All hail the baby play mat. Like the baby activity center, the the best baby play mats — also known baby play gyms or baby activity mats — are a parenting essential. It not only offers an array of sensory activities to encourage development and curiosity in babies, it’s also an excellent arena for the neck-strengthening, core-shaping workout called tummy time. And it’s one of the few toys that will grow along with your infant during their first year.
Another bonus: When your infant is on the mat, it buys parents a free moment to, you know, run to the bathroom, wipe down a cabinet, or just give their arms a rest. Because babies don’t have great vision until they’re about six months old, you want a play mat that is high-contrast to hold and keep their attention. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns can “see large shapes and faces, as well as bright colors,” while by three or four months, “babies can focus on a variety of smaller objects and tell the difference between colors.”
You want a mat that’s machine-washable, or at the very least, easy to clean. Crinkly fabrics that encourage sensory exploration are another solid feature. Some mats have lights and sounds. Others do not. It’s a matter of your preference (and tolerance).
The Best Baby Play Mats
This best-in-class play mat and baby gym has removable accessories for stage-based learning and five development zones for your baby, to keep him or her curious and engaged. This play mat and baby gym turns into a fort when your child outgrows it. But first, it was specifically designed and created to promote cognitive, visual, and motor development in newborns and older babies. It's machine-washable.
The high-contrast black and white pattern appeals to babies, and the eversible, multi-sensory activity mat features graphics that encourage visual development. The mat is 12 inches and has a hidden mirror for peek-a-boo, a teether, a squeaker, and crinkle paper for tactile stimulation.
If you'd rather have a play mat that blends with your home decor, meet the Cushmat. It's made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane, which is known for being flexible and durable) and is thick enough to cushion any falls. It does not have any hanging rattles or blinking lights, but it does give babies ample room to explore. Bonus: You can use baby wipes to clean it.
If you're averse to too many bells and whistles, but don't want anything overly plain, this play mat is a good compromise. The latex play mat has a dramatic street running through it, and as babies get older, they can work on their motor skills by pushing vehicles down it. It's waterproof and you wipe it to clean it. And it rolls up for convenient storage.
A perpetual crowdpleaser, this play mat has 17 developmental activities and 13 loops you can use to dangle baby toys; you can swap them out to keep things interesting. The color scheme is bright without being too offensive. And there's even a tummy time pillow because, you know, tummy time. Once you remove the mirror, it's machine-washable.
The cool thing about this mat is that it has two loops for attaching toys and pacifiers. Plus, you can unzip it to remove the two latex cushions. The brand has tons of different prints, and this mat is designed to let you to remove the cover and switch them out. The cover is machine-washable.
With this play mat, you get a tricked-out newborn gym with 10 toys and activities and a removable, take-along toucan with music and dancing lights. Babies can make the zebra clack, spin the snail's rollerball, or bat at the monkey and lion. It even plays music and nature sounds. It's machine-washable.
This play mat is actually three activity centers in one. It goes from a tummy time mat to a bolster pillow and mirror for overhead play to a ball pit. The toys can easily be moved around, and include a mirror, teether, and hanging rattles. It then transitions to a toddler ball pit.
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