Let’s explore any evidence behind play mat use, what you can use a play mat for at each stage and how it might be beneficial for baby’s development!
Tummy Time and Floor Time
The best use for a play mat in the early days is as a tummy time spot or just a safe spot to lay baby down on their back. A small play mat or a large one like the Wunderkids option which provides lots of cushion and support, are both options here depending on the space you have and your preference. I will mention, like I did in my recent instagram reel of the mat, that it folds up easily and can therefore be stored in between uses if you have a smaller home space like us.
Why is tummy time important?
If you talk to an expert – which in my eyes for this subject would be a pediatric physiotherapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT); and of course your paediatrician – you’ll soon hear about the benefits of tummy time. Tummy time helps to prevent positional plagiocephaly, which is a flat spot on the head due to baby being in the same position with pressure in the same area of the head too often. It also helps baby develop needed muscle strength to achieve future milestones like rolling, crawling, sitting and so on; and promotes motor skill development in general.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 2-3 rounds of tummy time per day for about 3-5 minutes to start. It is common for babies not to enjoy this – Safe to Sleep has some tummy time tips here and the AAP also recommends some play options during tummy time to keep baby entertained which can be found in detail here.
Beyond tummy time, it is also important to give baby just general floor time – especially as they grow. It allows them to explore their environment and learn about it, which aids in their development. It is also a big sensory experience. A play mat can provide a safe space for both these activities- just make sure both activities are always supervised by an adult.
Rolling and Sitting
As baby grows and develops, they will be able to do more things – this usually starts with rolling and then eventually moves into sitting up (usually between 4-6 months with support and 7-9 months without). Once again, having a play mat is great for these activities because it provides a softer surface for a baby who is learning to move.
I have found with both my kids (and most babies) that both these activities come with tumbles. Rolling can be surprisingly rough at times – especially when baby is first learning and maybe moves with too much force. It’s nice to provide them with a soft surface for this. If your baby is having a hard time with rolling – tummy time may be the answer and they may need more of it! A play mat is the perfect space for baby to practice and learn this skill. However – if you do have concerns about your baby’s development (ideally they should be rolling between 4-6 months), please see your paediatrician or family doctor, or a pediatric OT/PT for assessment.
Sitting is another one where baby takes some time to figure it out – they may fall over from a sitting position often in the early days. Having a play mat gave me comfort during this phase – because I knew they were usually landing on a softer surface. Once again – if baby is struggling to sit, tummy time helps with strengthening for this skill too. You can also support baby to sit comfortably on a play mat by either using a pillow behind them or sitting behind them yourself. If baby is not sitting by 9 months, see your healthcare professional.
After rolling (and usually after sitting) comes the crawl! What a fun stage for a first time parent to experience (but maybe not as fun for us 2+ time parents haha!!). This is a skill babies typically pick up around 7-9 months (it is a large range of time for most milestones, so don’t sweat it in the early period!). Whether baby is army crawling or reciprocal (knee) crawling a play mat continues to be a great option for comfort and safety. An added benefit to the Wunderkids mat is that it is very sturdy and supportive while being comfortable. It makes a great crawling surface, as you can see in my reel.
Tummy time continues to be important to encourage crawling. You can also try other encouragements like doing push up motions with baby on the play mat or show them how to rock on their knees. Our parent knees aren’t what they used to be – so doing this on a play mat has the added benefit of also being more comfortable for you!!
Bonus: Promote Sibling Play
An unexpected bonus of our play mat is that my toddler loves it too – even at almost 3 years old! It is a safe space for her to jump and play with her toys in comfort. It also allows her and her brother to play together (mostly happily) which I love to see. She always asks to put the mat down because she loves to play on it!