There’s a massive amount of baby gear on the market, and as a new parent it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. What is a play gym, and what are the benefits? How do you pick the best infant play mat for your baby’s developmental stage?
If you are considering investing in a play gym or mat for your baby, this is the post for you! Here we look at all the varieties available, how to pick the best type for your baby and what you need to know to keep your little one safe.
When Can Your Child Use a Baby Play Mat?
Child development experts recommend that, provided that you pick a play gym or mat that’s suitable from birth, you can use baby play mats from day one. As ever, constant supervision is required.
In the early days, the biggest benefits of a play mat are keeping your baby are entertainment and improvement in hand eye coordination and strengthened head and neck muscles. Look in to a tummy time mat if your baby is 0-6 months old.
Older babies above around 9 months are unlikely to pay much attention to baby play gyms, so it pays to introduce baby gyms earlier.
How is a baby play gym useful?
Play gyms offer the same basic benefits as a play mat, but with added features.
A baby activity gym tends to offer more entertainment to your baby than play mats do. A basic play mat is usually just a plush mat that can be paired with a tummy time pillow to facilitate comfortable tummy time.
A basic play gym might include some dangling toys, but the best baby gyms come with multi sensory toys such as crinkly toys, teething rings plush toys and lights and music. Others feature a ball pit or play tent.
These added features can encourage your baby that bit more; hand eye coordination can be improved by reaching for exciting toys. For example, the Fisher price deluxe kick and play piano gym teaches your baby cause effect; they kick the piano keys to hear an exciting tune.
Importantly, the longer a play gym can keep your baby entertained, the longer mom and dad get to enjoy a rest or get things done around the house.
What to Look for in a Baby Play Mat
The Best baby play mat for your baby is going to vary depending on your needs and your child’s age. That’s why we’ve taken the time to review ten options in this post, looking at a range of factors.
It’s important to remember that the right option is out there for everyone. You might just want a simple tummy time mat with playful prints and bright colors. Perhaps you are looking at activity mats to entertain a fussy baby.
If you’re on a tight budget, cost will be an important factor. For a refluxy baby, you’ll definitely want a machine washable or wipe clean play mat.
Baby’s age is an important factor, because the way children play changes a great deal in the first year of your baby’s life.
How to Make Tummy Time More Enjoyable with a Play Gym or Baby Play Mat
A grumpy baby is a common complaint amongst parents trying to encourage tummy time, with many parents panicking that they just can’t get their baby to spend long enough on the floor.
Perhaps you are wondering about the benefits of tummy time. Tummy time is crucial in baby’s development; it helps develop fine and gross motor skills and core strength. It can also help if your baby has a flat head from too much time in their crib.
A baby activity gym can provide a stimulating environment, keeping your baby engaged in tummy time for that little bit longer. Start off by placing your baby in their baby play gym a few times a day, perhaps for just a few minutes at a time at first.
Removable toys, lights and music can make play gyms more exciting for your baby. But don’t forget how much influence your presence can have; take the time to lay next to the baby play gym so that your baby feels close to you.
With time, you can place wooden toys just out of reach on the play mat to encourage your baby to start moving. At this stage, you might want to check out which are the best play mats for crawling. Keep changing the toys round to keep tummy time interesting for your baby.
If you’re still struggling, don’t panic! You can read our post about what to do if your baby hates tummy time.
The Best Infant Play Mat and Developmental Milestones
From birth, a baby play mat can provide a safe and stimulating place for younger babies to lie. At this age, play mats with high contrast pictures or hanging toys have a particular advantage. This sets the scene for tummy time, during which your baby’s visual development along with core strength improve.
Extra features such as light up keys and interactive toys will appeal to baby’s senses at this young age, and hopefully keep them busy enough for you to enjoy a cup of coffee! The best activity gyms for young babies provide visual and tactile stimulation to bring play time to life.
Babies will begin to interact more with a play gym from around 3 months old; at this stage, your baby’s neck and shoulder muscles are beginning to strengthen and they will begin to hold their head off the ground.
This is the stage that most parents start to look for the best baby play mat to encourage tummy time. At this age, your baby will begin to take more interest in hanging toys; these are often detachable toys that can be handed to your baby to mouth as their fine motor skills improve.
