When Should Babies Start Using A Play Mat?

baby on a colorful play mat

When your baby isn’t sleeping, feeding or having their diaper changed, they will want to spend time with mum or dad. However, while this is great and the perfect way to bond with your baby, you will definitely need some time to yourself (or you will start going a little crazy!). Even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes so you can sit down and have a cup of tea.

One worthwhile purchase to keep your little one entertained and to encourage their development, is to purchase a baby play mat. Although they are fine for newborns to use, the best time to start is around 3 months of age. This is when babies will appreciate all the dangly toys, sounds and lights that may come with the play mat so it can hold their attention for longer. Let’s take a look at this topic in more detail.

What is a play mat?

A play mat is essentially a surface where your baby can play on.

  • You can get play gyms which have a bar hanging over the mat with toys for your baby to play with, as well as lights and music.
  • You can also get interlocking mats which have pieces you can attach together like a jigsaw so you can choose the size of the play area.
  • Finally, you can have just a simple padded play mat for your baby to play on.

When can your baby start using one?

Most play mats are suitable for your little one from birth. However, their eyesight is still a little weaker so they’ll only be able to focus on toys very close to them. Overall the best age for using a play mat is between 3-6 months, as that’s when your baby can interact with everything really well. Their hand-eye coordination is developing so they love playing with dangling toys if you have a play gym.

However, once your baby starts crawling the thrill of using a play mat will quickly disappear as your baby will want to start exploring other parts of your home. Make sure you’re ready for this moment!

rainforest jungle play mat
We used this jungle play gym for both my kids when they were babies. It had toys, lights and music. Highly recommended.

Are baby play mats necessary?

Although they are not an essential purchase like a stroller, bassinet or car seat, baby play mats play an important role in your child’s development. They can encourage your baby to explore their surroundings, develop their gross and fine-motor skills by moving, rolling over and grabbing toys. They are also a welcome distraction for parents if you want to have a few minutes to yourself!

What are the benefits of using a baby play mat?

Here are some of the pros of using a baby play mat or gym:

  • A safe space to play in. You can let your baby explore and have fun, keeping them away from hard surfaces, or other hazards.
  • Develop fine-motor skills. Babies love grabbing things all the time and it’s an important stage of their development. Those dangling toys on the play mat will come in handy.
  • Develop gross-motor skills. You need to encourage your baby to be on the tummy, as well as learning how to roll over from being on their back. A play mat can help your baby build up their muscles in their neck, shoulders and back.
  • They’re convenient and portable. You can easily take a play mat, fold it up, and move it to a different room, or take it with you if you’re visiting a friend.
  • Develop their senses. The bright colours, sounds and music which come with some play mats can stimulate and help the cognitive development of your baby.

What should you look if you want to purchase one?

  • Easy to clean. It’s inevitable that your mat will pick up bits of baby drool, regurgitated milk and other stains. Choose a play mat that is easy to clean, and ideally waterproof.
  • Made from non-toxic material. If you can, opt for a play mat which is free from PVC, BPA, formamide and other chemicals. If you want a truly eco-friendly option, there are a number of organic play mats which are made from cotton, cork and/or bamboo.
  • Easy to fold up. You want something which you can transport easily to another part of your house, or possibly take with you in the car.
  • Size. Make sure you measure the space in your room first so you can see if a play mat will fit ok. Once you know the dimensions, try and get the biggest one you can comfortably fit in the room. Babies grow quickly in the first few months and want to move, roll over and explore. If you buy a play mat which is too small, they will soon outgrow it and want something else instead!
  • Thickness. The thickness you’ll need for a play mat largely depends on the floor surface. For a wooden floor, you’ll probably want something thicker, where as if it’s on carpet it doesn’t matter a great deal. Try to choose something that’s at least around half an inch.
  • Safety. Obviously you should check whether the play mat is safe for your baby and the product has passed all the necessary rules and regulations. Check for any product recalls as there might have been an issue with a previous product from a manufacturer you are considering to buy from.

How long can you leave a baby on a play mat?

All children are different. Some might be entertained for 5 minutes, while others may enjoy using one for up to 30 minutes. They’ll let you know when they’re bored! However, just be aware of the importance of tummy time. You want to encourage your baby to build their neck, back and head strength by putting them on their tummy from time to time during the day. You might start with just 1-2 minutes for newborns a few times a day, eventually working up to 10-15 minutes in one go for older babies.


For my wife and I, we would definitely recommend buying a play mat. Although it’s not an essential purchase, it definitely gave us a few minutes peace several times a day when our children were babies. It’s up to you what features you need, but the dangly toys are probably the most useful as they seemed to really hold the attention of both our kids. The lights and music are nice additions but if you’re on a budget, a cheaper play mat will probably do the job just fine.