This article was updated in November 2023

What’s the difference between a play-yard, a playpen, and a pack n’ play? When can my baby use a jumper? How will I know when he’s too big for the baby bouncer?

(And do we really need all this stuff?)

Welcome to the world of baby holding devices. There are so many products available, but how do you know which ones are right for your family? How can you use them safely and properly, getting the benefits from them while avoiding injury or harm?

On the safety and proper usage front, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a report in the fall of 2021 that raised concerns about popular products like loungers, carriers, and play-yards. When it comes to caring for your baby, these products can be helpful for travel, or entertain the baby for a few minutes so you can sit down with a hot cup of coffee. The risks arise when these products are used improperly, and specifically when used unsupervised or for sleep. Out of all of these products, only the Pack n’ Play is intended for infant sleep. All others should be used when the baby is awake and observed.

Follow these common-sense principles:

  • Keep an eye on your baby while these products are in use.
  • Know when your baby is developmentally ready for each product.
  • Read the manufacturer's information carefully so you know how to properly use each device.
  • For products where baby is sitting in a cloth harness, limit time to 15-20 minutes a day to avoid undue pressure on his developing hips

Ready to dive into the world of baby holding devices? Read on.

Baby Lounger Safety Tips

Safe for: newborn through toddler

A baby lounger is a firm cushion with a “nest” in the center that snugly holds your baby. They’ve gained popularity in recent years for use especially with newborns, as many babies find them to be soothing. They’re great when used as a cozy place for baby to hang out for a few minutes, but always observe baby when she’s in the lounger, and don’t use it as a sleeping space. They’re unregulated and not intended for baby sleep.

In September 2021, the popular Boppy Loungers were recalled. The recall applies to the Boppy Original Newborn Lounger, the Boppy Preferred Newborn Lounger, and the Pottery Barn Kids Newborn Boppy Lounger. These are no longer available new, but if you’ve borrowed a lounger from a friend, be sure it isn’t one of these Boppy products.

Infant Car Seat Safety Tips

Safe for: All babies, newborn through 2 years, dependent on child’s size

Are you getting ready for your baby’s arrival, and asking yourself questions like: how do I properly use an infant car seat? Is it safe to drive my newborn home from the hospital? You’re not alone: an informal poll of our Poppylist community revealed that 74% of parents had the exact same concern.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a comprehensive resource on finding, installing, and keeping your baby safe in the right car seat. They even have a tool to help you find an installation inspection site in your local community.

The hospital where you deliver will inspect your car seat before you are discharged to go home, and they should have someone on staff who can address your concerns about proper car seat usage, including how to position and tighten the straps safely. Work with this person until you feel comfortable and confident securing your child in the seat.

Need additional help? Safe In The Seat offers in-depth courses and guides.

It is unavoidable that your baby will fall asleep in her car seat at some point. But is it safe? According to Consumer Reports, the answer is yes, for short periods of time. But car seats aren’t designed for long periods of unobserved sleep. You should keep baby properly buckled in at all times, and transfer him to his designated sleeping place once you’re home.

Baby Carrier Safety Tips

Safe for: Newborn through toddler, dependent on device style and weight limit

Baby wearing products are great for keeping baby close while freeing up your hands, but closeness doesn’t always equate to safety. There are a variety of baby wearing products on the market, and it’s important you understand the proper usage and intended age for each different style of product you plan to use.

When using a baby wearing device with a newborn, keep the mnemonic TICKS in mind:

  • Tight carrier with no loose fabric
  • In view at all times.
  • Close enough to kiss
  • Keep chin off chest
  • Supported back.

Keeping baby in this position will allow you to keep an eye on his breathing and ensure his body is in proper alignment. Need more positioning support? Check out this article from Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Baby Swing Safety Tips

Safe for: newborn through 12 months or until baby hits the weight limit

Can you let a baby sleep in a baby swing? It’s tempting (we get it!) but the answer is no. Baby swings are a great for soothing a fussy baby or having a safe place to contain a newborn for short periods of observed time, but they’re not designed for safe infant sleep. Limit time in the swing to 60 minutes per day, and if your baby falls asleep in the swing, the American Academy of Pediatrics says to move her to a firm sleep surface as soon as possible. For a newborn, use the most reclined position possible.

