A lunch and a story

Recently, during the course of a very vigorous discussion, over a lunch with friends – all participants being moms with varying lengths of experience in raising children, the question of whether to buy a playard for one of the children or not to arose. Of the 6 moms present, including myself, one young mom declared that she would never use a playard.

Why? We chorused.

They are just not safe, she said. She then related a story.

Her sister had recently bought one for her one year old daughter. After buying it along with the manufacturer recommended mattress, her sister had proceeded to add a different mattress (not recommended by the manufacturer) on top of the original one. The second mattress did not fit well. So she then proceeded to stuff the loose sides with a blanket – after which, she said, her sister decided it was too dangerous to use.

None of us had much to say about this at that time. But this story stayed in my head. The sister had clearly exercised poor judgment when buying the playard and compounded it by using items that were clearly unsuitable. The result, however, was that my friend decided that all playards were unsafe.

What happened to the poor playpen?

Not so long ago, playards were an indispensible and necessary part of a young child’s life – as common and ubiquitous as the stroller, the high-chair and the crib. But things have changed significantly in the recent past and playards appear to have somewhat fallen out of favor.

The reasons cited are many and varied – from alleging that playards cause developmental disabilities to behavioral problems and in one extreme case, ‘neurological dysorganization’ (see post here).

So are playpens (or playards) villains?

None of these allegations has any real scientific basis, of course. There has never been any formal, systematic research on this. Tom Vanderbilt, journalist and blogger, in a very balanced article for Slate.com writes:

“So, playpen, childproof room, fully free range, or something else? Are playpens cages of disregard or safe, useful accoutrements? How much time is too much time? Will a playpen keep my daughter out of the Ivy League? When I asked Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at University of California-Berkeley and author of the just-released book The Philosophical Baby, about any work on the negative consequences of playpens, her answer was instructive: “I don’t know of any systematic research on this,” she noted, adding, “Ironically these small kinds of parenting differences, which are just the things parents care about most, are just the areas where scientists wouldn’t expect to see many differences.”

She continued: “It’s as if you asked a climate-change scientist whether the fact that you bought a Prius would make a hurricane less likely in New Orleans this summer. Carbon makes a big difference and so does care-giving, but not at that scale. Of course if you kept a baby confined in a playpen and never took him out that would probably make a difference, but nobody actually would do that.” While science does suggest crawling strongly influences the way babies think and learn, she points out “babies in playpens are crawling and exploring too, of course.” Her last bit of advice? “Parents should try to think not ‘How will this affect my baby in the long run?’—who knows?—but ‘Is this helping my baby and me to thrive right now?’ ” That, she says, depends on what you and your situation are like—and only you know that.”

Read the full article here.

So where does all this leave us?

The ultimate goal for the use of any baby furniture is to have a safe sleep and play environment. The ultimate responsibility for insuring this is vested with the parent. Nothing can replace your, the parent’s, own judgement as to what you and your baby need. To make this process of deciding easier, here is a little checklist for you to refer back to. Remember that this is by no means an exhaustive one. It would be quite impossible for it to be so, simply because there are as many types of needs as there are babies on this planet. Each unique.

The first and obvious question to ask yourself of course is whether you need a playard at all. If so, why and can it wait till the baby is a little older? If the answer to the first question is yes, then its safe to assume your predominant answer to the why is that you would like to transport your baby safely from one place to another, either within your home or while travelling – something that can pose a challenge with other baby furniture.

Now then, since this question is settled, let’s look at that checklist shall we?

  • Removable bassinet and changer: If you plan to travel with your newborn, these can be very useful. Needless to say, you will not have to buy these items separately.

  • Easy folding mechanism: Test this in the store. If that’s not possible, read up on user reviews.

  • Storage: Some play yards have pockets, bags, or shelves for diapers, wipes, blankets, and extra clothes. These can be a real boon.

  • Carry bag: Make sure that the playard comes with a sturdy, compact carrying bag. This is a must-have if you plan to take your playard on trips.

  • Wheels: No point in having a playard that can’t be moved from room to room easily. Make sure yours has safety wheels that have a locking mechanism.

  • Extras: Many playards come with extra fittings such as mobiles, vibrating movement, a nightlight, nature sounds and music, and a canopy to shield your baby.

  • Safety: This is the all-important item on your list. Make sure that the item you buy is not on the Product Recall list. Safety standards keep changing and improving and it is common for baby products to be recalled in order to make room for ones with enhanced safety features. Read all instructions from the manufacturer thoroughly. Follow their recommendations regarding assembly, weight limits and accessories. Never, ever do anything that is not recommended.

Nothing can substitute homework. Read up all you can about the item you are about to buy. Speak to people who have already bought it. Find out all you can about the manufacturer. Read all the instructions and manuals provided and never improvise!

Additional reading: https://onsafety.cpsc.gov/blog/2011/09/21/play-yards-what-parents-should-know/

We cannot stress this enough: While it is of utmost importance that you keep yourself educated and informed, it is equally important to remember that all you read need not be accurate and sometimes, not even true. So consult your baby’s physician before making purchases – especially those that will be ingested or applied your baby’s body.

As a parent, keeping your baby safe, healthy and happy is your responsibility and yours alone. Stay informed and stay on top!