If you’re reading this, your baby is probably not a fan of bassinets but loves the swing. It’s either that or you want to know if leaving them to nap in a swing is safe.
If you’re in the former group, you’re probably hoping for an answer along the lines of, “It’s fine, I know of many parents who do it.”
I can’t give you that in good conscience.
On the other hand, I know the realities of being a parent and, if you’re anything like me, a simple ‘no’ won’t do. I like to understand the logic behind my parenting decisions. If that describes you, too, this guide is packed with must-knows about the safety DOs & DON’Ts of sleeping in a swing.
Baby sleep safety & swings
Between 2009 and 2012, there were 350+ swing-related incidents in the US alone – 24 of those resulted in injuries and two, unfortunately, in the baby’s untimely death.
If you ask me, it’s not a relevant number, and the reality is much bleaker.
Side note: If reading about infant death feels uncomfortable and you only looked for some light reading on swings, I’d argue that it’s your responsibility as a parent to take it and not click away.
How risky is it for babies to sleep in a swing?
To understand the risks, it’s wise to look beyond swings and into all accidents related to babies falling asleep in ‘devices’ designed for sitting.
If we broaden the research and look at things like this, we end up with scary results – hundreds of infant deaths are caused by sleeping where they should’ve been sitting.
Let’s be precise about the risk
More precisely, about 3% of all infant deaths happened in gear design for sitting (like swings, bouncy chairs, car seats, strollers, etc.).
Swings are the second most dangerous culprit out of all the sitting baby gear – second only to car seats.
Here’s the data:
- AAP researchers looked at 11,779 infant deaths that happened during sleep
- 348 cases happened in a device designed for sitting
- 98 % of those 348 cases happened in either a car seat or a swing
- Out of the 348 cases, 122 happened in a swing and 219 in a car seat
- 7 deaths happened in a stroller
Looking at other parents for confirmation
You might have visited a forum and seen someone asking if a baby swing is safe to sleep in and other tired parents patting them on the back and saying it’s fine. You decide you find the information you are looking for and think it might be fine for your baby, too.
I totally get it, and I’m not judging.
All I’m saying here is that a bit of planning goes a long way in terms of safe sleep and eliminates the need for safety compromises.
Bottom line – the question of sleep and infant swings is more serious than most parents think. Let’s make sure we don’t underestimate the dangers.
Most commonly asked questions
Is it safe to put the baby to sleep in a swing?
The vast majority of infant sleep experts share the opinion that allowing the baby to sleep in the swing for prolonged periods is not safe.
The reasons lie in the very basics of safe baby sleep.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that a baby must sleep on a firm, flat surface.
They also openly said that sleeping it’s unsafe for a baby to sleep in car seats and infant swings.
Today, we’re especially interested in the first two principles (firm and flat) because I don’t know of any swings that tick the two boxes.
The reality is – babies fall asleep in swings.
So, let’s take it one step further and look at the best practices and safety tips when using a baby swing.
If the baby falls asleep in the swing
Move them to the crib or another firm, flat surface and leave them to sleep safely on their backs.
I understand that the risk of waking them up might seem too much, and you’re tempted to leave them in. I’ve always adopted a zero-risk policy when it comes to my kid.
The #1 reason to move your sleeping baby
Letting your baby nap or sleep in a swing increases the risk of SIDS.
I have to be direct about that and tell it like it is, just so that I don’t leave room for “BUTs.”
This is where most of the risk lies
Weak muscles of the neck
The worst thing you can do is leave them in an upright position during those first few months. Baby’s neck muscles aren’t fully developed yet, and they are likely to slump, which can lead to suffocation.
In older swings, there’s also a significant risk of them falling out as they drift off. So, if you inherited a 10 or 20-year old swing, don’t dismiss the dangers of using baby gear that’s not up to today’s standards of safety.
The bottom line here is that swing can not become a substitute for a crib under any circumstance.
If you’re getting angry because you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t kill the messenger.
But, my baby only falls asleep in the swing
If your baby refuses to cooperate with cribs and bassinets, you’ll need to muster up the courage and stamina to break that pattern for reasons beyond safety.
The first thing we need to understand here is the power of habit.
If you used a swing or car seat to get your baby to fall asleep once, you built an association that’s triggered every time they naturally wake up during the night. If you continue to “feed” the habit, you’ll likely be moving them back and forth.
This is not an issue to be taken lightly – experts even have a name for it – inappropriate sleep-onset association.
Plainly speaking, this means that you’ve built up a habit that’s not easy to break.
Again, it’s not just about SIDS risks. Overusing swings and vehicle seats can lead to flat-head syndrome in some babies.
Baby swings safety
Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics
As soon as the AAP decides to address something directly in their research, you can rest assured there’s cause for caution.
Below are a few tips by the AAP related to the safe use of baby swings and seats:
- If they are under 4 months old, the little one should be seated in the most reclined position. It’s to avoid slouching and suffocation because their neck muscles are yet to develop the strength to keep the head upright at all times.
- Avoid swings that can be folded easily or tip over
- All seats that are adjustable beyond the 50-degree angle must have proper straps. It’s to minimize the risk of the baby falling out.
- Anything attached to the swing (like toys) should be well-secured so that it doesn’t come off easily.
- The baby should not, under any circumstance, be left using a swing when they exceed the weight limit.
- The cradling part of the swing should be sturdy enough not to change shape while in motion to lower the hazard of falling out.
Last but not least, the APP’s official recommendation is that babies should sleep on their back for the first 6 months and only have short, supervised “tummy times.”
Translating it all into the ‘real world’
OK, you understand that this is a serious problem not to be ignored. We went through all the scary data and the AAP guidelines, but now what?
What does it all mean for you today?
As an outro, let me try and concisely sum it all up into actionable steps you can take right now:
- Before buying, take the time to check if the swing model has been recalled or was the subject of safety discussions. Google the following “swing model recalled” – example “baby swing number 10 recalled.” This step is crucial if you’re getting it second-hand.
- Buy from a reputable source – getting one online gives you the chance to read reviews of other parents, which is massive plus
- When you get the swing, go to the manual right away. Make sure you understand it and that no part of it is missing.
- Take your time putting the swing together. You want a stable construction that doesn’t feel wobbly. Check and re-check the straps and avoid placing the swing on an uneven surface.
- DO NOT attach anything to the swing that’s not in the box
- If the baby falls asleep in the swing, move them to a proper sleep environment, like a crib
Don’t let me scare you away from swings
When it comes to safe sleep, I can be overzealous at times. I know that.
I feel that, as parents, we must understand the worst aspects of gear so that we can intervene.
If there’s one key takeaway I’d like you to have from this guide, it’s this – baby swings are great pieces of gear and, when used properly, they are safe. The tricky part is that “when used properly” also means not using them for sleep.