The 10 Best Baby Play Mats
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Whether you are looking for a place where babies can spend their all-important tummy time, or just want to ensure you have a clean surface for your child when out and about, the right kid's playmat is a must-have. Our selections have been chosen to be safe spots for your little ones to play to their heart's content, and many come with their own extra fun and stimulation. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
April 27, 2020:
For this update we continued to evaluate a variety of mat styles that reflect the different ways a parent might use the mat. For this reason, we added the ultra-portable 3 Sprouts Hedgehog and the Tiny Love Magical Tales as they fold up neatly and are as easy to carry as a tote bag.
While the 3 Sprouts doesn't provide the same great visual and tactile stimulation as the Tiny Love, we like that way it closes securely enough to hold in the toys your baby might be playing with. It's also very lightweight and easy to pack in any suitcase or carry-on.
Our top choice, the Baby Bello Organic, provides a large versatile space that can be used with your child's favorite toys and allows for parents to get down and interact with baby in comfort. The cushy foam provides superior comfort to a quilted fabric mat, and it's made with a plant-based mix that prevents the nasty off-gassing smell that a typical foam mat exudes. In addition, this kind of mat is a good choice for parents who like more neutral colored baby equipment.
We've also included many options with built-in stimulation. Many parents will buy a baby gym because this provides a soft spot for play and toys, but newborns can't reach the toys, and the mat part isn't useful for older babies unless the arches are removable. If you want a gym-style mat that will last through several stages, we included some choices like the Fisher-Price Kick 'n Play and the Skip Hop Vibrant Village. Their easy to remove arms allow the mat to be used separately from the toys.
The Kick'n Play is unique in that the piano component rests at the feet of a newborn so they can make noises as they move their feet, and the entire unit transforms so that a toddler can use the keyboard separate from the mat.
We like the Skip Hop Vibrant Village because it's arms are covered in fabric and vibrant contrasting images, while housing entertaining lights and music. It provides many ways to engage the youngest newborns while supplying a stand-alone bottom that serves as a good play mat.
Cali Play Rug Designed to look like a stylish area rug, these mats are offered in classic oriental and boho batik patterns. Ruggish brand play mats are only a half an inch thick but the high quality memory foam provides a comfortable amount of cushion. The flip side features an interactive play map for older kids. ruggish.com
Toki Mats Made with all-natural latex foam, Toki Mats were designed by a parent who wanted a modern look and safe materials to get down on the floor and interact with their baby. This foam is spongy and springy with air holes to keep it breathable. While all of their products are labeled as chemical free, you can also choose a mat and cotton cover that is certified organic. tokimats.com
Do I Need A Baby Play Mat?
A play mat is a convenient and temporary baby-surface to save you hauling your bassinet and/or baby around the house.
If it’s your first baby (congratulations!) then you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. Not just because of the impending loss of your waist and/or free time, but your disposable income in particular.
Everyone and their mom (especially your mom) will be falling over themselves to tell you about all the expensive gadgets you absolutely, definitely need – and it’s easy to get caught up in the festival of shopping because, let’s face it, baby stuff is adorable.
But if you want to have any money left over for diapers and the-baby-is-finally-in-bed-wine, it’s worth stopping to take a breath, sit down with a decaff, and sort the must-haves from the meh.
So where do play mats fall? (Other than ‘on the floor’?) Decide for yourself:
A play mat is a safe and comfy place to put your baby down. Your baby isn’t going to be able to sit up until she is 4 months old at the very youngest. Either someone is going to be holding her, or she’s going to be lying down. A play mat is a convenient and temporary baby-surface to save you hauling your bassinet and/or baby around the house.
Sure, you could just leave her on a pile of laundry like the baby in the picture (she does look pretty happy). But…
A play mat aids in baby development. It’s a great place for tummy time (for the uninitiated: ‘tummy time’ is when you place a supervised baby butt-side-up, so he can strengthen his muscles by struggling like an adorable upturned tortoise). Maybe more importantly, if your play mat comes with stuff to look at and do, it can stimulate your baby’s brain at the most vital time of his life for brain development. That's something a heap of unfolded laundry just can't do.
OK, I Want A Play Mat For My Baby. What Do I Need To Know Before I Buy?
Before you head to the mall or your online store of choice to bring home the play mat of your baby's dreams, here are the questions you should think about:
How old is your baby? Can she sit up yet? If not, you should think about opting for a mat with some stimulating features - arches to hang toys from, crinkly patches, maybe a little baby-safe mirror - to aid the development of your little one's brain and body. (This kind are also referred to as play gyms or baby entertainment centers.)
The same applies if you want a play mat you can use outside, and you should also make sure it's got a thick, soft feel.
Some play mats are designed with newborns in mind, but make sure it's going to be larger enough for your growing baby, because she won't be that tiny for long! Look for a mat that is stain-resistant to deal with drool and other accidents.
If your baby is a little older and likes to play with his own toys, then he probably also likes mashing bananas into the carpet - so you'll want a mat that is washable, and you can get one with a simpler design, as the baby will be getting his entertainment elsewhere.
How big do you want your play mat to be? You might want to get something a little larger if your baby is older, as she'll need more space to crawl around, or if you have twins, or children otherwise close in age.
Where will we use this play mat? One great thing about play mats is that they provide a familiar place for your baby if you're visiting friends, or if grandparents, or anyone else is taking care of him or her. So if you're planning to move the mat from place to place, look for something that is easy to dismantle and folds up easily. The same applies if you want a play mat you can use outside, and you should also make sure it's got a thick, soft feel.
What about extras? Some play mats come with a special cushion for tummy time, which is useful and super-cute - but you might not need this if you have a nursing pillow. Check out the 'Finding Other Uses' section of this wikiHow for more.
When And Why Did We Start Using Play Mats?
Once you become a parent you will definitely meet someone like this: the kind of person who shares those memes on Facebook about how, back when they were growing up, they happily climbed trees and ate bugs and only came home when the streetlights came on, and it never did them any harm, so why are parents and teachers so protective these days? And they might well say: why spend good money on a play mat? When I was a kid, we played on a blanket/the bare ground/a bed of spikes.
This started back in 1994 as 'Back To Sleep', a campaign promoting the need for babies to sleep on their back rather than their front.
Of course if we took "parenting like the good old days" to its logical conclusion, we'd still be letting our kids roll around on the back seat of the car and probably putting them to work on the farm. The truth is, what we know about baby development has advanced hugely over the last few decades.
For example, one reason that 'tummy time' has become so important is because of Safe To Sleep. This started back in 1994 as 'Back To Sleep', a campaign promoting the need for babies to sleep on their back rather than their front. This advice is so ubiquitous now that it might seem obvious, but babies were routinely put to bed on their tummies until studies in the 1980s linked stomach-sleeping with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Face-up is the safest way for babies to sleep, but it's important for the development of their muscles - and even their little skulls - that they spend time in other positions, and a play mat helps them do that in comfort and safety.
Meanwhile, the body of research on early years brain development grows every year - it's clearer than ever that it's important to give your baby, from day one, the kind of stimulation that an entertaining, well-designed play mat can provide.