Later on, a great baby play mat will encourage your baby to sit, roll and crawl. Not only will the play mat provide a non slip surface to help baby move, but a well cushioned play mat will help them move with confidence, protecting against bumps and bruises.
Why do babies use a play gym?
Babies are curious little creatures and like to be kept busy- this can be difficult to cope with when you are running on very little sleep!
Child development experts recommend the use of a play gym to help your baby meet his milestones. They are particularly useful when introduced to your baby early on.
Nor only will the best infant play mat keep your baby entertained, but they also help him in the development of his visual skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and broader cognitive development.
How to Safely use a Play Mat with your Baby
While baby play mats are designed to provide a safe space for your baby during tummy time, it’s important to never leave baby unattended. Ensure that any hanging toys are out of reach and safely secured.
Carefully inspect your play mat before baby’s playtime each time. Be sure to pick a non toxic play mat for your baby to play on as little ones mouth everything!
Reach Those Precious First milestones Earlier With These Parent-Approved Play Mats
Once again, we’ve done the hard work for you. With our wealth of experience working with parents, we’ve taken ten key categories and recommended the best option in each category. These play mats and baby gyms come highly recommended!
How We Selected the Best Baby Play Mats
Parent feedback is key. We picked categories that reflected the most important factors to the families we have supported, considerations such as cost, portability, versatility and extra features.
We then picked the best option we could find in each category, thoroughly researching feedback and weighing this against factors such as cost.
Best Play Mat Overall: Lovevery the Play Gym
Lovevery Play Gym – The Ultimate Developmental Gym for Your Little One
Want to give your baby the best start in life? Look no further than the Lovevery Play Gym – the ultimate developmental gym for your little one. This Play Gym is well thought out to tick all the boxes in aiding your baby’s development
- The Lovevery Play Gym is designed to provide your baby with a comprehensive range of developmental activities that will help them reach their full potential.
- Stages of development: With five different development zones, the Lovevery Play Gym is designed to grow with your baby, from tummy time to sitting up and beyond.
- Made from sustainably-sourced wood and organic cotton, the Lovevery Play Gym is as eco-friendly as it is baby-friendly.
- Easy setup: With a simple, tool-free assembly, you can have your Lovevery Play Gym ready to go in minutes
- Play guide included: The Lovevery Play Gym comes with a play guide that provides you with tips and activities to help you make the most of your baby’s playtime.
- The Lovevery Play Gym is one of the more expensive options on the market, but the high-quality materials and comprehensive development make it worth the investment.
- Some parents have noted that the Lovevery Play Gym is quite large.
- The Lovevery Play Gym is only available in one color scheme, so if you’re looking for something specific, you may need to look elsewhere.
Best Foldable: Tiny Love Meadow Days Super Play Mat
Keep Your Baby Busy and Happy with the Tiny Love Meadow Days Super Play Mat!
Give your little one a safe and comfortable place to play and explore with the Tiny Love Meadow Days Super Play Mat. This high-quality mat is perfect for babies who are just learning to crawl, sit up, and explore the world around them.
- The extra-large play mat is made with soft, cushioned material that provides a comfortable place for your baby to play, crawl, and explore.
- The Meadow Days Super Play Mat features a variety of textures, colors, and sounds that encourage sensory exploration and development.
- Interactive Toys: The play mat comes with a variety of toys, including a peek-a-boo tree, crinkly fox tail, and more
- Easy to Clean: The play mat is machine washable and the toys can be wiped clean, making it easy to keep clean and hygienic.
- Portable and Easy to Store
- Bulky: Some customers have noted that the play mat is quite large and can take up a lot of space in a room.
- Not Very Padded: While the play mat is soft and comfortable, some customers have noted that it could be more padded for extra cushioning.
- Short Lifespan: As with any baby product, your little one may outgrow this play mat sooner than you would like.
Best Affordable Play Mat: Bright Starts Safari Blast Activity Gym and Play Mat
Keep Your Baby Engaged and Happy with the Bright Starts Safari Blast Activity Gym and Play Mat
This activity gym and play mat is designed to stimulate your baby’s senses and encourage their curiosity. With a range of features and colorful designs, it provides hours of entertainment while promoting physical and cognitive development.
- Versatile play mat: With a large surface area and fun, colorful designs, this play mat can be used for tummy time, rolling, sitting, and crawling.
