For those who can afford (price-wise and more importantly space-wise) play pens and baby cots, you are the lucky few – God speed and good luck. As for the rest of us who find them both redundant but not sure which one to get here are some things to consider if you have to decide either or.
Play pens are more stationary, and although most can be folded, you’re unlikely to take them with you when you travel or visit grandma’s house. For that the baby cot is ideal, although heavier, the way they are structured them more compact when folded and they are in fact meant to be for travelling in most cases. However when it comes to comfort level, despite the pad you get with baby cots you’ll need an extra mattress or blankets to soften the hard base further, especially for the younger babies. Play pens will also need some sort of extra padding (usually not if they are slightly fancier and of better quality) – but at least with their flexible designs it’ll be easier to find padding that can fit in there if necessary.
Price-wise both can range from bare bones (and suspicious materials) cheap to high end extra posh. However on average baby cots are slightly more expensive because they have a base and a travel bag which play pens of similar quality would not have.
I personally think baby cots are safer because of their base, heavier set and defined structure. However when it comes to kids I find most babies/toddlers have a perception of more freedom with play pens than baby cots and are more likely to play longer in there without feeling claustrophobic; which takes them longer to go for the “pick-me-up” cries that they typically manipulate schmuck parents with (I am guilty as charged in this case).
If you’re buying a gift for someone opt for the baby cot, they are more practical and are more likely to fit in whatever constrained space you take them to, and if they don’t use it at home because of space they will if they travel or go for visits. Playpens are slightly more hit and miss and because of the size variations might end up at the return items desk of the baby store.
In the end whether you end up with a baby cot or a play pen, it’s a great investment and the previous minutes you get with the baby distracted in one of them is well worth the price. Plus both are relatively safe and can be a nice distraction provided you put enough fun toys in them. Side note, don’t over fill them with toys – kids will get frustrated if they can’t move around, even for a few inches, without hitting something. Leave ample space and always rotate the toys every week or so to keep they interested.