How to Use a Baby Swing

Baby in swing

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

There is no doubt that caring for a baby is a lot of work, and part of that is because of their intense need to be rocked and held. While some babies are content to hang out in a crib or baby seat during their non-sleeping or non-feeding hours, some babies seem to crave more attention than that, and get fussy if they are not held by a parent, rocked, or walked.

This is totally normal baby behavior, and there is nothing wrong with holding your baby as much as you are able. But most of us can’t hold our babies at all the time, which is why it’s great that baby swings were invented.

Baby swings give parents’ arms a much needed break. They do the job of holding your baby when you are not able to. They also provide the motion stimulation that babies find soothing. They can help with fussiness, and keep your baby entertained.

Still, many of us get confusing messages about swings. Are baby swings ever a bad thing? Can they be overused? What ages can you use baby swings for, and when should you stop using one? And what about safety? What important safety tips should you keep in mind?

Benefits of Baby Swings

Dr. Harvey Karp, author of “The Happiest Baby On The Block,” describes the first three months of a baby’s life as the “fourth trimester.” Unlike other mammals, human babies aren’t born with much independence, and rely heavily on their parents much like they did in the womb. In fact, they crave the environment of the womb very much. That’s why they like to be swaddled, rocked, and shushed—all of these activities remind them of the comforts of the womb.

Most of us parents would like nothing more than to offer that type of soothing to our babies, but it’s nearly impossible to hold, shush, and rock our babies 24/7. And while some babies are content without these activities, there are some babies—especially ones who develop colic or who are just very fussy—who actually do seem to demand this type of soothing all the time!

This is where baby swings can feel like a lifeline for new parents. Most baby swings are snuggly, rock your baby, and may even provide music, shushing sounds, and other audio or visual entertainment for babies, such as lights or mobiles. Although not all babies take readily to baby swings, many parents find that this is the only place where they can put their babies down.

Many parents also find that baby swings help their infants deal with acid reflux, as the upright nature of the swings can help manage symptoms. You should talk to your pediatrician to see whether the use of a baby swing is a proper measure to take for your baby’s reflux, and what other medications or actions may be advised.

Cons of Baby Swings

For the most part, baby swings are lifesavers for parents. However, there are certain pitfalls to baby swings.

First of all, while rare, there are certain babies who just really don’t enjoy spending time in baby swings, and actually tend to get more fussy in them. These babies might find swings uncomfortable or may find the sounds and motion to be overstimulating.

Consider trying different rocking settings, different audio settings, or placing your baby in the swing at different times of day.

Additionally, some parents may become overly reliant on a baby swing. They may use the swing each and every time their baby fusses, but may not learn other ways of soothing their baby. Over-reliance of this nature is rare, but it’s important to vary your baby soothing techniques. Before you put your baby in the swing, you should make sure they aren’t hungry, need to be put to bed, or have another need you might be neglecting.

The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) mentions that babies should not become so reliant on swings or other baby seats that they don’t do tummy time each day, as tummy time is vital to your baby’s development in the first few months of life. The AAP also warns that spending too long in a baby swing or other infant seat can flatten your baby’s head.

Baby Swings Should Not Be Used For Sleeping

Finally, using a baby swing in an unsafe manner is another thing parents need to be aware of. As the AAP advises,contrary to popular belief, baby swings are not meant to be used as sleeping devices.

Cribs and bassinets are the only places you should put your baby to sleep. For safety reasons, babies should always be put to sleep on their backs, on a flat surface. You should also never become complacent and leave your baby unattended in their swing.

What to Look For in a Baby Swing

As you set out to purchase a baby swing, or put one on your registry list, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There are many baby swings on the market these days, with many “bells and whistles.” Some even use Bluetooth technology. Most babies are happy with a basic swing: motion is what they like the most. But if your budget allows, you can go all out with additional features.
  • Also consider the size of your home, and your lifestyle. Many parents prefer baby swings that they can carry around the house easily, from room to room. In this case, purchasing a small, more portable model will make most sense.
  • Before purchasing, either try the swing out in the store, or watch a video of what it looks like or sounds like online. You want to make sure the music and visuals are pleasing to you—you might be watching and listening to this for many hours each day.

When Can Babies Use Swings?

For each individual baby swing you buy, you should carefully read the manufacturer’s guidelines before usage. In general, baby swings can be used at birth and until your baby reaches a certain weight limit, usually about 25 to 35 pounds.

The Academy Of American Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to use the most reclined position on the baby swing for any baby under four months old.

When Do Babies Outgrow Swings?

