Few methods are as effective at getting a baby to go to sleep like a gentle rocking back and forth.
So, the idea of helping your newborn fall asleep in a swaying baby hammock may have serious appeal.
No more tired arms. Babies falling asleep more quickly. Plus, it sure looks comfortable.
“Replicates the comfort and security of the womb,” the marketing copy of major baby hammock manufacturer Amby Baby Hammocks reads on their website. “You will wonder why you ever used a cot, crib or bassinet.”
Amby, which is headquartered in Australia, bills its hammocks as, "the original and the world’s most trusted modern baby hammock since 1989."
Trish Brimelow, the owner and managing director of Amby Baby Hammocks, notes that her company has sold 50,000 hammocks in its 30 years of existence.
"Our hammocks have helped tens of thousands of families with babies that have sleep issues, reflux, colic, etc," Brimelow told Healthline. "Our hammocks replicate the womb environment with gentle motion and the firm mattress gently moulds around them, eliminating hard pressure points, which is why babies settle and sleep so comfortably in them."
However, baby hammocks don’t always pass safety muster in the eyes of some pediatric organizations and sleep experts.
Indeed, there were two recalls about a decade ago involving baby hammocks.
MamaLittleHelper LLC, initiated a voluntary recall of its metal hammock stands in 2010 after a 4-month-old girl fell out of the hammock when the stand broke.
Also in 2010, 24,000 units of Amby Baby Motion Beds, made by Minnesota-based Amby Baby USA that is longer in business, were recalled after two infant deaths in Georgia and Oregon.
The Minnesota company was the U.S. affiliate of the Australia-based Amby. Brimelow said her company investigated the two incidents and found that in both cases, the hammocks were improperly installed.
"That model Amby Baby Hammock was extensively tested by authorities here in Australia and in the U.K. after the USA recall and found to be perfectly safe to use when the assembly instructions are followed," Brimelow said. "Over 50,000 Amby Baby Hammocks have been sold worldwide since 1989 and no other deaths or injuries have ever been reported before or since. We are very proud of our fantastic safety record."
Hammocks for babies aren’t uncommon in some parts of the world.
A type of baby hammock, the “yao lan,” is popular in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore and Malaysia.
Sleep hammocks sold in the United States might help infants sleep, but the risks simply aren't understood yet, experts interviewed for this story told Healthline.
“There isn't enough research proving the safety of the device for unsupervised sleep,” said Eva Klein, a certified infant and child sleep consultant and the owner and founder of My Sleeping Baby.
“These products are largely untested in a scientific manner,” added Riki Taubenblat a certified pediatric sleep consultant at Baby Sleep Maven.
“They have really not been studied. We don’t know a lot about them,” noted Dr. Jamie Macklin, a pediatric hospitalist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
“Everyone always wants the newest latest and greatest thing and sometimes those aren’t the best things,” she continued. “Until we have new data supporting the idea that sleep hammocks were safe — though I don’t think we’re going to get there — we would certainly change our tune.”
Brimelow strongly disagrees.
In fact, she notes that she used Amby baby hammocks with all three of her children.
"The first time I placed my [first-born child] in the Amby hammock for a daytime nap, he slept soundly for two hours," she said. "I had never been able to put him down for more than five minutes before and as you can imagine, I was very excited. He went on to become a brilliant sleeper thanks to our Amby."
Brimelow adds that after her next two children sleep comfortably in Amby hammocks, she decided to oversee the company in 2011.
"I took over the brand because I loved and believed in it so much," she said.
Some experts, however, still aren't convinced on the safety of baby hammocks in general.
“[Hammocks are] an extremely dangerous sleep surface,” Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California, told Healthline. “Numerous studies have shown that to decrease the risk of SIDS, the baby needs to sleep on his or her back on a flat, firm surface. The crib hammock is neither firm or flat and that can cause the baby to become entrapped in it if he or she rolls.”
At the end of the day, every parent has to make their own decisions in the gray area of acceptable risk for their children.
But not a single medical expert Healthline consulted was willing to endorse baby hammocks or other soft sleeping surfaces for infants.
“Simply stated, the risks of SIDS and suffocation are far greater than any reward — which in my opinion, there is no reward,” Posner added.
Brimelow, however, notes there hasn't been a single incident of SIDS reported from babies sleeping in Amby hammocks.
"We take safety extremely seriously and our hammocks are engineered and safety tested to ensure they will not cause injury," she said.
"We believe they actually help to prevent SIDS [because] the natural motion ensures that there is no build-up of carbon dioxide around babies' faces and the motion also mimics sleeping next to mom," said Brimelow. "Also, babies can only sleep on their backs in the Amby Baby Hammock, which keeps them in the supine position at all times."
This debate does raise the question: How do products such as baby hammocks make it to market in the first place?
Part of it has to do with regulation.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues
The problem with baby hammocks, however, is that they are largely untested and only subject to recall when something goes wrong.
“Anyone can sell anything online and anyone can buy anything,” Macklin said. “Certainly, you have parents who do swear by these so you can see some recommendations this way. So people will buy these.”
That said, if you’re enamored with the idea of your baby rocking in a hammock, there is a good time to use such devices: When you’re present and watching.
“If the parent is awake and doing dishes in the kitchen and the mom and dad is watching that is fine,” Macklin said. “Because they can react to any unsafe situation that might come up. But if it’s a situation where the parent is sound asleep and the baby is sound asleep it might become unsafe for any number of reasons.”
For nighttime sleeping, Macklin and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have a simple mnemonic: Follow your ABCs.
A stands for “alone” — meaning your baby should be alone and not surrounded by any toys, stuffed animals, or blankets.
B stands for “back,” as in your baby should be lying flat on their back (something, notably, a hammock prevents).
C stands for “crib,” as in your baby should have their own safety-certified crib with a firm mattress surface and tightly fitted sheet — no co-sleeping or other arrangements.
"Sometimes I don’t like to distill it that simply,” Macklin said, “[But] that’s really what it comes down to.”