Cubby Nursery Awards 2024

We Asked 2 Pediatricians to Tell Us What Baby Activity Gym to Buy, and Their Top Pick Should Go Right on Your Baby Registry

published Mar 26, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

Parenting is hard, but discovering what baby essentials to buy shouldn’t be. If you’re looking for nursery ideas, you may be focused on pinning all the baby boy nursery ideas or baby girl nursery ideas you can find. But we know you’ve also got baby gear on the mind, like a baby activity gym! We spoke with two board-certified pediatric physicians to get expert advice on what to look for in a baby play mat or baby gym, as well as their specific recommendations. 

Why You Should Trust Us

This is a best list that comes with real chops. Cubby is helmed by a small yet vibrant team of design-savvy parents who are unusually invested in finding the best products for life at home with kids, beginning with the nursery. Faith Durand (SVP of Content at Apartment Therapy Media, two kids, pro pinner of all the things), Cambria Bold (Executive Editor of Cubby, two kids, hobby designer, avid product researcher), and Laura Schocker (Chief Content Officer at Apartment Therapy Media, one kid and one on the way, small-space/city-living expert) have 40 years of digital editorial experience between them. They’ve already read about, researched, and purchased many of the baby products that you, as a soon-to-be parent, are wondering about right now. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to know about what to get. 

If they don’t know the answer, they know plenty of people to ask — fellow editors, parenting experts, designers, and Cubby readers — so you can be sure that these recommendations come from real-life experiences.

Most importantly, we don’t just “office test” these products (read: order a bunch and shake ‘em around in our office “lab” with a fake baby doll) because that is helpful to approximately no one. The products we recommend here are ones we, fellow parents or trusted experts, have actually purchased and used for at least a few months (and sometimes way longer). The rave reviews are real.

How We Chose These Products

We spoke with two pediatric physicians and asked them for their recommendations on the best safe and stimulating baby play mats and baby gyms. We then took their recommendations and cross-checked them with the must-have baby gear recommendations readers shared in our Cubby Nursery Survey. If those products were either strongly recommended by our expert and/or personally used for a significant period of time (with positive results!) by a portion of our readers and the Cubby editors, it made it to this list!

Baby Play Mat FAQ

1. Why get a baby play mat or baby gym in the first place?

Babies love being held and cuddled, feeling safe and protected in their caregivers’ arms. But sometimes, those tired caregivers need a break, and when that happens, finding a way to keep baby engaged is essential. Enter: the play gym. Often the first “playground” a child encounters, baby gyms provide sensory stimulation and help facilitate bodily movement and awareness. An activity gym can be a great spot for babies to practice tummy time, begin grasping and understanding cause-and-effect relationships, and, most importantly, they can give caregivers some much-needed time to themselves while baby is busy exploring.

2. What are the top qualities to look for in a baby pay mat or baby gym?

“Every minute your baby is entertained and safe is precious — particularly when you are juggling multiple kids or tasks,” says Amy Baxter, MD, FAAP, FACEP, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Pain Care Labs. “For this reason, the more stimulation, the longer it will last before boredom sets in.” Baxter advises caregivers to look for a play gym with a multitude of activities and toys that are developmentally appropriate. Visually, she notes that red, black, and white patterns are easiest to see for children 0-6 months. Beyond that age, bright colors are most stimulating. 

Baxter also advises finding a play gym with multiple zones of play throughout the gym, extending the gym’s usefulness. For 6 to 12-month olds, she suggests finding a mat with attachments that allow the baby to move their own toys around. 

3. Which Is better: simple and wooden, or multisensory?

When it comes to deciding on a specific type of play gym — simple and wooden or multisensory — Krupa Playforth, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, mother, and the founder of The Pediatrician Mom, says there isn’t a “right” answer. “I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other, although on the whole I think play gyms provide a nice, easy and accessible way to offer stimulation to younger infants in a safe space that is not a ‘container,’ which is important.” 

Rather than obsessing over the small stuff, Playforth encourages caregivers to prioritize safety. “Will one form of play gym lead to a smarter baby? Highly doubtful!” says Playforth. “As long as the gym is made of safe materials, has no hazards, and offers a few different types of stimulation (in the form of colors, patterns, textures) then it’s likely going to be fine.” 

Credit: Love Every

The Best Wooden Baby Gym: The Lovevery Play Gym

A wooden play gym has the benefit of being durable and visually appealing. For its ability to grow with children, the Lovevery Play Gym is an excellent choice. It includes detachable, changeable toys for creating different experiences and keeping boredom at bay, and the five developmental zones encourage exploration and discovery. The double-sided cover has a high-contrast side that’s perfect for babies and provides a cozy fort-like environment for toddlers to enjoy. 

What Our Survey Parents Said About the Lovevery Play Gym

“I have raved about the Lovevery play gym. Our baby has been so alert, and there are many ways to play with her and engage her. I like that it is contributing to her development.”

“Loved the Lovevery play gym. Some of baby’s favorite toys were included, and she didn’t mind tummy time so much when using.”

“We have used this every day and she continues to enjoy it at 7 months old.”

“The baby loved [the Lovevery play gym] so much … and it becomes a tent when tummy time is over!”

“When our baby was little we loved the Lovevery play gym. She spent countless hours on that mat, rolling, turning around, and playing with the toys.”

What Our Editors Say About the Lovevery Play Gym

Apartment Therapy’s Chief Content Officer, Laura Schocker, says this about her Lovevery Play Gym: “There are definitely smaller play gyms out there that might be more practical for a small apartment, but I loved how pretty this one from Lovevery is. It’s not that easy to take up/down, but when we collapse it, we can store it under the couch. But I don’t mind having it up, and my daughter plays on it every day. She’s obsessed.”

The Best Multisensory Baby Play Mat: The Yookidoo Baby Gym Lay to Sit-Up Playmat

Both Dr. Baxter and Dr. Playforth note the need for stimulation to keep children occupied, and Dr. Baxter adds that the ability to change items will help increase the longevity of the playmat. For that reason, the Yookidoo Baby Gym Lay to Sit-Up Playmat is a great option. The cheerful play mat includes an assortment of developmentally appropriate activities and toys which can be moved around to create unique play opportunities. It also grows with children, transitioning to a chair for seated playtime when the baby is ready.

The Best Budget Baby Gym: The Infantino 4-in-1 Deluxe Twist & Fold Activity Gym & Play Mat

Dr. Baxter’s top pick for a play gym is the budget-friendly Infantino 4-in-1 Deluxe Baby Play Mat and Activity Gym. This affordable activity gym includes toys and a baby-safe mirror that clip on and can be moved around. There’s also a musical mobile to keep kiddos entertained and a bolster for supporting babies during tummy time. It’s also easy to transport from one spot to another, so you can entertain baby no matter where you are.

Stay tuned for more Cubby Nursery Award winners!