7 of the best sensory play mats for babies

90% of your baby’s brain development will have taken place by the time your child reaches three years old.

That’s remarkable, and probably a little bit scary if you’re a first-time parent. It can feel like you're under pressure to do everything to maximise those first 1000 days of your baby’s life and make sure you don’t screw anything up. 

"..the most rapid period of brain growth and its period of highest plasticity is in the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life." UNICEF

The truth is however, that most of our parenting instincts are great and when supplemented by what we pass on culturally, our little ones do pretty well. Playing with your baby, talking to them, laughing with them, getting them to repeat tricks (clapping, smiling, speaking) to others all puts your baby on a great path to developing into a happy, thriving child. You can be confident as a parent that what you do in love for your baby will benefit them massively as they grow up.

What is less well known, is that being a little more hands off, and encouraging your baby to figure more things out for themselves – giving them space to try, to fail, and ultimately to get it right – does them the world of good too. We can be so keen as parents to get involved, that we don’t pause and allow our kids the space to learn for themselves.

Finding opportunities to put your baby down and enjoy them learning and discovering the world around them with a little more space is good for them, and you! Baby’s learn so much from just looking at you and holding them and playing with them is critical to their success in life. But there are increasingly key points where distance helps them grow as well. Cuddles with relatives and friends for example, gives you a break as a parent, but it also helps your baby feel comfortable with change. Putting your baby down on a play mat for examples gives you the chance to do some chores, but it also gives your baby valuable tummy time and a chance to develop hand-eye coordination and start building their wider sensory awareness.

Tummy time is a great example of where the right support and tools for the job can be a big help in making you feel confident you can put your baby down safely creating the perfect space for your baby to reach new development milestones.

Read more about helping your baby reach physical development milestones

Why does tummy time matter?

tummy time helps baby reach development milestones

Tummy time was a response to the need for babies to spend time on their front, when awake, to compensate for the time they spent on their backs sleeping. Sleeping your baby on their back greatly reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and is therefore the default for your baby, certainly in the first 6 months of their life.

It means unless you’re deliberate about putting your baby down on their front throughout the day when they’re awake, they wont have the opportunity to build the neck and core strength they need to reach, roll, sit & crawl early in life.

Check out these development milestones for tummy time that your baby should be reaching

Being deliberate about putting your baby down on their tummy though is hard once they are a few months old. It’s so easy to put them back in their cot, on their back, staring at a mobile. But if you create the right space with a sensory play mat that engages them, you can build a great habit of putting your baby down on their front. 

Read more about why this led us to design the Heads Up tummy time sensory water play mat.

Sensory play mats your baby and toddler will love

Here's our ultimate guide to choosing the right play mat for your baby that will keep them engaged and help them develop physically.

Our favourite stylish play mats from Totter and Tumble

totter and tumble founder susie stubbs with their stylish soft play mats

Not strictly a sensory play mat – though they are super soft! – but these incredibly stylish range of mats from Totter + Tumble are amazing.

When we spoke to Totter + Tumble founder Susie Stubbs she told us they designed their mats specifically so that they were “Thick enough so [babies] cannot feel the floor underneath should they take a trip or tumble, but enough space on the one-piece design for freedom, so children can grow in confidence in all of their new skills.”

Their range of styles are incredible and it’s truly at the heart of their brand. As Susie puts it “if we don’t fall in love with the final design, it doesn’t go to market. We truly love our collection.”

Read the full interview with Susie about Totter + Tumble and explore their mats here.

A roll up 2-in-1 play mat

A travel ready play mat is a great addition to any travel kit you might take out with you. If you’re looking to put your baby down at a friend’s house or in the park, the Play & Go gives you confidence that they’ll be safe while keeping things hygienic as well. Plus you can stick your toys in it and it doubles up as a handy carrier too.

Explore Play & Go mats here

Black and white play mat for visual engagement 

While and Wonder have created a beautiful play mat that uses great contrasting black and white colour patterns to help encourage physical and visual development. Contrasting floating colour shapes against the sea theme background make it an ideal play mat to help encourage your baby’s tummy time.

Check out While and Wonder sensory black and white play mat here.

Soft tummy time mats

The ideal tummy time mat provides soft cushioning for your baby so they can be safe on their front. It should also offer support to help encourage your baby’s neck and head off the floor and finally give them great visual stimulation that keeps them engaged on their tummy for longer.

This range of sensory mats are great from Infantino. 

Or you can try these Fisher Price Tummy Time play mat

Water sensory play mats for better tummy time

Heads up sensory tummy time play mat

Our own Heads Up tummy time water play mat is designed to engage baby’s on their front for longer by combining safe, comfortable cushioning with sensory stimulation.

The black and white mat encourages visual development and floating shapes when the mat is filled with water encourage hand-eye coordination. 

Check out Heads Up 4-in-1 sensory water tummy time mat 

Prop and play seated support play mat

As your baby grows and is able to sit up with a little support, you might want to find alternatives to the tummy time mat. This baby seat from Nuby can work to support your baby on their front, but also prop them up safely in a sitting position as they get older. 

Explore Nuby sit up baby seat

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How to make tummy time more fun

Read how the Heads Up play mat we designed to make tummy time easier for our own babies could transform tummy time struggles in to sensory play joy!