It’s no secret that babies love movement: rocking, swaying, bouncing, jiggling, sashaying — if it involves a rhythmic motion, you can sign them up. And most babies would prefer to sleep in motion, too, nestled into a baby swing, car seat, or rocker.
The only problem? These seats aren’t the safest sleep spots. Pediatricians call them “sitting devices,” and they’ve been linked to an increased risk of suffocation when used for sleep.
But before you panic and kick your beloved baby swing to the curb, know this: A swing can be an amazing, sanity-saving tool when used correctly (like soothing a cranky baby while you cook dinner within sight). It just isn’t a substitute crib, and it shouldn’t be used that way.
If your baby has developed a habit of sleeping in the swing, here’s everything you need to know about why you should start breaking that habit — and how to do it.
The first thing you need to know about baby swings is that they aren’t dangerous if you use them the way they were designed to be used. That means:
- Reading the package insert for directions on use of your swing and any buckles or attachments that come with it. (Also make note of any height and weight limits for your specific swing; some babies may be too big or too small to use a swing safely.)
- Not letting your baby sleep in the swing for prolonged periods of time. A catnap under your supervision might be fine, but your baby definitely shouldn’t spend the night sleeping in the swing while you’re asleep, too. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends moving your baby from the swing to a safe sleeping place if they fall asleep in the swing.
- Understanding that the swing is an activity device, not a replacement for a crib or bassinet. You should use the swing as a place to safely distract, contain, or soothe your baby when you need a break.
These same tips apply to any sitting device your child might need to use. A car seat, for example, is considered the safest way for a baby to travel. It’s not, however, a safe place for a baby to sleep outside a vehicle.
Why is sleeping in a seated position so dangerous for babies? It’s because their neck muscles aren’t fully developed, so sleeping at a semi-upright angle can cause the weight of their heads to put pressure on their necks and cause them to slump over. In some cases, this slumping can lead to suffocation.
In a 10-year study performed by the AAP, sitting devices — identified in this study as car seats, strollers, swings, and bouncers — were found to have caused 3 percent, or 348, of the nearly 12,000 infant deaths studied. Of that 3 percent, about 62 percent of the deaths happened in car safety seats. Most of the babies were between 1 and 4 months old.
What’s more, the seats were largely not being used as directed, with more than 50 percent of the deaths happening at home. The study also found that these deaths were more common when babies were being supervised by a nonparent caregiver (like a babysitter or grandparent).
We’re not trying to scare you, but it’s important to only use your infant devices for their intended purpose — and make sure anyone who supervises your child also knows where and how your baby can safely sleep.
In the past, some baby swings have been recalled for their connection to infant death or injury. For example, Graco recalled millions of swings back in 2000 because of issues with the restraint belts and trays.
Almost two decades later, they began issuing recalls for their rocking sleepers due to suffocation risks for babies who could roll over onto their sides or stomachs.
Meanwhile, Fisher-Price recalled three models of swings in 2016 after consumers reported that a peg meant to hold the swing seat in place popped out (causing the seat to fall).
In spite of these recalls, it’s worth remembering that there’s never been a broad ban on all baby swings and that most swings are generally safe when you use them correctly.
We get it: You’re exhausted, your baby is exhausted, and everyone needs sleep. If your baby sleeps best in the swing, you might not have the motivation to force them to sleep somewhere less comfortable (and go back to being a sleep-deprived zombie).
But if you’re still reading this, you know a swing isn’t the safest place for your baby to sleep. Here are some tips for making the transition to a crib or bassinet:
- If your baby is under 4 months old, move them to a crib or bassinet once they’ve fallen asleep in the swing. This may help them slowly acclimate to their crib for sleep.
- If your baby is over 4 months old, you may want to consider some form of sleep training. At this point, moving your baby from the swing to the crib while they’re sleeping could create a sleep onset association, which is a whole other headache you don’t want (trust us!).
- Practice putting your baby down to sleep in the crib drowsy but awake. Use a white noise machine or fan and room-darkening curtains to make the environment as sleep-friendly as possible.
- Keep your baby’s swing in a busy, well-lit, and/or noisy area of the house during the day, reframing it as a place where fun things happen. This will teach your baby that the swing is for playing, not sleeping.
If none of these strategies work or you’re feeling too tired to function, reach out to your baby’s pediatrician for help. If your baby is really struggling to sleep in the crib, there may be a medical reason like reflux that makes a flat surface uncomfortable for them.
At the very least, your child’s doctor might be able to help you troubleshoot the transition from swing to crib a little more quickly.
You don’t have to delete that baby swing from your registry (or bring the one gifted to you by Aunt Linda to the town dump). When used as an activity device, not a sleeping environment, a swing can keep your baby occupied while you get a much-needed break.
But until they have better neck control, the only safe place for a baby to sleep is on their back on a firm, flat surface so their airways remain open for breathing. You can find the AAP’s current safe sleep recommendations here.