Do you need a baby playmat or play gym?


Do you need a playmat?

Does your baby really need a play mat or play gym? Maybe not! Likely you already own easy playmat alternatives that will work great for your baby.

Sometimes being a minimalist with your baby stuff works out great. And other times, your baby ends up rolled up in a blanket on the floor crying when you tried to make do without a traditional baby playmat or play gym.

Clearly, I never really watched a baby flail their body around when I thought a blanket was a sufficient alternative to a playmat.  Even in the early newborn, potato phase, babies wiggle around a lot and blankets easily get bunched up.

So did I really need a baby playmat or play gym to solve this problem? First let’s go over playmats and play gym basics:

What is a baby playmat or play gym?

Playmats and play gyms are floor coverings used for a play space for babies that provide cushioning (and sometimes sensory stimulation). They are a great place to place your baby so they can work on their motor skills, while you enjoy a minute not holding a baby.

Playmats provide cushioning and are made of easy-to-clean material so you can easily wipe away baby puke etc. Examples: Ruggish Play Rug and Skip Hop Play Mat.

Play gyms are a step up from play mats and include overhead bars for dangling toys. They may also include floor-level toys or activities. Examples: Lovevery Play Gym and Infantino Learning Gym.

When can you use a baby playmat?

We started using our play gym within a couple hours of bringing our baby home from the hospital. While newborns won’t appreciate the dangling toys or sensory elements, playmats are easy places to practice tummy time. Starting around 3 months, babies will start to notice the toy stimulation too.

How long you use your playmat will partly depend on your baby and partly depend on what mat you buy. A simple playmat that provides cushioning on the floor, like foam tiles or bigger cushioned rug mats, can be useful well into toddlerdom. Some play gyms, like the Lovevery gym, are designed to grow with your baby. Most standard play gyms will probably see less use once babies start crawling.

Pros of Playmats & Play Gyms

  • Safe and easy place to put your baby
  • Added cushioning for babies developing motor skills and strength (e.g. tummy time)
  • Easy-to-clean surface, great for keeping baby puke off your floors
  • Stimulation for baby with colors, dangling toys, and textures
  • Comfort for you while sitting with baby

Cons of Playmats and Play Gyms

  • Take up space
  • One more piece of baby gear to buy
  • Possible gassing-off of foam or chemicals
  • Colors often not aesthetically pleasing
  • May have special cleaning instructions
  • Easy alternatives available

Easy Alternatives to Baby Play Mats

Many of the benefits of a playmat come from having your baby move freely on the floor. You likely have a number of things around the house that could double as a playmat or play space for your baby, such as:

  • Yoga mats
  • Rugs (preferably washable)
  • Blankets you can anchor with furniture or weight
  • Nugget Comfort Couch

I threw down a yoga mat one day on a whim — it was grippy, a little padded, easy to wipe down, quickly rolled out and folded up, and readily moved around the house. Most yoga mats are also machine washable, making them quick and easy to deep clean. Yoga mats are also cheaper, more portable, and have more function after baby than traditional playmats. Two side-by-side yoga mats became our go to play space.

So, do you really need a baby playmat?

You definitely don’t have to buy a baby playmat or play gym. If you have the space and the resources, playmats and play gyms can be great places to put your baby. However, many of the benefits of playmats can be achieved with alternative things you have around the house, like yoga mats or rugs.

When deciding whether to add a playmat to your baby registry, consider the following:

  1. Do you have space for a play gym or play mat?
  2. Will a play mat provide enough value to justify the cost?
  3. Do you want a playmat sitting out all the time?
  4. How long will my baby use it?

For me, we gave away the play gym we had almost immediately because it took up space and was hard to store in our small apartment. Plus our baby was just as mesmerized by our ceiling fan as the dangling toys.

Related Post: Do You Really Need a Bassinet?

Once our baby was older, I actually saw more value in a playmat and recently got a big cushioned mat for our toddler’s room. It provides padding as he tumbles around and it is more comfortable for me to sit on the floor with him (sometimes I even use it as an exercise mat). While I really love having our Ruggish playmat, I consider it a “nice to have” item and definitely not a baby essential.

And if you’re wondering what other baby gear you can skip, check out my “do you really need a…” series:

About the Author

Elizabeth Jon is a Ph.D. researcher whose work focuses on pregnancy and education. At Shoestring Baby, she uses her skills to research baby name trends, in-depth baby gear reviews & money savings ideas for parents.

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