A baby gym is one of the most versatile and beneficial products you can get for your little one. They help baby's development, keeps them entertained for hours, gives parents some peace of mind, and will last for ages.
What is a baby gym?
Baby gyms usually have an arch or two with hanging toys: hard or soft toys, baby-safe mirrors, rings, rattles. The arches allow the toys to dangle over the baby, giving your little one something to look at and grasp for. Some baby gyms have extra features like lights and sounds. Others give babies a simple and safe space that doesn’t overstimulate.
Baby gyms will benefit newborns from the day you bring them home. They'll still be great when babies are crawling. It's worth noting that although new babies will be interested in the baby gym from very early, they'll only begin reaching for and grasping the toys on the baby gym when they are about three months old.
Developmental benefits of using baby gyms
1. Visual tracking and depth perception
Because newborns are pretty much nearsighted, they can only see things that are 20-30 centimetres away from their face. Baby gyms provide the perfect distance for babies to watch the different toys hanging from the arches. These toys usually include ones with brightly contrasting colours. Babies recognise faces first, then they start to recognise colours. So bright colours are important for baby's development.
2. Hand-eye coordination (grasping, reaching, using both hands)
When babies bat at and try to grasp the objects hanging from the baby gym, they develop hand-eye coordination. This is a “crossing the midline” activity—a skill that is critical in brain development. When babies try to reach for an object with both hands, they learn to move their hands across the center of their bodies, up and down, left to right, and so forth. The ability to cross the midline indicates that the right and left hemispheres of the brain are able to communicate efficiently.
3. Sensory stimulation
The various colours of the toys on the baby gym help enhance visual awareness. The different textures and sounds help with tactile and auditory development.
4. Tummy time
Baby gyms can help limit the amount of time babies spend on their back. They also help strengthen the muscles on babies’ arms, shoulders, back, neck, and tummy.
What to look for in a baby gym
- A good baby gym offers a range of positions and heights from which to hang toys. To avoid pressure on the back of the baby’s head during belly-up play, some of the toys should be hanging on the sides - not directly over the baby. This encourages babies to turn their heads as they play.
- Look for a baby gym that has loops for hanging additional toys.
- As with everything else that will invariably end up in your baby’s mouth, the baby gym should be made of non-toxic materials. The frame should be sturdy and there should be no choking hazards.
- Choose a baby gym that is portable and can be cleaned easily.
Baby gyms are great, but you should still take some precautions when using them. Keep in mind that you should always place them on a low, flat surface—never on a bed or on top of a table. It is possible for babies to be overly stimulated, so try to read their cues and don't leave them under a baby gym for long periods of time.
Images: Finn and Emma