Baby bouncers and baby swings are free-standing, elevated seats that let an infant sit at a semi-reclined angle. They’re basically baby pedestals that make it easier for adults to interact with the baby while also making it easier for siblings to interact with their brother or sister. They can have a calming effect too, soothing a fussy baby or even putting them to sleep. They’re also risky when misused — and unsafe usage is widespread.
It all starts with the angle. A lot of baby bouncers and swings position the infant between 30 and 45 degrees from vertical. These are not good purchases for newborns. 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 (this is why you lay your infant flat on their back when they sleep).
The baby bouncer, a controversial piece of equipment, is both praised for its use in improving children’s development and criticized for the potential harm it may cause. It is every parent’s responsibility to do research and, most importantly, use your best judgment when choosing equipment like baby bouncers to provide your baby with the safest, most beneficial and fun opportunities possible.
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Baby bouncers are padded seats that are low to the ground and have a safety strap to secure your baby as she sits in the bouncer. They have an ergonomic design and support and protect the spine, neck and head of your baby. Toddler bouncers are the next level up, designed to let your child stand and bounce with a support harness. These bouncers help strengthen, stretch and build a baby’s legs in preparation for crawling and walking. It gives her a sense of balance without the risk of falling. An added bonus is that movement and exercise can be stimulating for your baby’s mind and can provide her with plenty of entertainment.
Bouncinettes have been part and parcel of the baby’s nursery.
Tragically, thirty-two deaths have been attributed to baby bouncers/bassinets, similar portable, tilted, reclining or sitting type products. These are all dangerous when used unsupervised or as a place to sleep, babies. It is not safe to leave a baby sleep propped up in any of these devices, and improper use of bouncers, swings, bean bags, and car seats can lead to fatal sleeping accidents.
In Australia, warnings about the potential risks these products pose have been issued in recent times.
A study published in “Child: Care, Health and Development” examined the motor development of 43 infants allowed to use play-assist equipment. The study suggested that infants who had the highest equipment use tended to score lower on infant motor development, which was measured by the Alberta Infant Motor Scale. In contrast, infants with lower equipment use scored higher in motor development. Because no other tests had been done to produce the same results, authors A.L. Abbott and D.J. Bartlett summarized that parents should be informed and encouraged to allow their children only moderate use of equipment within the home.
Limit Time Use
Bouncers for young babies are designed to secure him in a half-lying, half-sitting position. The American Association of Pediatrics warns that babies who spend excessive amounts of time in a bouncer may be prone to developing flattened head syndrome, or positional plagiocephaly, which is a persistent flat spot on the back or side of the head. Bouncers or jumpers designed for toddlers can become physically tiring if they are left in the bouncer for extended amounts of time. This can disrupt your child’s nap routine or sleep schedule. The AAP does not have a recommended amount of time that your child should remain in his bouncer, but use your best judgment. Never leave your child in his bouncer for longer than 20- to 30-minute increments. Never let your child sleep in his bouncer.
Australian Recall June 2019
Following the recall of the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper in the US in April 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has recalled Kids eleven – 11 – various Rocking Sleepers. It has stated that this “product is potentially dangerous when instructions and warnings are not followed. Infants may roll from their back to their stomach or side if unrestrained. Hazard: There is a risk of suffocation if the infant rolls from its back to stomach or side while unrestrained or if bedding or blankets are used with the product”.
Fisher Price and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) initially issued a joint alert warning in April 2019, (USA) to discontinue use of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
Further investigations led to all models of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper being recalled because at least 32 infant deaths were linked to this product.
Regrettably, parents have also been influenced by:
- ‘Sleep experts’ promoting this and similar products to assist sleep or relieve reflux
- Testimonials on social media with thousands glowing reviews or social media influencers promoting these products
- Worryingly, after the US recall, some were still advocating this product, because the product ‘worked’ for their baby. (Quick point: because it ‘works’, does not make it safe!)
- Role modelling – the Rock ‘n Play starred on TLC’s new and popular reality show OutDaughtered which featured their five baby girls sleeping in a row of the recalled sleepers!
- Inaccurate marketing/advertising by manufacturers and retailers, e.g. the Rock ‘n Play was advertised as a place to sleep baby but no warnings of the risks with using these products.
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. Also, 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 of 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.
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. “That runs counter to a lot of people’s belief, but that’s what science tells us.”
Types of Baby Bouncers
Baby bouncers are available in variations on three main designs:
- The bouncer chair
- The sit-in bouncer/activity centre
- The door bouncer
All three models allow your child to lay or play in a more upright position. These products also give your baby the opportunity to look around the room, kick their legs, put weight on their feet, jump around or play with some built-in toys.
Here is a closer look at the details of each type of baby bouncer, some possible areas for concern and steps you can take to help keep your little one safe while they play.
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How They Work
These bouncers are designed for very young infants, and your baby can use one even if they haven’t mastered the skills of sitting up and holding their head up. Bouncy chairs allow your baby to lie in a reclined position so they can better see their environment, and a safety strap prevents your child from sliding or rolling out.
