All moms understand the importance of having a safe, soft place to “park” their baby. Bonus points if it keeps them happy and it’s aesthetically pleasing. That’s where baby play and activity mats come in.
We’ll walk you through what to look for in a baby play mat, the different types of play mats, tips for introducing your little one, plus our picks for the best baby play mats for all budgets.
What to Look for in a Baby Play Mat
A baby play mat can be anything from a soft, squishy foam mat for baby to play on safely to a more involved baby gym, which has both a play mat and a toy bar, or perhaps even a mirror or other developmental activities. Baby play mats are an ideal location for babies to practice tummy time, learn how to play independently, and work on their crawling skills.
When looking for the perfect play mat for your little one, experts suggest a few core characteristics: contrasting colors, a soft, but not too soft surface, and an overall design that promotes tummy time. For the latter, you’ll want a mat that supports the baby’s core when he or she is practicing those pre-crawling moves, but will also offer a soft place to land when they take the inevitable tumble.
If you’re leaning toward a foam baby play mat, look for a mat constructed of EVA, not PVC. The latter is a soft, affordable foam, but it contains chemicals like phthalates, lead, and cadmium, which can be harmful to children. EVA is a safer option since it’s BPA-free and doesn’t contain phthalates.
You’ll also want to choose a mat that is easily cleaned or disinfected since you’ll have to contend with the occasional baby blowout or cold at some point. Some baby play mats can be taken apart and are machine-washable, while others are spot-clean only.
You may be wondering if you really need a baby play mat. Most of us grew up playing on blankets or wall-to-wall carpeting and we turned out just fine. While it’s not a necessity, a baby play mat will likely become one of your most-used baby items. That’s because it’s a safe place for your baby to hang out while you’re cooking, working, or spending time with your other children. Plus, it helps babies hone important developmental skills, like holding up one’s head independently or crawling.
Tips for Introducing Your Baby to a Play Mat
Tummy time is important because it helps strengthen your baby’s neck and shoulder muscles, laying the groundwork for crawling.When it comes to introducing your little one to a baby play mat, the earlier is better. Getting your little one used to playing independently, lying on their back (the ideal position for sleep), and tummy time are all great practices to start as soon as you bring your babe home from the hospital. Here are some tips to help make it happen:
- Quantity > quantity. Experts suggest practicing supervised tummy time 3-5 times per day as soon as your first day home from the hospital.
- Keep it supervised. You can use a baby play mat to entertain baby during tummy time (spoiler alert: most of them hate it), or to keep them busy when you need to get things done around the house, get some work done, or drink a cup of coffee. Just keep in mind that when your baby is on his or her stomach, they should be supervised at all times.
- Don’t force it. Keep in mind, most babies can only hold their heads up for a few seconds or minutes. Same if your baby is rolling or able to scoot—some babies can scoot on their backs far earlier than you would ever think!Baby play mats are also great for fostering independent play in your baby, which is not only great for baby’s development but also great for you — after all, we moms realistically can’t entertain our kids every second or the day. Nor should we.
Truly Mama’s Picks for the Best Baby Play Mats
With so many baby play mats on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one is right for your baby—and which one fits in best with your living situation, your lifestyle, and let’s face it, your decor. We list our favorite baby play mats below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What age do babies play on play mats?
Most baby play mats are ideal for newborns and up. While some toddlers may enjoy a foam play mat for independent play, most babies age out of baby gyms with toy bars once they start moving. Your little one may also enjoy an activity center as they get a little older or to mix up their day of play.
Are playmats good for newborns?
Yes! As long as your baby is supervised. They’re also great locations for tummy time practice since the sensory toys and activities can offer a bit of distraction.
Are foam floor mats safe for babies?
Yes, but be sure your foam floor mat is made of non-toxic EVA foam, and that they are supervised when using the floor mat. Otherwise, they are great places for your little one to hang out and practice their skills.
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