are appropriate for the baby's age. For example, mobiles over the playpen are fine for babies who are not able to stand up, but once a baby can stand up and reach the mobile, he or she may be able to get tangled in them. Along these lines, never leave large toys in the playpen if a baby may be able to use them to climb out. Watch out for toys with strings, or any other dangling strings in playpens, since these could compromise playpen safety.
Playpens should always be in good condition. If you are getting a hand-me-down playpen, check it carefully and make sure that the sides lock into place and do not slip. Also, check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to determine if your playpen model has not been subject to a safety recall.
Written by Bronwyn Harris
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