Baby Bouncer Safety Tips

Safe for: newborn through 6 months of age

What is a baby bouncer chair? These are fabric chairs on a frame, with a harness to keep your baby safely secured. They are intended for newborns up to 6 months of age, although some can be converted to a seat for older babies. Some work manually—the bouncing motion is created as baby kicks and wiggles—and some are motorized.

These are a great option for getting a little hands-free time around the house, just keep in mind these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Always use the bouncer on the floor, never on a countertop, table or other elevated surface.
  • Never place the bouncer on a bed, sofa or other soft surface because babies have suffocated when bouncers tipped over onto soft surfaces.
  • Always use restraints and adjust restraints to fit snugly.
  • Stay near and watch the baby during use.
  • Stop using the bouncer when a child can sit up alone or weighs 20 pounds or reaches the weight limit on the label.

Baby Walker Safety Tips

These three products are similar; all three are some kind of fabric harness on a frame that allows a non-walking baby to use her legs to scoot, jump, or rock side-to-side.

Safe for: not recommended for use with any baby

Are baby walkers safe? The answer from experts is a resounding no. According to Harvard Health, babies in walkers can trip and fall over, tumble down stairs, or scoot over to dangerous places they were never intended to reach. Because of the risks, many parents have turned to jumpers or exercisers to keep their babies contained and entertained for a few minutes.

Another common question we see on Google is, “Why are baby walkers banned?”

Contrary to popular belief, baby walkers are not banned in the US. Canada banned baby walkers in 2004, and although the American Academy of Pediatrics has urged America to follow suit, it hasn’t happened yet. In lieu of outright bans, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) laid out a laundry list of new safety standards.

These guidelines are meant to mitigate the dangers of baby walkers. Those dangers include falls and access to items and areas that babies shouldn’t be allowed to navigate on their own. Think pools, fireplaces, and tabletops that might contain dangerous or poisonous items. According to the CPSC, nearly 15,000 infants under the age of 15 months were treated for walker-related injuries between 2004 and 2008. And eight children lost their lives during the same period.

Baby Jumper Safety Tips

Safe for: 4 months old, or when baby has developed neck stability and head control

Some babies love jumpers, and some decidedly don’t. If your baby is a fan, Children’s Hospital of LA recommends using a jumper no more than 10 to 15 minutes, two times a day to avoid unnecessary pressure on baby's hips. To avoid injuries, look for a free-standing jumper, not one that hangs in a door frame. And always observe baby closely while he’s in the jumper.

Baby Exerciser Safety Tips

Safe for: 6 or 7 months old, when baby can sit independently without using arms for balance

What is a baby exerciser? These are sometimes called entertainers or activity centers. They’re stationary, with a cloth harness and a plastic tray. Often, the tray has built-in toys and activities to keep baby entertained. Sometimes, they’ll have a plastic foot-rest that baby can use to kick off for standing practice. Baby exercisers are considered safe, but parents should still limit time spent in the exerciser to 15-20 minutes per day.

Playpen and Play Yard Safety Tips

Safe for: newborns through toddler

Are playpens, play yards, and pack n’ plays all the same thing? Most parents use these terms interchangeably, and even large retailers don’t typically distinguish between the three different products.

Playpen or play yard are catchall terms that refer to any product that temporarily “pens” baby into an enclosed area. It could be a packable crib, like a Pack n’ Play, or a collapsable, fence-like product that encloses a small area of a room.

Pack n’ Play is a brand name that’s been widely adopted to refer to the entire category, like Ziploc or Google. It has mesh sides, a firm mattress insert, and collapses and folds for easy travel. The manufacturer complies with federal safety standards, meaning you can safely sleep your baby in a Pack n’ Play, and many families do. They’re useful for sleeping babies in small spaces, like a hotel room.

What’s the safest way to use playpens and Pack n’ Plays? Playpens and playyards are not designed with safe sleep in mind, so think of these as a temporary place to let your baby hang out, supervised, for short amounts of time. They’re great for some independent playtime (and to let you catch up on folding laundry). The Pack n’ Play can be used as a playpen, and it can also be safely used as a crib.

With all of these products, keeping in mind some common-sense guidelines will keep the baby safe, and buy you a few minutes of hands-free time.