Updated January 23, 2017

The Best Play Mat

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Babies need stimulation and not always from you. Holding your baby 24/7 might seem like a dream, but let's face it – you have to get other things done. And babies need this independent time to stimulate their brain growth.

Best Play Mat
Best Play Mat © CreditDonkey

Call it tummy time, alone time, or playtime – it’s all the same. Your baby needs time to play and explore. Providing a safe and engaging place for your baby to lie will help. Play mats also travel well, giving babies a safe place to play while away from home.

Do You Need a Play Mat?

It’s the million-dollar question. Is a play mat really worth it? Most parents agree it is a useful, if not necessary, purchase. Most babies use it for the first 6 months of their life. When your baby starts getting something out of it depends on his abilities. Some babies are ready for tummy time within the first month or so. Others need a little more time to adjust to time away from mom.

What Does a Play Mat Do?

What exactly does this magical play mat do? It depends on the brand and type you purchase. They each have a theme and different abilities. Typically, they have toys attached to the mat itself and a bar above the baby. This gives babies stimulation while on their tummies or their backs.

Some experts say babies can start tummy time as early as their second week of life. Even just a minute or two will help him build up strength. The first month of your baby’s life is the most crucial for neck development. At first, a few seconds at a time will suffice. Eventually, you can build up to several minutes at a time. The right play mat can help keep your baby interested in this important exercise.

Factors to Consider in a Play Mat

Buying a play mat your baby may spend a lot of time on means considering some important factors.

  • Safety: Play mats come in many sizes and shapes. They also have different types of toys. Some dangle, others are on the floor. Check the size of the toys for choking hazards. You should also look at the stitching on the toys. Are they durable enough to go into your baby’s mouth without coming apart? The play mat should also be free of any flame retardants. Some experts blame flame retardants for issues with child development.
  • Bright colors: Babies can only see contrasting colors. Black and white or light and dark work the best. The contrasting colors stimulate your baby’s growing brain and enhance visual development.
  • Sensory items: A variety of textures, shapes, and materials can help your baby remain stimulated. Ribbons, crinkly toys, toys that pull, and mirrors all stimulate a baby’s senses. This helps to keep him engaged.
  • Music: The music a play mat makes is important. A loud toy could drive you nuts. Soft music might not stimulate your baby. You need something in between to keep everyone happy.
  • Converting: Play mats only last until your baby starts rolling or crawling. Once they can move away from it, they may lose interest. Many products convert into a toddler toy, giving you more bang for your buck.
  • Portability: Traveling with a play mat is usually easy. Look for easy folding toys. If they come with a carrying case, it makes the toy even more portable.

Best Play Mats for Newborns

Mamas & Papas Playmat & Activity Gym

Why We Love This Play Mat
Even if you dream of snuggling your newborn all day, you will need to put him down. The play mat offers a way to have him near you in any room. We love the Mamas & Papas Playmat & Activity Gym because of its padded wedge. You can lay your newborn down safely with the added protection. As a bonus, it helps to strengthen his head and neck muscles. This could help him be ready for tummy time sooner.

We also love all of the surprise noises and textures of this play mat. Babies get excited to learn how to make noises with their kicking or flailing arms. This play mat has great contrasting colors and patterns to visually stimulate your baby. The dangling toys also hang at a nice height. Most babies can easily grab them. This stimulates their senses and keeps them occupied.

Possible Drawbacks
This play mat does not have a long life. Once your baby can roll or crawl, he should not use this mat. The toys can be a danger to your baby if he pushes himself up. If you will not have more babies, this could be an expensive toy. Another downside to this mat is the lack of music. If you want a toy to soothe a fussy baby, this will not do the trick. However, this could be a plus for some parents who don’t like loud baby toys.

Who Should Use This Play Mat?
This play mat is perfect for parents of newborns who need a safe place to lay their baby down. It offers plenty of stimulation and helps strengthen a baby’s muscles. The fabric is very soft too, making it a good mat for almost any surface. If you need a mat to carry with you during your baby’s first few months, this is the perfect choice.

Best Portable Play Mat

Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe Lights & Music Play Mat

Why We Love This Play Mat
The Tiny Love Gymini Super Deluxe Lights & Music Play Mat really takes the cake on portability! Not only does it fold up flat, but it includes a carrying case. We also love the interaction in the mat itself. Most play mats have entertaining toys dangling from the bar. This toy also has interactive toys on the mat itself, though. The elephant’s ear, flowers, and the giraffe’s tail are raised and offer stimulation.

