Is it OK to use a playpen for our baby?

We live in a pretty small house and at this point our baby is sleeping in a bedroom that we use as an office.  We can't change that for now, so we plan to keep things as childproofed as we can.  My mom suggested that we get a playpen, but my friends tell me that is a really bad idea. (Actually, they act as if I’m contemplating child abuse). But my mom says there will be times when I can't watch the baby every minute and I don't want to have to put him in his crib just so that I can go to the bathroom.  What do you think?

It’s funny how we can feel comfortable about strapping an active baby into a car seat, a stroller, or a backpack but still feel as if there is something too confining about a playpen. 

Playpens used to be as routine a part of baby furnishings as high chairs. Parents plopped infants in them without questioning whether there were any disadvantages to the baby.  Then child development experts began to worry that the babies who were parked in playpens were less able to explore their environments and might not be getting enough stimulation or attention. As often happens when new advice is given to parents, the experts concerns were translated into "Never put a baby in a playpen" rather than "Don't keep your baby penned up all day."

Anyone who has ever tried to answer the telephone while a fast crawling baby is racing to eat the dog's food knows that some babies do need to be corralled at times.  

Many parents find that a playpen is a convenient way to allow a baby to be in a place where he is safe but able to watch family activities. Many playpens can be folded to move between rooms.  A playpen can also be used if you must leave your baby unsupervised for brief periods.  It can be a convenient place for an occasional nap although it can be confusing to some babies to have the same place used for sleep and play. 

A playpen in your home doesn’t restrict your baby's ability to learn any more than a stroller does outside the home--but you wouldn't think of letting your baby crawl around the floor at the market, would you?

If you wantto be able to use a playpen, it's important to start using it for your baby before he begins to crawl.  However, if you wait until your baby is older and crawling or pulling himself up, he is less likely to be agreeable. At that point, you would be putting him in place that keeps his movement restricted just when he’s learning the fun of being chased.  If he already knows theplaypen as one of the pleasant places in your home, he won't mind so much.  

At first, a young baby will probably be content in a play pen for ten to fifteen minutes while you are in the room talking to him or handing him toys,.  If there are older children in your home, your baby will probably love to lie in his play pen watching them play. Take him out when he seems a little fussy, play with him, and then put him back. That way he won’t build negative associations with being there.

When buying a playpen, it is safest to buy a brand new one or a used model that is still being manufactured.  If you buy a used playpen, compare your model to that in the store to make sure that all the parts are assembled correctly.  Always keep the sides fully up and locked in place.  It's also a good idea to check the model and brand you buy at the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site ( in case there have been any safety problems or product recalls. (Don’t forget to recheck this site every month or so--recalls happen all the time.) 

An active baby can have an accident even in a "safe" place, so don't leave your baby unattended for more than a few minutes—you do have to go to the bathroom, of course!