Bouncers and baby swings, those free-standing, elevated seats that let the baby sit at a semi-reclined angle, can be great for families with chill infants. It makes it easier for adults to interact with the kid and can make it easier for siblings to get a good look at their new brother or sister. Many parents also use them to help reticent sleepers get the naps they need – something that can feel like an incredible triumph. But if swings or bouncers are used incorrectly, they present a serious risk. And unsafe usage is widespread.
“The images we see are not necessarily images of best practice, so we really want people to be paying attention to this and thinking about it,” says Dr. Ben Hoffman, Oregon Health and Sciences University pediatrician and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
A lot of bouncers and swings position the infant between 30 and 45 degrees from vertical. That’s not a good thing for babies. The younger they are, the less resting muscle tone they have, which means a bigger risk of their heads flopping forward and obstructing their airway.
The straps can also pose a problem. Entanglement is a threat pediatricians take seriously. Sleeping in a bouncer or swing simply isn’t as safe as sleeping on a firm, properly fitting mattress with minimal bedding. Still, things aren’t always cut and dried.
“The first law of pediatrics is you don’t wake a sleeping baby,” concedes Hoffman. “I would never advocate waking a sleeping baby, but if the baby is sleeping in a bouncy chair or a swing, somebody needs to be paying attention to them. Those are not safe ways for babies to sleep unattended.”
So as long as an adult can supervise and intervene if the baby’s head flops too far forward, and ensures that the straps are snug and not in danger of compromising the baby’s breathing, it’s okay. Still, it’s not a good option for feeding. “Believe it or not, gastroesophageal reflux is worse sitting at that angle than it is lying flat,” says Hoffman. “That runs counter to a lot of people’s belief, but that’s what the science tells us.”
How to Safely Use a Stand Alone Swing or Bouncer
- Always supervise a baby using a swing or a bouncer, but don’t carry it with you. Swings and bouncers belong on the floor.
- Keep straps snug, but make sure they don’t restrict the baby’s airway. Think about car seat best practices.
- Don’t exceed weight limits. If the baby can sit up on aided, the swing is no linger safe.
- Always supervise the baby.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics identifies falls due to swings or bouncers as a significant cause of ER visits for babies, either from kids squirming out on their own or from parents and caregivers dropping them as they transfer surfaces. If an infant has developed the ability to sit up on their own, or exceeds the maximum weight limit, it’s time to stop using the device. It’s simply no longer safe. Parents should only use a swing or bouncer on the floor – not counters, not couches, not tables – and should never carry the bouncer or swing with the baby in it. That eliminates the chances for serious injuries from falls.
So, after all these warnings, what is a swing or a bouncer good for? Plenty, as long as it’s supervised. They can be very entertaining for babies, and yes, very soothing. A supervised baby in a swing or a bouncer is probably better off there than napping with dad on the couch. There’s no reason to be afraid of swings or bouncers, but every reason to be diligent.
“People use them; I just don’t want any kid to get hurt,” says Hoffman. “Helping families making informed decisions to get as close as we can to the safest thing possible is what we are about. It’s not about making things harder or complicating things.”