These toys can either have a battery-operated vibration feature, or they can simply be a padded seat suspended on a sturdy wire structure that will bounce with baby’s movements or a parent’s gentle help.
The biggest danger associated with bouncy infant seats is airway compromise. Very young infants usually lack the muscle strength to move their heads if they settle deeply into a comfortable seat. This could lead to breathing problems if your baby’s chin tucks too closely to their chest.
Some babies will find a favourite position to lay in, either due to comfort or because they enjoy looking at a fixed object in the room. Since the bones in a young baby’s head are still soft and moldable, lying in the same position repeatedly for long periods of time can cause your child to develop a flat spot, also known as positional plagiocephaly.
If the bouncer is set up on a bed, table, countertop or couch, your baby could be in danger of a fall or suffocation hazard.
While using a bouncer seat does carry some risks, those dangers can be greatly reduced by following some practical guidelines.
- Always supervise your baby when they are using the chair
- Never allow your baby to sleep in the bouncy chair
- Only use the bouncer chair on the floor, and never place it on a raised surface
- Limit time in the bouncer chair to about 20 or 30 minutes at a time
- Ensure your baby’s chin is not tucked too close to their chest and that their face is free of obstructions at all times
- Avoid letting your baby put weight on the same area of their head every time they use the bouncer chair. Try laying them with their head turned slightly to one side, and alternate sides every use. Additionally, try placing an interesting object for your baby to look at on alternating sides of the chair
- Once your baby can sit up, the bouncy seat is no longer a safe option for them and shouldn’t be used
Sit-In Bouncers / Activity Centers
How They Work
These types of bouncers (also known as jumpers) are usually a favourite for babies: They get to stand in a semi-supported upright position, manipulate toys on the tray, bounce or jump by themselves and look around the room.
Sit-in bouncers consist of a seat attached to a plastic structure and several springs that provide suspension. Sit-in bouncers that have built-in toys are usually referred to as activity centres.
A swivelling seat is a common feature that allows your baby to turn themselves in any direction. This feature lets them access all the toys and make sure they don’t miss a second of the action.
Most sit-in bouncers are designed to be used for children as young as four months old. Babies at this age typically have not developed strong core muscles, and using a sit-in bouncer may cause them to adopt an unnatural body position to remain upright. Babies could also learn to place weight on the wrong parts of their feet.
Even though your baby has enough stimulation to keep them happy and smiling while in the activity centre, too much time in the bouncer could lead to a delay in rolling, crawling or walking.
Don’t let the potential for problems discourage you from letting your baby use a sit-in bouncer or activity centre. Implementing the following ideas can help you safely make the most of your bouncer.
- Limit use to 20 minutes at a time once or twice a day
- Be alert to baby’s foot position and make sure the bouncer is adjusted properly for your child’s height
- Supervise playtime and be alert for signs of exhaustion or over-stimulation
- Provide lots of floor play and encourage tummy time
- Talk to your baby while they are in the bouncer and play with the toys together from time to time
How They Work
These types of baby bouncers/jumpers attach to a doorway frame using clamps, and your baby sits in a seat that is suspended on stretchy cords. When placed into the bouncer, the baby’s feet should be able just to touch the floor, and the baby should be able to jump and bounce.
A door bouncer could be a good choice if you don’t have the extra space for a larger sit-in bouncer/activity center.
Babies using this type of bouncer are usually having a blast, but they run the risk of jumping too energetically and hitting the sides of the doorway.
Any toy or piece of equipment that has long cords or ropes could be a strangulation hazard.
The majority of injuries associated with doorway bouncers are the result of the clamps, either breaking or becoming detached from the door frame. This could cause the entire jumper and your baby to fall.
Of all the bouncer options, doorway models are often thought to carry the greatest risks and require a fair amount of caution. However, they can still be a good choice as long as they are set up and used appropriately.
- Before each use, carefully inspect the fastening clamps, the door frame and the cords
- Closely supervise your baby at all times, and remove them from the bouncer if they are showing signs of being over-stimulated
- Place the bouncer in the widest door opening possible
- Limit time spent in the bouncer to around 20 minutes at a time
Consumer Reports reminds parents to check the manufacturer’s recommendations. If a bouncer is not designed for toddlers, stop using the bouncer as soon as your baby can sit up without assistance. In addition, do not leave your child unattended. Follow safety and operation guidelines, and place bouncers on solid, even surfaces on the floor. Use bouncers that are in proper repair, not damaged or old or that have been factory-recalled.
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Are Baby Bouncers Good Or Bad?
Like many things, a baby bouncer is a tool to be used for a specific purpose. That purpose is to keep your baby safe and occupied for a few minutes, leaving you to accomplish specific tasks or just take a break.
To use it outside its specific utility can not only be bad for the baby but outright dangerous. Common sense should tell that as long as you are diligent while using a bouncer for its assigned purpose, it can be a very good tool for a parent.
While bouncers are not designed for parking your baby for extended amounts of time, they can be good for letting your baby move and help develop strength.