A baby play gym? Add it to the must-have list (aka, your Amazon baby shower registry) — it’s another baby gear item you’ll want to have on hand for your beloved newborn. In case you’re wondering, a baby play gym is not a place for your sweetheart to pump iron, although they will end up working those core muscles (and more). Its purpose is to give Baby a safe, comfy, and fun place to begin playing and learning with easy-to-reach toys that they can grasp while lying on their stomach or back. This also helps them stay entertained during tummy time, which gives them an actual workout as they build muscles, learn to hold up their heads, and eventually prop themselves up.
Do babies need a play gym?
Dr. Brita DeStefano is a Pediatric Physical Therapist, founder of Progress Through Play, and a mama of two. According to her, baby play gyms offer a padded space for babies to explore on the ground from newborn through sitting stages. In short: baby play gyms are a great thing to have! “Babies build motor skills through free movement on the floor and it is important to prioritize giving them ample playtime on their backs, laying on their sides and on their tummies,” she says. “Play gyms are a great way to keep baby engaged during their floor time.”
And the benefits aren’t just revolved around tummy time. “The overhead toys are perfect for encouraging baby to reach and grasp toys around 3-4 months old. They can also be used to promote baby lifting their feet up in the air to kick at them around 4-6 months,” Dr. DeStefano added.
So, are baby play gyms an absolute essential? Not necessarily … you can make a DIY baby play gym by laying a blanket on the floor and offering some infant-safe toys. (Do NOT try to put a makeshift bar over their heads.) However, having an actual baby play gym will make your life SO much easier! It’s an all-in-one mat, overhead bar, and toy combo where babies can begin to learn and explore the world around them. It also gives you a place to put them down so you can be *hands-free* to fold the laundry.
How long should you leave your baby on a playmat?
There’s no limit to the time your baby spends on their baby play mat. “Babies can start off on the play gym from day 1 and can use it as long as they are happy and engaged. Focus on making sure you vary their positioning on the playmat each time you put them down,” Dr. DeStefano said.
Like with any workout routine, your baby will build strength over time. Start your LO off on their tummy for 30 seconds, then a minute or two, and gradually increase the time as they grow — you’ll also want to practice a few times a day. Ask your pediatrician for specifics for your babe’s development and age. And this probably goes without saying, but never leave your baby unattended.
As another rule of thumb, Dr. DeStafano advises parents to place their baby play gyms away from older siblings and pets to ensure the baby’s safety. “This may mean utilizing baby gates or putting the play gym inside of a play yard or pack n play,” she adds.
What should I look for in a play gym?
Dr. DeStefano advises parents to look for features that are the most engaging for babies. These things include mirror attachments, high contrast toys (in black, white, or red), different textures for sensory exploration, and an overhead bar that easily detaches or folds.
It’s also helpful to get a play gym that comes with a machine-washable mat. Consider whether portability is important or whether you plan on keeping it in the same spot in your home. Also, decide whether you’re looking for an option that does the job plain and simple, or will grow with your baby over the years, because many can be modified for different stages in development. Are you willing to spend $100+ or do you prefer to keep it under $40 bucks? Last is aesthetics: Are you looking for something sleek and simple to keep in your living room, or do you want all the bells and whistles to keep your sweetie happy, even if the bright colors clash with your decor? It’s all up to you!
What’s the best baby play gym?
Truth be told, there are a lot of great options out there. Some of Dr. DeStefano’s favorites include LOVEVERY Play Gym and Sassy Stages Developmental Gym. In case you want to see all the awesome options available online, we’ve gathered a few of the best based on reviews from happy parents … check ’em out below!
Best Baby Play Gyms
We know, we know—just what you need: a tent-turned-gym smack dab in the middle of your living room. If it keeps the kiddos quiet and entertained, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing?!? Perfect for the little ones (we’re talking 0-3 years), this grow-with-me playtime tent comes furnished with four plush toys and a mirrored mobile. As your bean sprout grows out of their infant years and into toddlerhood, this tent will adapt to BB’s needs. Though initially a lay and play gym, it can also be used for tummy time, crawling, and eventually pretend play.
Introducing the popular baby play gym that parents search for by name (yes, really!). Leave it to the brand that nurtures growing geniuses to deliver a full-sensory experience for Baby. This set features brightly-colored musical toys that light up and encourage learning. It comes with a machine-washable mat to keep your LO comfy while lying or sitting.
A dream come true for adventure babies! This adorable sloth-themed baby gym can be used for infant playtime or tummy time. Once your babe can sit up on their own, pop up the sides and fill it with balls — instant ball pit! This 4-in-1 play space will last through their toddler years.
Best Wooden Baby Play Gyms
This award-winning play gym is perfect for your little one. It’s made with safe and durable materials so you can relax while your baby plays and learns at the same time. It includes teething rings, mirror cards, common object cards, a contrast ball, and more — all easily removable so your baby can explore each one on their own.
Your BB will be ultra-comfy during tummy time on this Ingenuity play mat. What makes this an activity gym is the removable wooden toy bar attached. It features four hanging toys and a mirror. Not into the grey and green color? They’ve got a pink color combination that’s reversible too!
For minimalist mamas and their babies-in-training, this sleek, simple set is just the ticket. It comes with three removable toys, and of course, you can always add your own. It’s also accompanied by a cushy mat (made of machine-washable organic cotton) so Baby can explore their little world in total comfort. This is also a great portable option, whether you’re moving it from room to room or from your home to Grandma’s.
Best Baby Play Mat Gym
The more sights and sounds to occupy your toddler’s attention, the better, amirite?! This 4-in-1 Twist and Fold activity gym and play mat from Infantino is just the thing to take with you to Grandma and Grampa’s house (think: Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings galore). We kid you not: There’s even “monkey play” music to add to the excitement. Additional features include a peek-a-boo mirror, repositionable overhead sensory toys, and a playmat for tummy time.
When you get the Tiny Love Gymini Infant Activity Play Gym, you’ll get a lot for your money. It comes with 18 different developmental activities and toys, while the black and white design is aesthetically pleasing and won’t disrupt that home decor vision you have. The arches are adjustable, the toys are musical, and the playmat is extremely comfortable.
You had us at play piano gym and maracas. That and the fact that this deluxe kick and play gym from Fisher-Price has racked up over 21,000 ratings. Basically every mom’s seal of approval. Besides the detachable light-up keyboard, your little one will be able to rattle a pair of maracas and kick up a storm. Tummy time has officially never been more fun for baby… and Mama! The mat itself is machine-washable so you won’t have to lose your sh*t when there’s a colossal diaper explosion or green pea puree projectile to clean up.