All parents only want the best for their child. As your baby moves up to the next development stage, you will increasingly find that a baby play mat would come in handy.
Be it from tummy time to play in general, a good play mat must provide a safe and comfortable spot for your little one to develop essential motor skills. However, many parents are often confused by the myriad of baby play mats to choose from and may end up picking one which is inferior or full of unknown chemicals.
This guide aims to help all parents – new & experienced, to pick the most suitable play mat for their child!
Have your measurements ready!
First and foremost, make sure you identify the size (available space) you have to lay out the play mat. Also to note, different activities (tummy time, rolling over, learning to seat, crawl, walk etc.) require different floor mat coverage. Therefore, it is ideal to get a sizeable play mat where your baby can comfortably roll on and eventually learn how to crawl and walk on safely.
Safety, Safety, Safety!
Moving on, the main consideration when getting a play mat would be how well it fares when it comes to safety – physical & material.
Thick or thin mat – which is the best? A question asked so many times with a simple answer.
Imagine this scenario: which is more painful – falling on a cushion mattress or a thin floor mat?
Thick mats are best for infants and toddlers as the thickness helps to cushion the impact of falling over when your little one starts to crawl, stand and walk. Thicker play mats usually have zippers which must be hidden away to prevent grazing against your little one’s delicate skin. Also, thicker play mats are also comfortable to nap on - which most daddies would agree!
Thin mats on the other hand are comfortable to walk and sit on which is suitable for older toddlers and kids inside a nursery or play area. The downside of a thin baby mat is that you cannot expect it to cushion impact when your baby falls.
Till date, The loud “thump” sound of a baby girl falling down, headfirst, when learning to crawl still rings vividly in one of our team member’s ears!
Nature of Materials Used
Now we move on to the most important aspect which many parents are unaware of. As your little one will be spending a large amount of time on the play mat, you have to consider material safety as such things could potentially put your child’s health at risk unknowingly as they grow older.
Generally, parents prefer water-proof baby play mat as it is easier to maintain and clean. Most waterproof baby play mats are made of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) or Thermoplastic Polyutherane (TPU).
Would choosing either one be fine then?
This is where you would need to exercise caution. Not all plastics are made equal. Each plastic type contains different types and amounts of chemical additives to achieve a certain desired level of comfort (hardness, softness, texture).
PVC- ‘POISON PLASTIC’?
Known as a human carcinogen, PVC is currently the third most commonly used synthetic plastic polymer and also coincidentally one of the most hazardous and toxic plastics (from production and even to disposal) around. Perhaps, this may already come as no surprise to you – recall the seemingly suspicious odour in which new PVC products give off and how the you are informed that the smell will be gone in a few days? Have you ever wondered where the smell came from?
Well, the hazardous nature of PVC stems from the fact that a large amount of dangerous chemical plasticizing additives (phthalates, dioxin, vinyl chloride etc.) are added during the production process. Over time, these chemicals additives could leach out or evaporate into the air (remember the pungent odour?), making it inevitable for the ones who are in frequent contact with the PVC product to breathe in or absorb these harmful substances via the skin.
Why are large amounts of chemical additives needed in PVC, you may ask?
Plasticizing additives like the infamous phthalates are added to soften PVC plastic to improve flexibility which is a must-have quality in foldable baby play mats. However at the same time, phthalates are also known to impair hormone functioning and cause other serious health and developmental implications.
Young children and babies in particular are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to falling ill from taking in and accumulating these toxic substances within their bodies at the early stages of developing.
Even disposing PVC has been proven to be highly problematic for the environment. Due to the high content of additives, PVC is the least recyclable of all plastics; it does not decompose when buried and harmful gases are emitted to the environment when PVC is incinerated.
Is TPU a SAFER ALTERNATIVE?
Given PVC’s bad reputation, it comes as no surprise that parents are turning to baby play mats made of TPU instead. For starters, TPU uses significantly lesser chemical plasticizing additives as compared to PVC.
One of the reasons why it is possible for TPU to not require as many chemical plasticizing additives is also due to its chemical structure; TPU’S chemical structure in general gives it more flexibility and durability compared to traditional PVC which is more rigid in nature. As such, without deliberate and extreme heating, it is unlikely TPU material will release toxic fumes to a degree PVC would have.
Another reason TPU is widely use is because it does not require phthalates. High exposure to phthalates has been associated with dire health problems such as liver problems and cancer.
Therefore, Healthcare / Medical grade TPU is seen as a safer material as it avoids the risk of unbounded softening agent (phthalates molecules) from transferring into the patient’s bloodstream.
TPU is also friendlier to the environment due to its biodegradable characteristics which further reinforces why TPU have overtaken PVC.
Due to TPU characteristics, it is increasingly being used in the production of medical applications such as medical tubing and oxygen masks as such consumables cannot be re-used. The biodegradable characteristic make TPU less damaging to the environment when disposed responsibly.
Material Safety – Most IMPORTANT Aspect of a Baby Play Mat
Bumps & knocks will go away after a while and can be prevented with better protection, however the use of inferior materials has long-term effects which the naked eyes cannot see immediately.
There are many types of baby play mat, gym activity mat and baby floor mats to choose from and every mat serve its own purpose. Adertek Baby & Kids places a high importance on Material safety across all our infant & toddler products for 3 simple reasons:
- Our products will be in contact with the baby DAILY for long periods of time
- Salivating, Licking, Sucking & Chewing are common past-time of Babies & Toddlers – as parents, we have the power to decide what gets in contact with their mouth and we make sure it is safe
- A place for baby’s first attempt at rolling over, tummy time, sitting up, crawling, standing, walking which comes along with many experiences of falling over
Parents – new and experienced, we hope this article provides you some insight into material safety and if you have any other questions on how to pick the right play mat for your little one, feel free to reach out to us for further discussion.
We feel strongly on this matter and below are our sources of information which you can read more on too: