Playmats or baby gyms are amazing tools to stimulate your baby's senses, entertain them during play time and develop those all-important cognitive functions like logic, co-ordination and self-awareness.
Why are playmats good for babies?
- Learning about 'cause and effect' - Activity mats can help your baby from when they are first born. At around 6 weeks, they will help your baby start to develop 'cause and effect' as they realise if they push the toys on the hanging mobile, they will move.
- Developing your baby's vision - Your baby is born with pretty blurred vision, meaning they can only see a few inches in front of their face. As they grow, they'll start to take an interest in different shapes and colours, which means most playmats are designed with a variety of bright, eye catching toys for your baby to focus on.
- Developing grasping skills - You'll already have noticed your baby's grasping skills - reflexively grabbing onto anything in their palms. As your baby grows up, you'll notice your little one reaching and grasping at the toys hanging on the mobile, even if they aren't interested in them when you first introduce the mat.
- Developing self awareness - Another feature you'll spot on a lot of play gyms on this list is a small mirror. Your baby probably won't notice herself in the mirror until shes around four months old, when you might notice her starting to reach up at it. As she grows, your baby will interact more with her reflection in the mirror, making faces and smiling at herself.
- Developing motor skills - Stimulating toys from activity gyms are great for your baby's development, but also for use during tummy time. You should always use a playmat or blanket for tummy time, not a sofa or raised surface. Tummy time is important for helping your baby develop those all important fine motor skills. Lie with your baby and encourage her too look up at you, or the toys hanging over the mat.
What is the best baby playmat for my baby?
With plenty of different options available, finding the best baby playmat for you and your baby can be difficult, with we've done some research to help you choose.
This baby playmat might be one of the more expensive mats on the market, but it grows with your baby, making it worth it's price tag. The gym can be folded into a seated activity centre that includes a fun ball game, and a standing toy once your tot is old enough. With plenty of interactive toys dangling down, a wipe clean mat and a tummy time cushion, our panel of mum testers loved how soft this playmat was compared to others on the market.
By far one of the most popular baby gyms on the market, this musical mat helps your baby through several developmental milestones including lay and play, tummy time and sitting up. The dangling toys help develop self-awareness and hand-eye coordination, whilst the mat also helps develop motor skills through kicking and reaching for the piano keys. The musical effects also help your baby understand cause and effect.
This adorable activity mat might be on the expensive side, but it sure has the reviews to prove it's worth. Parents love how creative the gym is, with firefly's that light up upon touching and an adorable wigwam design that you won't mind leaving out in the nursery. It will aid your babies through all their major milestones from lay and play to sitting up with more than 17 developmental activities. Easily assembled and taken down for cleaning, it's a great gift to add to your baby wishlist.
The best baby playmat to aid sitting up over £50: Mothercare My Little Garden Deluxe Playmat & Arch, £55, mothercare.com
This adorable playmat is not only super soft and cuddly, it comes with two activity arches and four toys that encourage cognitive and physical development through stimulating your little one's motor skills, hand-eye coordination and self-awareness. Great for lying and tummy time, it's suitable from birth and is completely machine washable.
This more affordable play mat is super soft and plush, perfect for six months plus as it primarily helps your little one sit up! It comes with attachment loops so toys can be changed to keep your baby interested. One added bonus? It's inflatable, so is easily deflated for transportation. It also has a cute baby-proof mirror for peek-a-boo.
With a cute whale prop for tummy time, this nautical playmat will last you through till your baby is ready to sit up. The overhead arch includes rattles, teethers, flashcards and a bead chaser. It also includes a 3-in-1 starfish toy which plays classic melodies and lights up for 20 minutes. The starfish can even be attached to your crib or carrier to keep your little one entertained on-the-go.
The best baby playmat with on-the-go accessories: Lamaze Freddie the Firefly Baby Gym Playmat, £29.99, Amazon
A cute baby gym from a brand you can trust - Freddie the Firefly from Lamaze featured on our best baby toy list, and this mat is just as great. Packed with different features to aid your baby's development, the 3-in-1 gym is not only great for tummy time, it comes with three different toys that can easily be clipped off for on-the-go fun. We're huge fans of this bright baby gym, and our panel of mum testers loved the large discovery mirror.
The best baby playmat for longevity: Bright Starts 5 in 1 Activity Play Gym & Ball Pit, £79.99, Amazon
Adjustable walls act as a barrier during play time - a great option if you're worried about those balls flying all round the living room, or your baby moving too much during tummy time. It could even be used as a ball pit for a toddler, lasting you through many developmental years. This gym includes an electric toucan that plays over 20 minutes of melodies, a soft elephant and a monkey bead chaser. With jungle-themed toys and leaf-shaped teethers, this play gym has more than you can ever ask for.
If you're looking for a playmat for on-the-go, this is a great choice, as it deflates for easy transportation. Your baby will look so cute and snuggly inside this multi-sensory play gym. Giving them a relaxing place to lie or sit this soft, inflatable ring includes four toys and eight activities around the nest for your baby to interact with. Focusing on improving hand-eye coordination and manipulative skills, it will help cognitive and physical development.
Suitable from birth, your little one will love this activity mat. Designed to facilitate tummy time, the gently rotating lady bug strengthens your baby's core while stimulating them with squeaky, crinkly toys. The spinner is removable, so the gym can be used once they can sit up too. This gym promotes more exercise than other play mats, making it a great help for physical development.