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Best Baby Play Mats and Gyms for Tummy Time and Sensory Exploration | Time

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BY AMBER KATZ
UPDATED MARCH 25, 2024
Creating a stimulating and safe environment for your baby to explore helps foster their development. The ultimate playtime powerhouse for babies? Baby play mats and gyms! These engaging spaces provide a comfy place for tummy time, playtime, and sensory exploration during those precious first months.

Learning specialist Rebecca Mannis, PhD, says that “play mats and activity mats are examples of handy tools that engage kids and let parents bond with their children using safe, colorful, and sensory-rich items.” They help kids feel comfortable moving and starting to develop a sense of cause-effect. “Building language and strong relationships with their parents starts with infancy and enriching experiences with the world and people around them,” she adds. But with a vast array of options available, choosing the perfect one can feel overwhelming.

Our guide to the best baby mats and gyms shares expert insights, navigates the features and benefits, and offers things to consider when selecting the best play mat and gym for your little one. Let’s get into what’s great about these playtime powerhouses.

What to consider
The main considerations when shopping for a play mat or gym are quality and safety of materials, size, and ease of cleaning.

Quality and safety of materials
Board-certified pediatrician David Berger, MD, founder of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care and health education company Dr. David MD™, says that it’s good to ensure the surface and other elements themselves are free from toxic ingredients. “Many are made from PVC, EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), or polyurethane foams that contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and microplastics,” he explains. “Look for products made from natural rubber or organic cotton.”

Elina Furman, baby product expert and founder of baby massager Kahlmi says, “Preferably, the cover should be organic cotton and the insert must have EVA non-toxic foam, but I would be careful and make sure to ask for certifications to see if the foam was tested for other chemicals.”

Size
Size is an important factor when it comes to shopping for a play mat or play gym. “Do you want a big size to keep on the floor and that can be wiped down or something smaller that you can take with you while traveling?” Furman says to ask yourself.

Ease of cleaning
Large foam mats can only be spot cleaned, but Furman likes mats that have removable covers for easy laundering.