Parents can even remove the dangling toys from the toy bar. They attach well to a car seat or bouncy seat. The mirror is a favorite toy to bring along, as most babies love to discover themselves. This play mat also has lights and music. It is not continuous music, though. The baby turns it on and off with touch and it has two settings – Mozart and kids’ tunes.

Possible Drawbacks
One thing we noticed is the thin fabric of this mat. You should not use it on any hard floors, especially hardwood. Some of the toys hang low from the toy bar too. When your baby is ready for tummy time, the toys can get in the way. They are interchangeable and moveable, but it is a potential downside to this mat. Lastly, you can wash the mat, but removing the toys, lights and music first proves to be time consuming.

Who Should Use This Play Mat?
Anyone who needs an extremely portable play mat should consider this one. Because it folds up flat, it is easy to throw in the trunk. Parents of babies who love music and sensory stimulation will love this toy. Whether your baby lies on his back or tummy, there is plenty to do and see with this toy. Although it doesn’t convert, you can continue to use the toys long after your baby outgrows the mat itself.

Best Play Mat for Older Babies and Toddlers

Infantino Grow-with-me Activity Gym and Ball Pit

Why We Love This Play Mat
We love this play mat because of its many uses. You can use it for older babies as well as toddlers. The flat play mat turns into a ball pit with 40 balls. Crawling babies can sit on the mat with the mesh net pulled up and play with the included toys. This gives them room to crawl without getting into harm’s way. We love how the mat gets even more use with toddlers who can sit in the pit with the balls and play with them. You can also remove the overhead toy bar to give your toddler more room.

We also love the versatility of this toy. Crawling babies and toddlers can work on their fine motor skills as they fit the balls through the hole in the net. The net also helps to keep your child and the balls contained. Many parents love the included storage area for the balls too. You don’t have to worry about hunting for missing balls. They all store right in the turtle’s head.

Possible Drawbacks
Ease of washing a baby product is always important. Unfortunately, this product is not machine washable. This means if your baby has a serious accident, you might not be able to save it. The net stays attached to the product, which makes it impossible to throw in the machine.

Another drawback we found is the toys do not dangle very low. If you use this product for your newborn, it might not stimulate him. Without toys right in front of his eyes, he cannot see them. To him, he will be lying on a mat with nothing to entertain him.

Who Should Use This Play Mat?
Parents with older babies get the most use out of this play mat. Once your baby can see the hanging toys or lie on his stomach, it is a great toy. We love that babies can use it even after sitting up. This is usually when most play mats stop working. This product, however, just starts getting more exciting. Older babies and toddlers love to play with the brightly colored balls in the pit.

Other Play Mats to Consider

  • Play Mats for Hardwood

    If you have hardwood floors, you need more than an activity mat. You need a soft place for baby to explore. The Snug Square Play Mat gives your baby 55” x 55” of safe space to play. This is large enough for parents to get down on the mat too! It also blends well with any décor, unlike the usual foam mats. We love how easily it rolls up for storage and how easily you can clean it. Messes wipe right up, but the fabric is machine washable too. It is also non-toxic, giving your baby a safe place to play!

  • Foam Play Mats

    Sometimes you want foam play mats to cover a large area. Recently these products received a bad reputation because of the chemicals used. There are safe options, such as the POCO DIVO Floor Mat 9-tile Multi-Color Exercise, though. The tiles are non-toxic and BPA-free. The tiles interlock, making it easy to expand the size in the future. Many people use these tiles to cover a large area. They are also great for surfaces where a baby would not be safe or comfortable.

  • Tummy Time Mats

    Tummy time is important. If you don’t need the big toy bar over your baby, the Tiny Love Tummy Time Fun Activity Mat is perfect. It has engaging toys to help encourage your baby to lie on his tummy. It also has a pillow made just for tummy time. It supports your baby while he looks at the world from a new position. The pillow also detaches from the mat for separate use or washing.

A baby mat is a common purchase for new parents. Consider the uses you desire and shop accordingly. Don’t purchase a mat because of its colors or music alone. Think about the long-term use you desire and where you will store it. Not every baby mat folds up flat or has a long life. Knowing what you need will help you make the right investment.

Where to Buy Baby Play Mat

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