- Interactive toys: The safari-themed toys include a plush elephant, a rattle, a teether, and a mirror
- Portable design: The activity gym is easy to fold and take with you wherever you go.
- The play mat is designed to promote physical and cognitive development, helping your baby build strength, coordination, and spatial awareness.
- The toys and mat may be too basic for babies over six months old who have already developed their motor skills and sensory awareness.
- Some customers have reported that the toys and mat may not be as durable as they would like.
- The rattle and other toys on the mat may be too loud and overstimulating for some babies, which could make it difficult for them to focus and play.
Best Foam Play Mat: Ingenuity Cozy Spot Reversible Duvet Activity Gym and Play Mat
Keep Your Baby Entertained for Hours with Ingenuity Cozy Spot Reversible Duvet Activity Gym and Play Mat
Make playtime more enjoyable and fun for your little one with this adorable and cosy baby play gym, featuring a range of cute dangling toys.
- Reversible mat: allows for two different designs. This means that your baby will have a new, exciting play experience every time.
- Easy to clean: The mat is made of machine-washable materials, making it easy to clean and maintain.
- Interactive toys: The toys include a plush hedgehog, a teether, and a crinkly fox.
- Wooden bars: The wooden bars of the gym are made of natural beechwood and are sturdy enough to hold the toys
- The gym is lightweight and folds flat for easy storage and transportation for travel, playdates, and visits to grandparents’ houses.
- Limited design options: While the mat is reversible, there are only two designs to choose from.
- No musical feature: Unlike other activity gyms, this one doesn’t come with a musical feature.
- No tummy time pillow: The gym doesn’t come with a tummy time pillow, which may be an issue for some parents.
Best With Lights and Sounds: Baby Einstein Neptune Under the Sea Play Mat
Dive into Fun with the Baby Einstein Neptune Under the Sea Play Mat
Keep your baby entertained and stimulated with this colorful and interactive play mat designed to encourage exploration and sensory development.
- Features a colorful underwater scene with friendly sea creatures, including a starfish, turtle, and fish, to captivate your baby’s attention.
- Multiple Ways to Play: The play mat comes with a star-shaped prop pillow to support tummy time and an adjustable arch to hang toys for overhead play, providing versatility for different stages of development.
- Interactive Features: The sea-themed toys include a crinkle star, teether fish, baby-safe mirror, and rattle with beads, all designed to engage your baby’s senses and encourage hand-eye coordination.
- Machine Washable: The mat is easy to clean, simply remove the toys and toss the mat into the washing machine.
- Easy to fold and store, making it a great option for travel or to save space in your home.
- Some parents have reported that the mat is on the smaller side, which may limit the amount of time your baby can use it.
- The prop pillow may not provide enough support for babies who need extra help with tummy time.
- While the toys are engaging, some parents have reported that they are not easily detachable and can be difficult to clean.
Best Round Mat: Sassy Stages STEM Developmental Play Gym
Stimulate Your Baby’s Mind with the Sassy Stages STEM Developmental Play Gym!
Help your baby develop critical thinking skills, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving abilities with the Sassy Stages STEM Developmental Play Gym. This engaging play gym offers fun and stimulating activities that will keep your baby entertained and challenged for hours.
- The Sassy Stages STEM Developmental Play Gym features a variety of interactive toys that help your baby develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and hand-eye coordination.
- The play gym includes three different modes of play, including lay and play, tummy time play, and sit and play. This allows your baby to play and learn in a variety of positions and encourages them to explore and engage with their environment.
- The play gym includes a variety of colorful toys, textures, and sounds that stimulate your baby’s senses and encourage them to explore and learn.
- Made from high-quality materials and is designed to be safe and durable, ensuring that it will last through multiple stages of your baby’s development.
- Easy to clean and store
- Limited play space: Some parents may find that the play gym doesn’t offer enough space for their baby to move around and explore.
- The play gym is designed for babies up to six months old, so older babies may quickly outgrow it.
- Requires batteries: The play gym requires batteries to operate, which may be an inconvenience for some parents.
