The decision of whether to invest in a good quality play mat for your newborn is a common dilemma for many parents. While it might seem like a simple accessory, is it really worth the investment? Does it really matter? Aren't all playmats the same?
Do I really need to add a play mat to my list of essentials for my baby?
Factors to consider when deciding on a play mat
A play mat is often the first playground for babies to explore and achieve early developmental milestones since infants spend a large amount of their time playing on the ground. Though alternatives such as blankets, pillows, mattresses or beds have been used as play spaces instead of a play mat, they may not be the ideal surface for babies, particularly for tummy time.
While a play mat is not compulsory for every family, it is definitely beneficial and highly recommended to get one, especially in anticipation of a newborn
#1 Achieve early developmental milestones
One of the key benefits of a play mat is that it provides a safe surface for many early developmental milestone exercises. An example of such exercise would be tummy time - shown to be beneficial not only for gross motor development, but also in fine motor skills, cognition and social development in babies. Apart from developmental benefits, more tummy time can also help to prevent abnormal head shape (termed “plagiocephaly” and “brachycephaly”, also known as flat head syndrome).
Studies have shown that 30 minutes of tummy time in divided sessions in a day is recommended to optimize healthy growth and development. Tummy time involves babies being on their tummies when they’re awake (prone position as the name suggests) for a range of activities with the aim of strengthening core muscles such as head and neck control. This is best done on a firm surface like a foam play mat. Doing it directly on the floor might risk head injuries in babies while a soft surface (i.e: bed/mattress/blankets) may not be safe for tummy time due to risk of suffocation and inadequate support.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommends starting supervised tummy time as early as newborn days. Hence getting a play mat to facilitate safe tummy time should ideally be part of the newborn preparation.
#2 Protection for your tots
With padded play mats, your little ones can explore and play safely within the large mat space. Keep their heads, knees and hands protected from injuries as they learn to crawl and walk. Witness your child’s first steps of independence with ease of mind knowing that the play mat will cushion their stumbles and falls.
#3 Stimulation and Development
Many play mats come with colorful patterns, textures, and toys that can stimulate your baby's senses and encourage their early development. These visual and tactile stimuli can help with sensory exploration and cognitive development.
Or you might need a minimalist design, that help to reduce sensory overload in babies.
Whatever is your choice, find the perfect play mat for your baby.
#4 Bonding and interaction
The playmat is the perfect place for you to get down to your bub’s level and interact. Getting down to your child’s level creates better eye contact, hence better engagement and bonding. Even a simple routine such as changing diapers on the mat or baby massage can make such great bonding moments.
#5 Not just for babies
A good quality play mat can last you and your family for years, way beyond infancy. As your child grows, the type of play evolves but rest assured, the play mat provides a consistent safe ground for many of the play activities throughout childhood. From messy play, sensory play to imaginative play during toddlerhood - play mats are great to contain these activities within an area on the mat minimizing mess to other areas. Older children can play rough, roll and tumble safely on the play mat. In fact, create an indoor gym for children using the play mat as a base to ensure a safe play space.
#6 Multifunctional for the whole family
A play mat can be used for many family bonding activities such as story time, playing board games on the mat and even nap time on the play mat! It can also double as a yoga or exercise mat at home, especially for expecting moms or postnatal mommas. More of an outdoor person or an outgoing family? No worries, a play mat can also be brought outdoors for picnics and camping trips. Truly, the play mat is for the whole family!
Babies spend a significant amount of time on the floor, especially during tummy time and play sessions. A high-quality play mat can be easy to clean, which is important for maintaining a clean and hygienic environment for your baby to play in.
#8 Design and Aesthetics
Play mats come in various designs, colors, and patterns. Choosing a play mat that matches your home decor or personal preferences can make it a more visually pleasing addition to your living space. Picking a minimalistic design reduces sensory overload for the baby. So choose with care.
All play mats are not the same
Now that we’ve established the many reasons why you need a play mat in your home, the next commonly asked question would be - “Aren’t all play mats the same and does it matter?”
Different materials used in play mats have distinct qualities that can influence their performance. A cotton / cloth playmat although non toxic, may not provide enough grip for babies learning to crawl and walk due to its slippery surface and has limited padding to cushion falls. While cotton is machine washable, it is tedious to clean spills on it. PVC (polyvinylchloride), a commonly used material in pipes and cables and is known to contain phthalates which can be toxic to child’s health. On the other hand, a rubber play mat material being fully organic, would not be suitable for our hot and humid tropical weather as it tends to get sticky after a long use coupled with sweat. Hence, not all playmats are the same and material does matter.
Play mats that have been certified according to recognized safety standards like the European EN71 and CSPIA USA toy standards can provide parents with confidence that the products they are using are safe for their children.
While a good quality play mat offers many benefits, it's important to note that every family's needs and preferences vary. Some parents might find alternative solutions that work well for them, such as using blankets or rugs. Ultimately, the decision to invest in a play mat should take into account your budget, lifestyle, and priorities.
If you're unsure whether to invest in a play mat, you might consider starting with a basic one and upgrading as you see how much use your baby gets out of it. You could also ask for recommendations from other parents and read reviews to get an idea of which play mats are highly regarded by other caregivers.
Written with the help of GingerBubs
Founded by a mother of two cheeky tots, GingerBubs is a Malaysian based brand aspiring to bring you quality children products that are safe and functional while complementing the aesthetics of your home.
The use of PU foam in GingerBubs play mats are commonly used in baby car seats and strollers- non toxic, non allergic and non dust trapping. The PU foam material provides a balance of support, cushioning, and durability. Yes, the play mats have also been certified as safe for babies
We understand that parenthood is never an easy journey, GingerBubs play mat is made affordable for parents and comes in minimalist dual designs to complement the aesthetics of your living space without compromising your style.
The minimalist designs also serve to reduce sensory overload in babies.
*All photos shown are taken with consent.