The soft rhythmical movement of a swing often provides the soothing motion needed for a baby to fall asleep. It can also offer you a few moments of reprieve and provide a practical way for you to accomplish the daily tasks you need to. But what are the safety implications associated with a baby sleeping in a swing, and is it safe?
It is not safe nor recommended that a baby sleep in a swing as there are significant safety concerns associated with it. Whilst a swing provides the infant with a soft, comfortable cocoon like environment, it does not meet the sleeping guidelines of a firm flat surface with no loose bedding.
These swings should strictly be used for their intended purpose. It is also important that the infant is alert and supervised when placed in the swing. This ensures that there are no developmental implications or safety risks to the baby.
Although there are benefits of a swing, there are areas which should be further explored to make an informed decision.
Why is sleeping in a swing dangerous for A BABY?
These concerns stem from an increased risk of:
- Positional asphyxiation
- Accidental suffocation
A baby's neck muscles are not yet fully developed resulting in very poor control over their head. This is intensified by the fact that their head is disproportionately larger than their body.
When paired with being seated at an angle of 30-45 in the swing, a baby’s head can flop forward resulting in pressure being placed on their necks and potentially obstructing their airway or reducing their oxygen flow.
Positional asphyxia happens when a baby can't get enough air to breathe due to the positioning of their body.
A baby can accidentally roll or turn their head into the padding of the swing.
Aspiration happens when something (food, liquid) enters your airway or lungs by accident. This can cause serious health problems, such as pneumonia. Aspiration happens when you have trouble swallowing normally.
The cause of SIDS is unknown, but current research indicates that SIDS is associated with problems in the ability of the baby to arouse from sleep, low levels of oxygen, or a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood.
Are there any other things to be aware of when a baby falls asleep in their swing?
The Straps of a Baby Swing
Most swings come equipped with straps to secure the baby and prevent injury. However, these straps may have the potential to become entangled even when used correctly.
Straps are also not a fool proof measure to prevent an infant from rolling over or flopping forward regardless of age.
Research from an independent study conducted by biomechanic experts and mechanical engineers at the University of Arkansas indicated that sleeping in an inclined position on a non-rigid surface may make it easier for babies to roll over, but harder for them to roll back.
Once in this new position, a higher demand is placed on a different group of muscles which are not yet strong enough. This causes muscle fatigue which could lead to one of the concerns mentioned above.
The Construction of the Swing
Most baby swings are made with soft, plush fabrics which can be a suffocation hazard. This too is true for those with breathable mesh sides.
In line with what was mentioned previously, these swings do not provide a firm enough surface, so when babies try to move, there is not a sufficiently firm surface for them to push against.
Soft blankets or muslin cloths, pillows and toys also pose a potential suffocation risk and should not be placed with the infant in the swing.
Quality of sleep
The quality of your baby's sleep is crucial. It is during their deep sleep cycle that blood supply to their muscles increases, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occurs and essential hormones needed for growth and development are released.
Sleeping whilst in motion, as a baby would experience in a swing, keeps the brain in a state of light sleep preventing these vital functions from occurring.
What about my baby who struggles with acid reflux?
Using a swing for a baby struggling with reflux is not advised and will not necessarily alleviate the reflux symptoms. This is because most swings are in a semi-inclined position which is is not recommended for babies struggling with reflux.
This position can often lead to slumping which results in an increase in air pressure of the baby’s stomach making the reflux worse. Should your baby find the rocking motion to be soothing, try and make use of a chair with a reclining back as this will help prevent slumping.
What are the benefits of using a swing correctly?
Swings can have a Calming Effect
Most paediatric Occupational Therapists will explain that the slow rhythmical rocking of a swing provides a certain type of sensory input which can calm and regulate your infant.
Swinging also promotes the development of the vestibular system which forms the foundation for many gross motor skills.
The comforting cocoon-like nature of the swing provides additional comforting sensory support.
Both the movement and secure environment also tends to remind them of being in the womb which adds to the calming effect.
Free Hands for Parents
Placing your baby safely and securely in their swing where you have full vision of them allows you the opportunity to either engage with your other child/ren, cook dinner, fold washing or any other urgent chore.
Entertaining and Stimulating for Baby
Any new environment or different view provides your baby with stimulation and growth.
Most swings come with developmentally appropriate toys for your baby as well as a variety of music which can also help soothe them.
The Convenience of Being Able to Move them Easily
For the most part, these swings are easy to move around from room to room in the house making it easy to take wherever you are.
When can my baby start using a swing?
There is no unique set of recommendations indicating the age at which your baby can start using a swing. Rather it is encouraged that you base your decision on the height and weight of your baby, the type of swing you intend using and the degree to which it can recline.
This is especially important if you choose to use a swing during the newborn months before they have developed head control.
In such a case, for any infant under 4 months, the most reclined position of the swing should be used, the seat should remain almost completely flat whilst rocking to minimise the risk of falling out and the harness must be fastened and secure.
It is also crucial to look at the warnings and guidelines of the specific swing you have chosen to ensure your baby meets the weight requirements.
What safety guidelines should be followed when using a swing?
Despite the stringent warning regarding babies sleeping in swings, they can still add value and be used safely when following these comforting guidelines:
- Carefully read the package insert for directions on use of the swing. Ensure that you familiarise yourself with the buckles and attachments that come with the swing and how to use them safely.
- Make sure that the swing is set up correctly as per the instructions and no parts are left off or used in isolation.
- It is also crucial that the swing only be used as directed by the instruction manual.
- The swing must be set on a firm stable surface. It should never be placed on a counter, couch, table, chair or any other elevated surface.
5. Should your baby fall asleep in their swing, it is important that you reposition them in their crib on a firm flat surface.
6. Never leave your baby unattended or unsupervised in their swing. It is also recommended that they spend less than 30 mins-1 hour a day in the swing. This prevents the risk of developing container syndrome and ensures that your baby has the opportunity for normal development to occur
7. Do not carry the swing with your infant in it.
8. When your infant develops the ability to sit up on their own, attempts to climb out the chair on their own or exceeds the maximum weight limit, it is time to stop using the device.
Understanding that a baby swing should be used as an activity device and not a replacement for a crib is important in maintaining the safety of your baby. It can certainly add value to your infants life as well as provide a way to help calm and soothe them when you need a break.