Soon-to-be parents setting up a crib in anticipation of bringing home a baby is a right of passage, right? Cribs are so quintessentially ‘baby’ that it is assumed that you have to have one. But do you really need a crib?
That’s right, you do not actually need a crib for your baby. Traditional cribs are not the only option for safe sleep. Bassinets, pack and plays, playards – maybe even a box – work just as well as a standard crib (or better!).
We skipped both a traditional crib and a bassinet with our baby. Cribs are expensive, especially for something you only use briefly. We also live in a small space and simply did not have enough room for another piece of furniture.
Instead our kid sleeps in a playard travel crib – and we love it. It works just as well as a standard crib, with the added bonus of being cheap, portable and travel-ready.
So if you are worried about the money or space needed for a crib, read on and let me disabuse you of any lingering beliefs about crib superiority. You’re still a good & legitimate parent whether your kid sleeps in a box or a pottery barn crib.
Do you need a crib?
As long as you have a certified safe sleep space for your baby, you do not need a traditional baby crib. Here are pros and cons of a standard crib:
Pros of Cribs
- Cribs are a safe sleep space (more on sleep safety recommendations)
- Cribs come in a variety of styles to better match home decor
- Some cribs convert into toddler beds for longer use
- They provide more room to grow than a bassinet
Cons of Cribs
- More expensive than crib alternatives like pack and plays
- Require additional purchases like crib mattress
- Not easily moved from room to room
- Not portable so you’ll need an additional travel crib when away from home
- Not easily stored when not in use
- Tiny baby legs can get stuck between crib slats in the night and wake up the baby
What about common crib accessories? For example, do you need a crib mobile?
No, you don’t need a crib mobile. In fact, some baby sleep experts recommend skipping mobiles because they can be too stimulating for tired babies. If you want a mobile, try putting it over your diaper change area instead. Some crib alternatives like pack ‘n plays also come standard with a baby mobile equivalent.
Related Post: Do You Need a Changing Table?
So if you don’t want a traditional crib, what other options do you have?
In my opinion, a playard or travel crib like a pack ‘n play is the best crib alternative because they:
- Are sleep safe
- Last longer than a bassinet since they can be used into toddlerhood
- Save money since you don’t need to buy a separate bassinet, mattress or travel crib
- Are Portable & light
- Collapse for easy storage
- Have Mesh sides so baby legs don’t get stuck in the middle of the night
If you are planning to have multiple babies, a portable crib is a great alternative to a crib because of how easily you can store it between babies. Unlike a standard crib, simply pack it up and tuck it away until you need it again. This also makes it easy to hang on to if you expect to host friends with babies.
Best Affordable Crib Alternative: Pack-N-Play with Bassinet
This is the pack ‘n play we use and love. Paying a little more for the bassinet feature to elevate the mattress is definitely worth it. I like that Graco models are more affordable than brands like BabyBjorn or Lotus. I also personally had great experience with their customer service.
That said, skip the more elaborate ‘care station’ pack and plays – you don’t need the extras. In fact, you’ll constantly have to take off the added features like a changing pad before putting your baby to sleep. If you’re using your pack ‘n play like a crib, keep it simple and reduce the hassle.
Upgrade Pick Crib Alternative: Guava Lotus
If budget allows, the Guava Lotus travel crib offers some smart features that you won’t find on Graco’s pack-n-play:
- Side zipper door to more comfortably access the baby.
- Lighter-weight than the pack-n-play (almost cuts the weight in half!).
- No maximum weight limit since the mattress rests on the ground.
Of these, I think the side zipper door is the biggest selling point for the Lotus. As our baby got bigger, I wished our pack-n-play had this feature and it would add a lot of value once babies are able to crawl in independently.
The Lotus carries a higher price tag than the Graco pack-n-play, and you have to pay even more to add on a bassinet attachment for the littlest babies. The bassinet is a smaller mattress so you’ll also need two sets of sheets – sheets for the bassinet mattress and sheets for the regular mattress. It also requires Lotus-specific sheets which makes it harder to shop around for deals or hand-me-downs (the pack-n-play uses standard mini-crib sized sheets).
Option for Small Spaces: Mini Graco Pack-n-Play
The mini pack ‘n play is simply a smaller version of Graco’s regular pack ‘n play. If I were to do it again, I’d opt for this model because the smaller footprint would be nice in our small space.
Related Post: Do You Need a Diaper Pail?
Remember Safe Sleep Guidelines
A quick word of warning, if you google crib alternatives you’re likely to find lists that include other ideas like floor mattresses, baskets or co-sleeping. Remember to always cross-check current safe sleep guidelines, as some of these suggestions do not meet safety recommendations.
Crib or Pack and Play?
So to summarize, here is a crib sheet (ha!) comparing cribs vs. travel cribs
|Sleep Safe||Sleep Safe|
|More Expensive||Less Expensive|
|Not portable||Portable & collapsible|
|Endless styles||Limited color options|
|Some options for small spaces||Good for small spaces|
|Bulky storage when not in use||Folds for easy storage|
|Side slats||Mesh sides (legs can’t get stuck)|
Overall, I highly recommend to friends that they think twice before buying a bulky crib. We are extremely happy with the versatility and function – and of course the money savings – of our pack ‘n play. You don’t have to have a crib if it doesn’t work best for your needs.
Ready to read more about baby gear? Check out these 10 baby items with high resale value.