Best Baby Play Mats

Updated April 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

75 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
219 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best baby play mats

Last Updated April 2019

The reality of having a baby is that you can’t hold and entertain your child all the time. Setting your infant down on a safe, interactive baby play mat can be a real sanity-saver – not to mention free up your hands to make dinner or send that important work email.

Babies need a lot of stimulation. Their little brains are developing and so are their motor skills. Play mats provide a range of sensory experiences from sight to sound to touch. Most play mats come with dangling toys, lights, or mirrors that your baby can grasp to practice hand-eye coordination.

Especially if you’re a first-time parent, choosing a baby play mat from the dizzying array of choices can be overwhelming. Our guide has all you need to know about baby play mats before you buy.

Babies who are three to six months get the most enjoyment out of baby play mats, although they can be used by newborns and toddlers alike.

Types of baby play mats

Snap-together play mats

A basic play mat to cushion your child from hard flooring, a snap-together play mat has interlocking foam tiles that resemble large puzzle pieces. Each piece comes in a bright color or with fun image. These play mats are buildable, and you can cover quite a large surface area or just a corner of a room.

Activity gyms

Play mats are sometimes called play gyms or activity gyms. These mats have a hanging system on an arch or intersecting arches with suspended toys or other child-safe objects just in reach of tiny fingers. Plush or crinkly toys offer a variety of textures, and child-safe mirrors or light-up toys provide visual engagement. Babies can enjoy these features on their backs or sitting up.

Musical play mats

Some play gyms also offer a musical component, like a large-keyed piano that a toddler can bang on either with feet or hands. These pianos will also play tunes, and you may find your little one squawking gleefully along.

Tummy-time play mats

Most play mats have a brightly colored base with either patterns or images for visual engagement. Some are quilted or have sewn-in fabric animals to add texture and cushion. Placing your baby on her stomach will encourage her to build her head, neck, and trunk strength to prepare for crawling. Tummy-time play mats sometimes come with a special pillow for added support, which also relieves reflux-suffering babies.

Folding/travel play mats

Many play mats fold up for storage, but if you’re looking to travel with your baby’s play mat, either across town or across the world, look for one that comes with a sturdy travel bag.

Adaptable/transitioning play mats

Play mats with pop-up walls and fencing provide safety for your child as he transitions to crawling and toddlerhood. Other transitioning play mats may offer developmentally appropriate toys and features in an adaptable, three-in-one design.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

The dangling toys of baby play gyms are designed to develop your baby’s hand-eye coordination, which is especially important from three to six months.

Key considerations

Age

A baby can enjoy a play mat from birth through toddlerhood. There are certain features, however, that are more age-appropriate than others. If your baby is three to six months, a mat with tummy-time features is desirable until your baby can turn over on her own. At that point, a mat with a hanging system of toys will be more fun for her. Once she starts crawling, a mat with walls will keep your toddler contained in one fun-filled area.

Material

Play mats have either fabric or foam bases. Look for foam that’s non-toxic – free from chemicals like BPA, PVC, and phthalates as well as latex and lead. Cloth play mats are commonly made from polyester and may also contain harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is the safest play mat material. Some mats are thinner than others, so if you’re placing the mat on a hardwood floor, select a fabric mat with cushion or padding.

Size and shape

Play mats are generally rectangular or oblong ovals. Play mats with activity gyms tend to be smaller, only two or three feet long with a slightly shorter width. The largest play mats are foam, and a snap-together play mat can be custom-sized for a desired area.

Portability

Not all play mats fold up, especially those with arches. If you want to take your baby’s play mat on the go (or want a mat that takes up less space in a closet), choose one that folds up flat. For traveling, choose a play mat that comes with a travel bag or carrying case.

EXPERT TIP

Tummy-time baby play mats strengthen specific muscle groups your baby needs to be able to roll over and crawl. They also keep babies’ heads from flattening in the back from spending too long on their backs.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Reversible

Reversible play mats are generally fabric and have different patterns on each side to add variety.

Add-on toys

Add-on toys attach to an arch or intersecting arches over the play mat at different heights. These toys are either plastic or fabric, or a combo of both, and tend to be brightly colored. Fabric toys are often crinkly or squishy for when your child is old enough to sit up and touch them. Mirrors and light-up toys are popular attachments as well.

Easy cleanup

Machine-washable play mats make cleanup easy because you can pop them into the washing machine after a mess or spill. Waterproof play mats make it easy to wipe up spills and accidents.

Theme

Many baby play mats are themed. Ocean, zoo, and safari themes are just a few examples of a wide range of themed images and toys.

 

Price

For an entry-level activity play mat, expect to pay around $24. Foam tile mats start at $14 and go up to $40.

Mid-range activity play mats, including musical ones, range from $40 to $60.

A state-of-the-art play mat made from quality materials or a transitioning three-in-one play mat can be purchased for between $60 and $100.

Play mats exceeding $100 tend to be from luxury, eco-friendly lines. These extra-large, rug-like mats typically don’t come with activity gyms or toys.

Crinkle toys that dangle within arm’s reach from a baby play mat’s hanging system provide both texture and sound that’s stimulating to your child.

Tips

  • Never leave your child unattended on a baby play mat.
  • Select a non-slip baby play mat if you’ll be placing the mat on a hardwood or tile floor.
  • Be aware that a baby play mat with flame retardant contains chemicals that are harmful to little ones.
  • Bringing a baby play mat with you when you travel will ensure your baby has a clean, safe space to lie on.

Other products we considered

An affordable and unique transitional play mat, the Infantino 3-in-1 Grow with Me Activity Gym and Ball Pit provides three ways for your growing baby to play. Lay your itty-bitty baby on his back so he can visually enjoy a plethora of hanging toys above. When it’s time to sit, a pop-up ball pit will keep him safe and stimulated with grabable overhead toys. For the busy toddler, fill the fenced-in area with the balls stored in the turtle’s head. A non-toxic foam play mat we love is the Wee Giggles Play Mat for Infants, which is buildable not only across your floor but also vertically. It’s puzzle-like pieces can create a walled-in area for your crawling tot. For tummy time, the tiles’ animal images and other shapes will keep your baby visually stimulated. Parents will appreciate how easy the foam material is to wipe clean and that it contains no harmful chemicals.

 

Baby play mats offer an array of visuals, sounds, and textures to keep your baby both entertained and developing.

FAQ

Q. How is a play mat better than a bouncer or a swing to keep my baby occupied?
A.
While bouncers and swings are great ways to keep your baby happy and keep your hands free to get some work done, they don’t offer the variety of stimuli that baby play mats do. Baby activity mats offer more toys and also more visual stimulation, both above and below, than a swing, which might come with a couple toys, if any. Play mats tend to be more interactive, developing your child’s important motor and hand-eye coordination skills. Tummy-time mats also offers an important strengthening component that swings and bouncers don’t.

Q. What’s the difference between a play mat, a play gym, and an activity mat?
A.
Strictly speaking, a play mat is just the foam or cloth surface you lay on the ground. It is designed to be visually stimulating for a baby. A play gym is the mat plus an overarching system of dangling toys or toys attached to other parts of the mat. Play gyms will encourage babies or toddlers to work their developing muscles by reaching or kicking toys. An activity mat is a fabric mat with animals or flowers sewn into it that may squeak or crinkle or provide other sensory experiences other than sight.

 

 

 

The team that worked on this review
  • Ana
    Ana
    Writer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katherine
    Katherine
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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