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.
In this article:
- What to look for in a baby play mat
- What age can babies use a play mat?
- How we rated our playmats
- Tips for introducing your baby to a play mat
- Best overall play mat: Lovevery Play Gym
- Most interactive play mat: Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick and Play Gym
- Best for development: Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gym<?a>
- Best budget play mat: Tiny Love Meadow Days Play Mat
- Most durable play mat: Skip Hop Playspot Geo Foam Tiles
- Most travel-friendly: Aden + Anais Baby Bonding Playmat
- Best for young babies: Manhattan Toy Playmat
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.
What Age Can Babies Use a Play Mat?
Babies as young as newborns can enjoy a play mat. In fact, play mats provide a great way to get in some tummy time. The only caveat is that your baby has to be supervised at all times while using the mat, and especially during tummy time, of course.
It may also be helpful to make sure your foam floor mat is made of non-toxic EVA foam.
And 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.
How We Rated Our Play Mats
We’ve included a variety of play mats to fit the needs of what different families might be looking for, from travel-friendly and small enough to fold in a diaper bag, to a full-on nursery floor play mat.
But when it comes to star ratings, here are the criteria we looked at:
- Degree of promoting baby’s development
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.
Best Overall Baby Play Mat
Most Interactive Play Mat
Best for Development
Best Budget Play Mat
Most Durable Play Mat
Most Travel-Friendly Play Mat
Best for Young Babies
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