New parents quickly realize just how much of their lives now take place on the floor. But while our adult bodies don’t mind the carpet or wood, babies aren’t quite prepared for the floor yet.
Baby play mats are specially designed to keep your baby comfy and safe during floor time. These mats are often slightly padded quilts with carefully chosen fabrics or even a fun game or two. You can even couple these blankets with an activity gym to provide your little one with hours of entertainment that also helps them learn and grow.
Not all play mats are the same, so I put together a guide based on everything I’ve learned over the years to help you choose the best baby play mats.
Do you have questions about baby play mats? We’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions here:
Foam mats are often made of EVA foam, which is considered to be a safe alternative to other types of foam. EVA foam is BPA free and doesn’t include harmful plasticizers. These mats are marketed as ‘non-toxic’ options, but many do off-gas formamide.
Mats that off-gas formamide are banned in Belgium, but nowhere else. Testing has shown that current levels of exposure to formamide are safe.
Safety depends on the individual play station and manufacturer, but all products on the market abide by the safety standards put in place in 1997. Be sure to read reviews from customers and independent bodies before using a play station.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies shouldn’t use play stations, walkers, or saucers because movable parts still pose a risk. They also suggest to parents that their babies have greater mobility than they do. Studies have shown that babies using play stations (or walkers, swings, or seats) crawl and walk later than babies who spend time on the floor.
Handwashing in the sink with a gentle formula is the best way to clean a baby play mat. Be sure to use an appropriate soap if your baby has sensitive skin.
Your newborn can use a playmat that is rated for newborns and up.
Newborns won’t enjoy playmats as much as older babies, but play mats are fine to use for tummy time and for introducing them to toys during periods when your baby is alert and awake.
If you let your newborn use a play mat, remember to stay and supervise your little one while they’re on the mat. Strict supervision is important at a very young age.
If you’ve entered the search term into Google or Amazon, you’ve undoubtedly been inundated with the number of baby play mats available to our little ones. Here’s a quick guide to the difference between the most common types of baby care mats.
Foam play mats are made of a soft, safe foam that creates a large play area. These mats are basic but can be supplemented with toys. For newborns, foam mats are a great place to practice lifting their head, rolling around, and eventually crawling.
Playmat gyms include a base mat and an overhead ‘gym.’ Gym for babies has a different meaning: in many cases, it includes toys for sensory stimulation as well as giving them things to reach for and practice mobility.
Twist and fold play mats are similar to mat gyms but different in terms of storage. While a gym may be made of plastic, a twist and fold gym is portable and folds up compactly in one piece.
Activity blankets are like textured play mats. They’re often quilts that include different textures or points of interest like pockets or pictures.
Quilted play mats are a baby floor mat similar to activity blankets, but they may not have the added sensory accessories. Quilted mats are often padded or stuffed so that they can be used on any floor surface.
Organic play mats are made from organic, non-toxic materials. They often include cotton covers and plant-based foam interiors.
Tummy time mats are a type of infant play mat similar to activity blankets. They have points of interest on the mat itself to help soothe babies who otherwise don’t like tummy time.
There are thousands of baby play mats out there; and trust us, each one is cuter than the next. Sorting through them all is difficult, so we put together a list of some of the most beloved and best baby play mats out there.
This Fisher-Price baby activity gym and mat is perfect for tummy time or for laying and playing. With ten toys and 20 minutes of sounds and music, they won’t get bored of using the same mat for play. The padded play mat is made of a soft silky material that’s easy to clean and gentle on baby’s skin.
Need something just for tummy time? These Bearington belly blankets are a no frills blanket that’s padded and comfy enough for tummy time. It’s simple, requires no assembly, and better yet, is machine washable.
These blankets are so cute and soft that your baby might still be cuddling their elephant or fox even when your babe isn’t a baby anymore.
The Skip Hop gym and mat is a sensory experience for even the busiest babes. Both the gym and mat include activities for baby and offer a total of 17 development activities and five hanging toys. I love the sweet nature-themed graphics and textures, but the added details are what really make this mat: it’s a twist and fold play mat taking only 2 minutes to set up. The mat itself is oversized, and it includes a tummy time pillow.
Although it’s rated birth and up, this Infantino mat is for babies who are a few months old and are working hard on their motor skills. While it would be suitable for newborns, it would be enjoyed more fully by older babies.
I like this mat because it will entertain your little one in their first year and beyond. It’s great for lay time as a baby, but it also transforms into a ball pit for toddlers.
Parents who are extra safety cautious often come to us wondering if it wouldn’t be simpler to build their own baby play mat. After all, then they’ll know what goes into it, and they won’t run into any nasty surprises.
There are plenty of templates for DIY baby play mats online. If you’re handy with tools or a sewing machine, then there’s no stopping you.
But if you’re going to build something beyond a play mat, we recommend buying instead. While as parents we remember horror stories of baby toys from decades past, standards continue to evolve, and baby toys and activity gyms have become even more safe – and more rigorously tested. In fact, unless you’re a design pro with access to excellent materials, you may find that a purchased toy is safer, easier to assemble, and more comfortable for your little one.
I chose my favorite baby mats based on a combined score of comfort and safety. As a mom, I know that having multiple kids means I will turn my back on my baby for the briefest of seconds. I need to be able to know that their toy won’t collapse in them the second I look away. But comfort is equally important because I want my little one to enjoy their toy.
I combined my own experiences with all the tricks I’ve learned from other parents to come up with the list above.
Safety is the biggest deciding factor in finding the right baby play mat.
Here are a few things to look out for:
Most companies these days know that customers are aware of the effects of chemicals and toxins on their babies’ health. After all, we’re the lead paint on cribs generation.
Many toys these days are free from both chemicals and toxins because manufacturers want to sell toys and governments tend to ban harmful substances. But it never hurts to be sure, so check the tag and reviews.
The biggest problem activity gyms have faced in the past were heavy, collapsible arms and toys that caught little fingers.
Get a model or photo of the toy to look for little traps. When in doubt, choose a twist and fold mat, which won’t hurt your babe even if they’re strong enough to pull it down.
A ban on small pieces goes without saying and is generally abided by manufacturers. But be careful when buying toys designed for older kids and giving them to your young one. This is particularly true when you buy toys that “grow with your baby” because they tend to be the most complicated.
Toys that are easy to clean are the best toys. Machine washable is always a gold standard, but if you can’t machine wash it, look for toys that detach or are simple to spot clean.
Pediatricians recommend play mats and activity gyms for infants because they encourage both lay play and tummy time while also supporting baby’s attempts to grow their own mobility.
But there are other toys available if you want to divvy up the day:
Baby jumpers are chairs that allow your baby to jump up and down safely, even if they’re not walking yet. Jumpers are a good way for babies to get exercise, but they do require constant supervision.
Baby bouncers are for older babies with better mobility and gross motor control. While jumpers remain on the floor, baby bouncers are attached to a door frame giving them a little be more freedom to move.
These are a great alternative for babies who are older or in houses where baby jumpers don’t fit well.
Do you have a sleepy baby?
A newborn lounger provides a safe play for baby to chill in a reclining position. They’re secure enough to keep your baby in the chair – until they start rolling – but baby loungers or pillow chairs are also a bit more comfortable than the floor.
Baby swings are often purchased for young babies because little ones find them soothing, and parents find them secure.
You can find simple swings or motorized swings that rock your baby to sleep while you watch from a comfy chair.
Hopefully, these reviews of baby play mats and activity gyms helped you to decide on the best baby play mat. If you have any suggestions or comments on activity gyms and baby play mats please leave them below!