Again, you should read the manufacturer’s guidelines when it comes to how long to use a baby swing. Once your baby outgrows the height and weight limit provided, you should stop using the swing.

But your baby may alert you to when they are done using the swing themselves. Usually there becomes a point where the swing no longer is soothing or entertaining to them. Certainly, if your baby begins trying to climb out of the swing, you know they are no longer interested—and that the swing is no longer a safe place for them to be.

Safety Precautions For Baby Swings

It’s vitally important that you pay attention to safety precautions when using a baby swing. Unfortunately, while rare, babies have been injured while using baby swings. Babies have even died as a result of unsafe practices.

As the Academy of American Pediatrics explains,“350 swing-related incidents were reported between 2009 and 2012, including two infant deaths and 24 injuries.” As a result of these incidents, the AAP has come up with a list of safety rules that recommend all parents follow when using baby swings.

AAP Safe Swing Use Guidelines

Safety tips from the AAP regarding baby swing use include:

  • Always use the most reclined position on the swing for babies four months and under
  • Make sure the swing is sturdy and doesn’t tip over or fold up too easily
  • Use safety straps provided so that your baby doesn’t fall out of the swing
  • Keep toys and mobiles away from your baby
  • Don’t use it if your baby no longer fits properly, so be sure to check to see if your child has outgrown the manufacturer’s weight limits
  • Make sure the cradle of the swing stays flat while in motion so your baby can’t fall out

In addition to these tips, make sure never to place your baby’s swing on an elevated surface, such as a kitchen counter or coffee table. Don’t place blankets in the swing with your baby, as these are a strangulation hazard; instead, dress your baby in extra layers. Always remain in the same room with your baby as they are using the swing, and keep a careful eye on them.

Baby Swings and Infant Sleep

Probably the most startling thing you will learn about baby swings is that they aren’t meant to be used while your baby sleeps. This seems contrary to what you’ve probably heard about baby swings, right? And what about when your baby falls asleep in the swing, as most babies naturally do as a result of the rocking?

As the AAP advises, it’s okay if your baby falls asleep in the swing, but you should soon move them to their crib. The reason why is that the safest way for your baby to sleep is on their back on a clear, flat surface. And this isn’t just the guidance for baby swings: babies are not meant to sleep in their car seats, bouncy chairs, or strollers, either.

This is because babies who sleep upright in these baby chairs are at higher risk of suffocation if their head tips over or if their breathing is compromised, especially if they are not watched carefully by their caretakers.

Research published by the AAP found that infants have died as a result of sleeping in a “sitting device” such as a baby swing, stroller, or car seat. Of the 11,779 infant deaths that were studied, 3% (348 deaths) occurred in a “sitting device,” and 35% of those occurred in baby swings.

Baby Swing Recalls

As with any product, you should be aware of recalls. If you are using a hand-me-down swing, you should make sure your product has not been recalled. You should also register any new product you buy with the company so that you will be alerted if your product has been recalled.

There have been some high profile cases of baby swing recalls, and these had to do with safety concerns, including manufacturing defects that caused the swings to fall over or problems with the swing’s restraints or trays.

Since recalls of infant products are often due to safety concerns, you should take baby swing recalls seriously. You can look up the recall status of your baby swing at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A Word From Verywell

As you move through the first few months of life with a newborn, you will be exposed to all sorts of opinions and recommendations, and whether or not to use a baby swing is no exception. There will be people who think that baby swings are absolutely essential and that it would be impossible to care for a baby without one. Others may think baby swings are just substitutes for parents’ arms, and are extremely overused. Like everything else parent related, the truth lies somewhere outside of these extremes.

While baby swings are certainly not essential, especially if they are outside your budget, they can be very helpful. After all, parents’ arms need a break sometimes, and no parent is meant to be a martyr. And most babies really do enjoy hanging out in their swings, so it’s really a win-win situation. While baby swings can be overused, as long as you are an attentive parent, it’s unlikely you will overuse the swing to the point of neglecting your baby’s other needs.

The biggest concern about baby swings is their safety, especially during sleep. It can be tempting to let your baby sleep and nap in their swing, but keep in mind that this is not a recommended practice. If your baby falls asleep in their swing, you don’t need to panic, but you should gently move them to their crib if they are taking more than a cat nap.

If you are unsure about how to manage this, or if you have other questions about baby swing safety, make sure to bring this up at your next pediatrician appointment.

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Article Sources
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  2. Korioth T. Safe and sound: tips for using infant swings. AAP News 2013;34(1):25. doi:10.1542/aapnews.2013341-25d.

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  5. Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC, Graco Announce Recall of Infant Swings. Updated April 13, 2000.