The 10 Best Baby Play Mats
10. Skip Hop Vibrant Village
9. Baby Mushroom Snug Square
8. Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo
7. Baby Einstein Nautical Friends
6. Infantino Twist and Fold
5. Taf Toys
4. Lollaland Reversible
3. Baby Care Pingko And Friends
2. Fisher-Price Deluxe
1. Baby Bello Organic
Do I Need A Baby Play Mat?
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 thousands of dollars worth of stuff 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 cute AF.
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 strength 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.)
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.
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.