Best Extra Large Play Gym: Infantino Jumbo Baby Gym And Ball Pit
Keep Your Baby Entertained for Hours with Infantino Jumbo Activity Gym & Ball Pit
Looking for an activity gym that will keep your baby engaged and entertained for hours? Look no further than the Infantino Jumbo Activity Gym & Ball Pit. This versatile activity gym is designed to promote sensory exploration and motor skill development in newborns, babies, and toddlers.
- Multifunctional: The Infantino Jumbo Activity Gym & Ball Pit is a combination activity gym and ball pit that can be used for sensory exploration, motor skill development, and even tummy time.
- Stimulating Design: Featuring a succulent-themed design with bright colors, various textures, and dangling toys, this activity gym stimulates your baby’s senses and promotes cognitive development.
- Made of durable, easy-to-clean materials that can be wiped down with a damp cloth or machine washed for easy maintenance.
- The Infantino Jumbo Activity Gym & Ball Pit is easy to fold and store, making it ideal for travel or storage in small spaces.
- This activity gym offers great value for money, providing hours of entertainment for your baby at a reasonable price.
- The ball pit feature is best suited for younger babies and may not be as appealing to older babies or toddlers.
- Balls Not Included
- Some Assembly Required: The activity gym requires some assembly, which may be difficult for some parents.
Best Play Mat for Outdoor Play: XdeModa Baby Play Mat
Keep Your Baby Safe and Entertained with XdeModa Reversible Baby Play Mat
Looking for a safe and comfortable play space for your little one? XdeModa Reversible Baby Play Mat is here to save the day! Designed with your baby’s safety and comfort in mind, this play mat is a perfect addition to your baby gear collection.
- XdeModa Reversible Baby Play Mat comes with a colorful and fun design on both sides, so your baby can enjoy a new experience every time they play.
- Made with high-quality, non-toxic materials, this play mat is safe for your baby to use and play on.
- Easy to clean
- Lightweight and portable
- This play mat can be used for various activities, including tummy time, crawling, and playing with toys, making it a versatile addition to your baby’s playtime routine.
- Not suitable for machine washing
- May not be large enough for older babies/toddlers
- Some customers have reported that the mat is not very thick, so extra padding may be required for hardwood floors.
Best Play Mat for Tummy Time: Skip Hop Activity Gym Farmstand Grow and Play
Entertain Your Little One with the Skip Hop Farmstand Grow and Play Activity Gym!
Hook: Keep your baby engaged and entertained for hours with the Skip Hop Farmstand Grow and Play Activity Gym! With its whimsical design and stimulating features, this activity gym is a must-have for any new parent.
- 5 playful toys that attach to 13 easy-to-hang loops offer multi-sensory stimulation for your baby, encouraging visual and tactile exploration.
- The baby-safe mirror lets your little one explore their own reflection, promoting self-awareness and discovery.
- The soft, plush playmat features a charming farmstand theme and offers plenty of space for your baby to kick, roll, and play.
- The arches can be adjusted for different play positions, allowing for more variety in your baby’s playtime.
- The playmat is machine washable, making it easy to keep clean and maintain for your baby’s safety and hygiene.
- The price point may be higher compared to some other activity gyms on the market.
- Some parents have reported that the toys are not as engaging for older babies who have outgrown the basic sensory features.
- The overhead arches may be too low for some taller babies, limiting their mobility and play space.
Best Play Mat for Newborns: High Contrast 3D Play Gym
Catch Your Baby’s Attention From Birth With This Black and White Activity Playmat for Infants
Encourage early sensory development in your baby with this black and white playmat featuring high-contrast graphics and multiple textures.
- Stimulate your baby’s visual senses with the high-contrast black and white graphics, which have been shown to promote brain development in infants.
- Multiple textures, including a soft plush side and a crinkly satin side, provide tactile stimulation for your baby and encourage exploration.
- The lightweight and portable design of the playmat allows you to easily take it with you on the go or move it from room to room.
- Measuring 31.5″ x 31.5″, this playmat provides plenty of space for your baby to play and explore, while the cushioned surface ensures comfort and safety.
- The playmat is easy to clean and can be machine washed, making it a practical choice for busy parents.
- Some parents may prefer a playmat with additional features, such as toys or an overhead mobile, to keep their baby entertained for longer periods of time.
- The monochrome design may not appeal to all parents or fit with their decor.
- While the playmat is easy to clean, it may require frequent washing if your baby has frequent accidents or spills.