Babies are so fun and cuddly to hold, but at some point, you have to set them down!
The problem is, you’re not sure if they need a special chair or mat to lay on.
There’s a myriad of baby chairs, rockers, and seats you could choose from, but the good ol’ fashioned floor is perfectly fine for all babies.
Not only that, it’s developmentally much better and safer to have your baby lay, roll, and scoot around on the floor than it is to strap them into a seat.
With that being said, do you need to buy a special baby mat to lay your baby down?
What’s the difference between a baby play mat vs the rug vs a hardwood floor?
Baby play mats — while adorable and extremely helpful — are not a required item to purchase for your baby. Carpets and rugs are just fine if kept clean, and hardwood floors will work in a pinch (if you supervise carefully) but might be a little uncomfortable for your baby.
Let’s talk a little more about the right play surface for your baby.
Baby Play Mats Explained
Baby play mats are specifically designed mats that lay on the floor made just for your baby to play, lay, roll, and sit on.
They are usually made of some material that’s easily wiped off or washable, like XPE or other types of foam.
Thank goodness, because we all know how messy babies can be!
There are about as many play mats out there as there are meals you serve your child in a lifetime.
They range from the minimalist: one single, flat mat with no frills, to the extravagant: a mat that’s attached to a super-gym meant to keep your baby entertained for longer periods of time.
Then, there are colorful tile-type mats you can piece together like a puzzle in your baby’s room to add to the decor.
The most simple mats will be your one-piece mats and tile mats. These can cost anywhere from $10 to $30 dollars.
The mats attached to gyms with toys hanging down will be more expensive, upwards of $50 to over $100, depending on what you get.
Even some more simple one-piece mats can be expensive if they are a designer brand, but they often compliment your home’s decor much more than your average baby accessories.
Pros and Cons of a Play Mat
- It’s a flexible and dedicated play space for your baby. It doesn’t matter if your floors are hard, soft, or dirty, you can lay a play mat down anywhere and instantly have a clean and comfy place for your baby to play on. Some parents even train their babies to stay on the mat to keep them out of trouble.
- Often, they are washable. Most play mats are either machine washable if they are cloth or easily wipeable if they are foam.
- They keep your floor clean. Babies are known to spit up, blow out, and have leaky diapers on whatever they sit or lay on. A baby play mat keeps your floor or carpet clean from these messes.
- They offer your baby the cushion they need. A hard floor is fine for your baby to be on, but just like you would get a little uncomfortable on a hard floor after a while, they might too. Play mats offer a little cushion to keep your baby happy.
- Stylish mats can be expensive. When you would like to have a baby mat that doesn’t look so “babyish,” you likely have to pay more for that look. This may be worth it to you, but if you’re on a budget, it can be difficult to justify paying a large amount for a baby mat.
- They aren’t necessary. If you don’t have room or don’t want a play mat, you don’t need one. We’re going to talk more about that in the next sections.
Rugs and Carpets as a Play Surface Explained
You don’t have to buy a play mat for your baby to lay on.
A rug that you already have or your existing carpet will work just fine.
Rugs and carpets make great spots for babies to play on. The cushioning effect of rugs and carpets is perfect on babies’ little bones as they learn to roll, scoot, and crawl around.
A blanket laid down on top of the rug keeps any dirt or dust from bothering your baby and can help keep the baby’s messes off of the carpet.
However, a blanket-shield doesn’t always work to keep your carpet clean, depending on the size of the mess and how much your baby moves around.
Laying your baby on your carpet or rug might not be preferable if you don’t want any mess on the surface of your rug or carpet. In this case, it’s best to get a rug that you don’t care as much about or invest in a play mat.
If you don’t care about this, though, it’s a cheap and easy solution to just use what you have already.
Of course, you’ll want to keep your rug clean of debris with regular vacuuming!
At a certain age, babies will pick up EVERYTHING and put it directly into their mouths.
Pros and Cons of Rugs for Babies
- It’s cheap or free. You don’t have to buy anything special for your baby to lay on. If you have a rug or carpeted floors already, you’re all set.
- It offers some extra cushion for comfort. In contrast to hardwood floors, carpets give babies some cushion when they’re practicing their new moves on the floor.
- Messes can be hard to clean up. If you put a baby on your carpet or rug, eventually there will be a baby-related mess on it. Baby mats can usually be wiped clean; carpets or rugs will require some extra work to clean up.
- Rugs and carpet can hold dirt and debris. Keep them clean and tidy if you want baby to play safely on your carpets.
Hardwood Floors as a Play Surface Explained
Many parents worry about their baby crawling or walking on hardwood floors.
Wooden floors are, well, hard. And when baby first learns to crawl and scoot, he or she is going to fall over a lot.
Just know that with proper supervision (making sure you’re close by in order to catch baby if he falls), playing on the hardwood is perfectly fine.
That phase won’t last long — pretty soon baby will be crawling without toppling over and won’t need such a watchful eye.
The hard floor could feel a little cold for your baby at times. Depending on the season, this could feel nice for your baby or not so nice.
Babies all over the world lay on hard floors on occasion.
That’s because in some parts of the world it’s impractical to have carpets, like in hot, tropical climates.
Hardwood floors in particular are the easiest to clean among carpets and play mats. All you have to do is wipe them up!
If you want to, lay a thicker blanket (like a quilt) down on top of a hardwood floor to give your baby a little more cushion or protection from cold
Pros and Cons of Hardwood Floors for Babies
- Messes are easy to clean. Whenever a mess happens, it’s fast and easy to clean up. Plus, you don’t have to worry about stains.
- It’s convenient. If a hardwood floor is what you have already, it’s the easiest solution to put your baby down on the hardwood floor. There’s no need to buy anything special.
- They can be a little uncomfortable for a baby. Hardwood floors are, well, hard. They can be cold sometimes, too. One rule of thumb to go by is this: if your baby isn’t tolerating the floor well, start some trial and error by putting a blanket down and see if it helps.
- Babies who topple over need tight supervision. Crawling around on the floor is perfectly fine for their bones and development, just watch out for falls if your baby is new to sitting up on his own.
Baby play mats are another wonderful invention in the baby gear world.
They can keep your floors clean, provide the right comfort for your baby to lay and play on, and conveniently keep your baby entertained if a gym is attached.
If you don’t have space or money for one, though, the bare floor (carpeted or not) or a baby blanket laid on the floor will serve the same purpose.
Before you go, check out some other comparisons like:
- Bottle warmer vs hot water vs microwave
- Bottle sterilizer vs dishwasher vs hand washing
- Binky vs pacifier explained
Hope this helps!