Which baby play mat is best?
As much as you might love cuddling with your baby, you, unfortunately, can’t hold your little one all day long. Having a safe place to set your child down like a baby play mat makes it much easier to get chores done around the house and keep your baby entertained.
Baby play mats are designed to engage your child’s senses, so they may offer lights, music and crinkly sounds to amuse your child. If you’re looking for a high-quality mat, the Fisher-Price Rainforest Music & Lights Deluxe Gym is the top choice.
What to know before you buy a baby play mat
Baby play mats are available in several different types, depending on your child’s age and needs.
- Snap-together play mats feature a basic design composed of interlocking foam tiles that look like puzzle pieces. They’re usually brightly colored or depict fun designs. You can add pieces to the mat to expand it to cover a large area of your room.
- Activity gyms are mats that feature an arch or other overhead piece for toys and other items to hang from. The toys often make crinkly sounds when your child touches them. These mats usually feature lights and child-safe mirrors too. Your baby can play with the toys while sitting up or lying on the mat.
- Musical play mats are activity gyms with musical features like an oversized piano for your child to hit with their hands or feet. The musical item can typically play songs on its own, too.
- Tummy time play mats feature a quilted design to give the mat texture and some cushioning, so your baby can lie comfortably on their stomach. Tummy time helps your baby increase their head, neck and midsection strength, so they can start crawling. Some tummy time mats also have a pillow to provide additional support, which can help children with reflux issues.
- Folding/travel play mats are designed for travel, so they fold easily and come with a durable travel bag.
- Adaptable/transitioning play mats have pop-up walls or fencing to keep your child contained as they start to crawl and walk. Since these mats are designed to grow with your child, they may feature toys you can swap in and out based on your little one’s developmental stage.
When shopping for a play mat, your child’s age is an essential factor to consider. Mats are suitable from infancy through toddlerhood, but some models offer features that are more appropriate for one age than another. For little ones between three and six months of age, a tummy-time play mat is generally the best bet until your child can turn over on their own. At six months, a child usually appreciates a mat with hanging toys. For a child who’s crawling or walking, a mat with pop-up walls or fencing can keep your little one safe and contained.
Most play mats have a foam or fabric base. Foam mats should feature nontoxic foam that doesn’t contain BPA, PVC, phthalates, latex or lead. Fabric mats are usually made from polyester, which can have potentially harmful chemicals. For the safest option, look for a fabric mat made of organic cotton.
Consider the thickness of the mat’s material and where you plan to place it too. For example, if you plan to place your child on the mat on a hardwood floor, choose a mat with cushioning or padding.
Size and shape
The majority of play mats are rectangular, oblong or oval. Those that feature activity gyms are usually smaller, measuring 2 to 3 feet in length and slightly shorter in width. Large play mats are generally made of foam. A snap-together mat is the best option to cover the largest area because you can add extra pieces to customize the size as large as you want.
While many mats fold up, some don’t. In particular, those that feature arches or overhead structures usually don’t fold. If you plan to travel with your mat or just want a model that’s easy to store, look for an option that folds flat. For travel, you’ll also want a mat that comes with a durable case or travel bag.
What to look for in a quality baby play mat
A reversible play mat is usually made of fabric and has different patterns on each side. That provides some variety for your child when they’re playing on the mat.
Some play mats with an arch or other overhead structure allow you to add new toys for your little one to play with. The toys are usually made of plastic or fabric and are brightly colored to capture your baby’s attention. The fabric toys may also make crinkly sounds when your child grabs them. Some toys feature lights and mirrors, too.
As cute as they may be, babies can be pretty messy. A play mat should be easy to clean, so machine-washable models are the best choice. You can also find waterproof mats that you can just wipe down if a mess occurs.
You can find plenty of baby play mats with specific themes. Zoo, jungle and ocean are some of the many themes that babies can enjoy.
How much you can expect to spend on a baby play mat
Baby play mats usually cost $10-$100. Foam mats typically range from $10-$40, while basic activity play mats generally go for $24-$40. Activity play mats with higher-quality ingredients and more features can cost $40-$60, while the most feature-packed models range from $60-$100 or more.
Baby play mat FAQ
What’s the difference between a play mat and a play gym?
A. At its most basic, a play mat is a fabric or foam surface you place on the ground for your baby to lie on. It’s designed to entertain and stimulate your little one, but it doesn’t necessarily have any toys or other activities. Activity mats and play gyms are very similar, though, because they feature an arch with hanging toys or other attached accessories to engage your child. Play gyms usually have features to help children develop their muscles, too, including toys for kicking.
How safe are baby play mats?
A. A baby play mat is usually completely safe if used properly. Choose a nonslip mat that won’t move around on the floor, and never leave your baby unattended while they’re on the mat.
What’s the best baby play mat to buy?
Top baby play mat
What you need to know: This fun, jungle-themed play mat gym has plenty of features to appeal to newborns, infants and toddlers.
What you’ll love: It allows your child to lie on their back and tummy or sit up. It features dancing lights and crinkly sounds to entertain little ones. It offers music in both long-play and motion-activated settings. Some areas of the mat are machine washable, while others can be wiped clean.
What you should consider: It may be difficult to store. The toucan toy at the top comes off pretty easily.
Top baby play mat for the money
What you need to know: This inflatable mat is perfect for tummy time and helps your little one improve their motor, visual and other skills.
What you’ll love: The soft, inflatable design makes tummy time extremely comfortable. The material is durable and free of BPA, lead and phthalates. It features a brightly colored, ocean-themed pattern to get your little one’s attention. It’s one of the most affordable play mat options on the market.
What you should consider: Despite its lack of chemicals, it has a strong plastic smell that takes a while to go away.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: With an adorable cloud design and plenty of toys, this play mat keeps your baby entertained with lights, sound and more.
What you’ll love: It includes a tummy time pillow that works well for babies with reflux. The batteries last a long time, even if the mat is used regularly. The thick design makes it suitable for use on hardwood flooring. It allows you to adjust its music volume.
What you should consider: It’s somewhat expensive and requires a lot of storage space even when folded.
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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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