Playmats and baby gyms are like microwaves; if you’ve never had one, you know no different but once you’ve got one, you can’t live without it.
In all honesty, a blanket with some toys popped on top will do baby fine – developmentally and practically. But a baby gym does have those cool arms going over the top that hang toys, which dingle and dangle to baby’s endless amusement. Gyms and mats are also just so easy – they’re compact and ‘ready-made’, requiring minimum effort and space.
Also – pop baby on the play mat, make a quick trip to the loo or get the dinner started; babs will be so absorbed in the features around him (some baby gyms even come with lights, noises and music) that he won’t even know you’re missing (and don’t take offence, play mats are designed to entertain).
But what do the experts say: Dr Ari Brown, board certified paediatrician and author of Baby 411, says:
“There are no major developmental rules or advice that would suggest that babies should play with a playmat and that it will somehow be developmentally stimulating. They are convenient for parents to have a clean play space, so there’s that, but developmentally, not really a major advantage of one product over the other to keep a baby in a clean space and confine the drool.”
So, is a playmat an essential part of your baby’s life, wellbeing and development? No. Is it nice to have and will your baby enjoy using it? Yes.
(And just a quickie…I’ve used play mat and baby gym interchangeably; the main difference is that a gym has an activity arch and a mat doesn’t – essentially they perform the same function, which is to stimulate your baby.)
A really great article to read on what makes a good playmat is “The Best Playmat” on thenightlight.kinja.com by Maddie Heinen – who has researched more than 100 playmats to find the best one(s).