Baby swings are a popular option to entertain or soothe a fussy baby. However, experts do not recommend that babies sleep in a swing. Sleeping in baby swings has been linked to higher risks of injury, flat spots on heads, blocked airways, accidental suffocation, and death. For these reasons, if a baby does fall asleep in a swing, their parent or caregiver should carefully pick them up out of the swing and move them to their crib or bassinet.
We discuss the risks to babies from sleeping in swings, how to safely use a baby swing, and expert recommendations for helping babies sleep safely.
Why Baby Swings Aren’t Safe for Sleep
Baby swings are not designed for sleep . Instead, the purpose of baby swings is to support infant playing. When parents and caregivers use baby swings and other equipment outside of their recommended use, such as for sleeping, they may unintentionally put babies in danger.
An infant sleeping in a baby swing may be at risk for difficulty breathing , injury to the head or neck, or getting tangled in the swing’s equipment.
Risks from Sleeping While Seated
Many baby swings hold babies so that they are sitting upright . While sitting can be fun for play, it is not a safe position for sleep . Young infants have a harder time breathing when they are sitting upright.
Babies have large heads compared to the size of their necks. Newborns less than 4 months old also have difficulty controlling their heads. As a result, young babies often bend their heads forward toward their chests when they are sitting or propped upright. This position can narrow or block their airways, making it difficult for babies to breathe.
Researchers have also found that babies sleeping on tilted surfaces such as swings or inclined sleepers may roll onto their stomachs, particularly if they are not buckled in or if the straps are loose . This is concerning because sleeping on the stomach is the top preventable risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies less than a year old should always be put to sleep on their backs.
Risks to Babies’ Heads and Necks
When sleeping in baby swings, car seats, and bouncers, babies are also at risk for injury because these devices put pressure on the backs of babies’ heads. Babies’ skulls are soft, and too much pressure in one area for a long period of time can cause a flat spot on the head. When babies sleep in swings, pressure on the backs of their heads can cause or worsen flat spots.
Young infants cannot hold their heads facing forward for a long time. For that reason, babies who spend a lot of time in swings may keep their heads turned to one side . This can lead to torticollis, a condition where the neck twists and causes the head to tilt unnaturally.
To prevent flat spots and torticollis, parents and caregivers should limit babies’ time spent in swings. Instead, caregivers can supervise tummy time , when the awake baby is placed on their stomach to stretch and practice motor skills.
Risks from Straps and Cushions
Most baby swings have straps that attach at the baby’s waist and groin and possibly the shoulders. However, occasionally parents or caregivers do not buckle the straps, or they attach the straps too loosely. Loose or unbuckled straps can be dangerous because sleeping babies can become tangled in or even strangled by them. Babies who are not properly strapped in could also fall out of the swings and be injured. To avoid the risk of injury, caregivers should always properly buckle straps on baby swings.
Many baby swings are also padded for comfort. However, cushions and other soft bedding can be hazardous for sleeping babies. Sleeping babies could turn their faces toward the padding and suffocate, particularly if they are not securely buckled. Babies should sleep on firm surfaces without any soft objects such as pillows or toys to avoid this risk.
How to Safely Use a Baby Swing
Parents and caregivers should always follow manufacturers’ recommendations for baby swings, including secure buckling, and should always monitor babies while they use swings. Parents and caregivers should also make sure baby swings are stable, in good working condition, and meet current U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards.
New CPSC standards for baby swings took effect in 2013. The standards were updated after the CPSC received over 350 complaints about baby swings, which included 24 injuries and two deaths, in one year.
The new standards require manufacturers to design, test, and add warnings to swings to ensure they are stable, secure, and have seats at safe angles for babies. Baby swings sold after May 2013 must meet the current CPSC standards, but some older swings may not. Parents and caregivers can also check whether their baby swing or other equipment is listed on the CPSC list of recalled products.
Safety Tips for Using a Baby Swing
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends additional tips to safely use a baby swing .
- Follow weight limits: Check weight limits for the swing and do not put babies in a swing if they weigh more than the limit.
- Keep it flat: Tilt the swing back to its flattest position for babies younger than 4 months.
- Secure with straps: Use shoulder straps on babies when they sit up in a swing.
- Check attachments: Keep any mobile toys securely attached and out of babies’ reach .
- Use on flat surfaces: Never place baby swings in cribs, on mattresses, or on other raised surfaces.
How Long Can a Baby Sleep in a Swing?
Due to the risk of injury, experts do not recommend babies sleep in a swing. If a baby falls asleep in a swing, then the parent or caregiver should take the baby out of the swing and move them to a crib or bassinet.
While experts do not have a maximum recommended duration babies can spend in a swing, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians agree that babies should not spend a long time in swings or similar equipment. Babies need a variety of activities, including tummy time, cuddles, and play, for healthy physical, cognitive, and social development.
Additionally, babies who regularly sleep in a swing may eventually have difficulty sleeping through the night or learning to sleep in a crib. When children need a particular routine, setting, or object in order to fall asleep, then they may wake up during the night and be unable to fall back to sleep without their preferred object or routine.
Parents or caregivers of babies who can only sleep in a swing should try putting them to bed in a crib or bassinet when they are sleepy but still awake. If a baby continues to have difficulties falling asleep without a swing, then their parents or caregivers should talk to a doctor about whether sleep training is appropriate.
Safe Sleeping Practices for Babies
The safest place for a baby to sleep is on a flat, firm surface without any bedding other than a fitted sheet. Babies sleeping on an incline can roll over onto their stomachs or sides, putting themselves into dangerous positions. In addition, soft surfaces that indent under pressure carry a risk of suffocation for sleeping babies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in a crib, bassinet, play yard, or portable crib that meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards. Parents and caregivers should also make sure that cribs are not broken, do not have missing parts, and are not recalled.
Although researchers do not fully understand all of the causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), many risk factors for SIDS are related to a baby’s sleep environment . Experts recommend several evidence-based tips to help babies stay safe while they sleep.
- Put babies to sleep on their backs: Parents and caregivers should put babies to sleep on their backs every time they sleep until at least their first birthday. Babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides are at high risk of SIDS. However, if babies roll onto their sides or stomachs by themselves while sleeping, parents or caregivers do not need to roll them onto their backs.
- Keep soft objects out of cribs: Blankets, pillows, bumper pads, stuffed animals, and other soft objects in babies’ sleeping spaces increase risks of SIDS.
- Dress babies lightly for sleep: Overheating has been linked to a higher risk of SIDS. However, researchers have not found the best room temperature for sleeping babies. Flushing, sweating, or skin that is warm to the touch may be signs of overheating. Generally, babies require at most one layer more than adults in the same environment would need to feel comfortable.
- Keep cords and wires out of reach: Sleeping babies could strangle on dangling cords, wires, and other items that could accidentally loop across a baby’s neck.
- Share a room but not a bed: Babies who sleep in a parent or caregiver’s room but in a separate crib or bassinet have a lower risk of SIDS compared to babies who sleep in a separate room. However, babies who sleep in the same bed with an adult have a higher risk of SIDS, particularly if the adult has been drinking alcohol or smokes.
- Do not smoke during pregnancy or around babies: Smoking during pregnancy raises risks for SIDS and other health problems for babies and for pregnant people. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke in the home may also be at higher risk of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers have smoke-free homes.
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