When your baby isn’t sleeping, feeding or having their diaper changed, they will want to spend time with mum or dad. However, while this is great and the perfect way to bond with your baby, you will definitely need some time to yourself (or you will start going a little crazy!). Even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes so you can sit down and have a cup of tea, or do the washing up.
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One worthwhile purchase to keep your little one entertained, and to encourage their development, is a baby play mat. Depending on your baby, these things can occupy them anywhere from 5-30 minutes at a time. But how do you go about choosing a baby play mat. After all there are different types, sizes and some come with music and lights. Let’s take a look at this topic in greater depth.
- 1 What is a play mat?
- 2 Are baby play mats necessary? How do they help a child’s development?
- 3 How to choose a baby play mat: What should you look for?
- 4 What size should a baby play mat be?
- 5 How thick should a baby play mat be?
- 6 How long can a baby use one for?
- 7 How long can you leave a baby on a play mat?
- 8 When can your baby start using one?
- 9 Are foam mats safe for babies?
- 10 What are the best baby play mats?
What is a play mat?
A play mat is essentially a surface where your baby can play on.
- You can get play gyms which have a bar hanging over the mat with toys for your baby to play with, as well as lights and music.
- You can also get interlocking mats which have pieces you can attach together like a jigsaw so you can choose the size of the play area.
- Finally, you can have just a simple padded play mat for your baby to play on.
Are baby play mats necessary? How do they help a child’s development?
Although they are not an essential purchase like a stroller, bassinet or car seat, baby play mats play an important role in your child’s development. They can encourage your baby to explore their surroundings, develop their gross and fine-motor skills by moving, rolling over and grabbing toys. They are also a welcome distraction for parents if you want to have a few minutes to yourself!
What are the benefits of using a baby play mat?
Here are some of the pros of using a baby play mat or gym:
- A safe space to play in. You can let your baby explore and have fun, keeping them away from hard surfaces, or other hazards.
- Develop fine-motor skills. Babies love grabbing things all the time and it’s an important stage of their development. Those dangling toys on the play mat will come in handy.
- Develop gross-motor skills. You need to encourage your baby to be on the tummy, as well as learning how to roll over from being on their back. A play mat can help your baby build up their muscles in their neck, shoulders and back.
- They’re convenient and portable. You can easily take a play mat, fold it up, and move it to a different room, or take it with you if you’re visiting a friend.
- Develop their senses. The bright colours, sounds and music which come with some play mats can stimulate and help the cognitive development of your baby.
How to choose a baby play mat: What should you look for?
Here are some things to consider if you’re in the market for a baby play mat.
Easy to clean
It’s inevitable that your mat will pick up bits of baby drool, regurgitated milk and other stains. Choose a play mat that is easy to clean, and ideally waterproof.
Made from non-toxic material
If you can, opt for a play mat which is free from PVC, BPA, formamide and other chemicals. If you want a truly eco-friendly option, there are a number of organic play mats which are made from cotton, cork and/or bamboo.
Easy to fold up
You want something which you can transport easily to another part of your house, or take with you in the car.
Make sure you measure the space in your room first so you can see if a play mat will fit ok. Once you know the dimensions, try and get the biggest one you can comfortably fit in the room. Babies grow quickly in the first few months and want to move, roll over and explore. If you buy a play mat which is too small, they will soon outgrow it and want something else instead!
Obviously you should check whether the play mat is safe for your baby and the product has passed all the necessary rules and regulations. Check for any product recalls as there might have been an issue with a previous product from a manufacturer you are considering to buy from.
Features: Play mat vs Play gym
Play mats tend to be bigger than play gyms, and if you opt for a play mat with interlocking pieces, you can gradually make it bigger as your baby grows. However, play gyms come with more stimulating toys which your baby can play with, as well as lights, sounds and music to keep them entertained. Choose one which you think is most important for you and your baby.
What size should a baby play mat be?
It can be whatever dimensions you want, and if you opt for an interlocking play mat you can choose the size but it should be big enough for your baby to fit on and move around comfortably. Play mats also tend to be bigger than activity gyms, so if space is really an issue, you might want to choose the latter option. Also, just bear in mind your baby will grow quickly so if you buy something too small, you won’t get as much use out of it.
How thick should a baby play mat be?
The thickness you’ll need for a play mat largely depends on the floor surface. For a wooden floor, you’ll probably want something thicker, where as if it’s on carpet it doesn’t matter a great deal. Try to choose something that’s at least around half an inch.
How long can a baby use one for?
It depends on the size of your baby really. For most, after 6 months they might be getting a little big for a play gym, but a larger play mat might still be ok. Once they start crawling though, no play mat or play gym is going to stop them exploring the whole room!
My son is now 7 months old, and he now seems to have fun knocking over our play gym so it’s all on the floor. Might be time to sell it!
How long can you leave a baby on a play mat?
All children are different. Some might be entertained for 5 minutes, some for up to 30 minutes. They’ll let you know when they’re bored! However, just be aware of the importance of tummy time. You want to encourage your baby to build their neck, back and head strength by putting them on their tummy from time to time during the day. You might start with just 1-2 minutes for newborns a few times a day, eventually working up to 10-15 minutes in one go for older babies.
When can your baby start using one?
Most play gyms and play mats are suitable for your little one from birth. However, their eyesight is still a little weaker so they’ll only be able to focus on toys very close to them. Overall the best age for using a play mat is between 3-6 months, as that’s when your baby can interact with everything the best. Their hand-eye coordination is developing so they love playing with dangling toys if you have a play gym.
Are foam mats safe for babies?
Some foam play mats do contain chemicals that can potentially harm your baby, and it is hard to find out exactly what makes up the foam material. Some contain PVC, EVA and polyurethane which can contribute to toxic air in your home. If you’re not comfortable using a foam mat in your home, you can easily find some organic options made from cotton.
What are the best baby play mats?
If you’re after an activity gym, I’d definitely recommend the Rainforest Music & Lights Deluxe Gym. Both of our children have loved playing with it. We’ve had it for just over 4 years, buying it in 2016 for my daughter, and my baby boy has also used it recently as he’s only a few months old.
I’d definitely recommend it, as it comes with lights and music, as well as toys to keep them entertained and to aid in their development. It doesn’t drain the batteries either as I haven’t changed them since my daughter started using it.
Here are a couple of other options with good customer feedback if you want another type of play gym, play mat or interlocking mat: