Whether you call it a play mat, play gym, activity mat or activity gym, they all serve the same purpose – to provide a fun spot for a baby to chill or play. There will come a time when your little ones will be ready to move past your arms and will need more than skin-to-skin time, swaddling and rocking.

And this is why many parents swear by their play mats and gyms as the entertainment centre for their young ones at home, especially between feeds, numerous nappy changes and naps.

Although safe to use from birth, babies from three to six months old love play mats and gyms the most. This is the stage when they’re discovering their independence as well as developing their hand-eye coordination, grasping and reaching skills.

Buying one can be an absolute minefield. They come in different shapes, sizes, themes, and most come with a plethora of toys to help spark your tot’s imagination and aid their vital areas of development.

British nursery brand Mamas and Papas says: “Baby mats and play gyms are a great way to nudge along your little one’s development – encouraging their motor skills, helping with tummy time or simply providing support when they’re ready to sit up.”

With so many options, there are a lot of factors to consider before buying one. Should you get ones with a border? Music? Lights? Strong or muted colours?

We think it’s best to look for the one that suits your space, and that’s durable and versatile. Something portable is ideal if you’re constantly on the go. Look for a play mat and gym that can be used until your baby is eight or nine months old, as this is when they start to become more mobile.

With that being said, brands like Toddlekind and Cam Cam Copenhagen have come up with minimalist play mats that you can use even when your little ones get to toddler age.

The products we tested had a good range of features with an array of sensory extras – such as colours, textures and sounds – that will engage babies’ developing senses from birth and still be relevant as they learn to roll, sit up and crawl.

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The verdict: Play mats and gyms

The top spot goes to the Taf Toys musical newborn cosy gym for its looks, comfort factor and versatility. The Baby Einstein high contrast play mat comes in at a very close second because of price, design and longevity.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.