Baby Swings Work and I Can Prove It

Baby Boy with Pacifier Sleeping in Swing

This post was written over a decade ago. Since then the evidence about the safety of swings for infant sleep has evolved and I no longer recommend their use for sleep. If you’re struggling to figure out how to help your baby sleep (and I assume you are since you’re googling right?) my book can help. It provides practical and safe approaches that can help your child sleep better today.

I am leaving this post up because many people find this through desperate searching and I want to let them know that swings are not the answer and that help is available.

Babies sleep better in swings. I KNOW this. I’ve gotten probably 50 non-sleeping babies to sleep happily in the swing over the past 4 years. Getting babies to sleep in a swing is my secret super power. (I was hoping my secret super power would be something cool, like shooting laser beams out of my eyes, but unfortunately you don’t get to choose these things).

Medical Research on Baby Swings

I went hunting for academic support for babies sleeping in swings and came up with the proverbial donut hole. Nada. With hundreds of thousands of babies in the US merrily sleeping in baby swings, some stuffy old professor somewhere had to be researching this, right? I mean what the heck are old professors doing with all their free time? (Honestly I married a professor and I have no idea what he does all day.)

If I couldn’t find anything I figured surely somebody who was really plugged into medical research and who knew a lot about babies sleeping in swings would know something. So I tossed out an email to Baby Guru Dr. Harvey Karp fully expecting to get some “thanks for your interest blahbittyblah” auto-response. I mean the guy is a best-selling author who is traveling the country CONSTANTLY and is working on fifteen thousand infant research projects while he sleeps on the plane between speaking engagements.

So imagine my surprise when he ACTUALLY WROTE ME BACK! Check it…

Hi Alexis,

Thanks for the shout out and the Q.
There really is no research on swings and calming…there have been a few studies using bouncing water beds and calming premature babies…and a few other older studies:
van den Daele l. Modification of infant state by treatment in a rockerbox. J of Psych 1970, 74:161-5
84 Brackbill Y, Continuous Stimulation Reduces Arousal Level: Stability of the Effect over Time. Child Dev 1973; 44: 43-6
85 Pederson DR, et al, The influence of amplitude and frequency of vestibular stimulation on the activity of 2-month-old infants. Chi Dev 1973, 44:122-8
86 Koner A, et al. The relative efficacy of contact and vestibulo-proprioceptive stimulation in soothing neonates. Ch Dev 1972; 43:443-53
87 Pederson DR. The soothing effect of rocking as determined by direction and frequency of movement. CanJBehav Sci 1975;7:237-43
88 Hunziker U, Barr R,: Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial. Peds1986;77:641-8
89 Brazelton TB, Nugent JK. Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. 3rd ed. Clinics in Dev Med, 1995;137
90 Elliott MR, et al. Effects of rocking on the state and respiration of normal and excessive criers. Can J of Psych 1988, 42: 163-172
91 Gatts JD, et al. Reducing crying and irritability in neonates using a continuously controlled early environment. J of Perinat,1995;15:215-21
92 Korner AF, et al. Sleep enhanced and irritability reduced in preterm infants: Differential efficacy of 3 types of waterbeds. Dev and Behav Peds; 1990; 11:240-6.
93 Kramer LI, Pierpont ME. Rocking waterbeds and auditory stimuli to enhance growth of preterm infants. J Peds 1976; 88:297-9
I hope that helps.
I also hope you have had a chance to see the happiest toddler DVD/book…it dies fr kids 9m-5y what the happiest baby does for the little ones….an immediate improvement in difficult behaviors and it also makes easy kids more patient and cooperative!

All best,

Harvey

Seriously, how cool is that? I mean it’s not quite “Bono and The Edge having sangria at my house” cool, but it’s right up there. I think this means that Harvey and I are now BFFs.

Once I got over the excitement of my new celebrity bestie I actually looked into the research he had sent. And it stinks. Some of it is ancient (even older than I am). The most compelling research suggests that infants actually sleep better on waterbeds. Which would be useful if a) anybody actually used waterbeds anymore and b) if the AAP hadn’t outlawed infants on waterbeds because it’s a huge SIDS hazard. In fact you can skip reading these ancient and questionably useful research papers and skip to the chase with this one quote:

“Infants assigned to any of the waterbed groups slept significantly more and better, had significantly fewer unsmooth movements, state changes, and transitional states, and were significantly less irritable”

So if we take out scary/creepy waterbed and insert “baby swing” that is as close as you’re going to get to medical evidence that babies sleep better in swings.

So what do we really know?

  1. Baby Swings Help Babies Sleep

    Dr. Karp knows this. My years of experience support this. They help babies sleep better and give you a really gentle transition path to get your little one into their crib without crying.

  2. The NIH Needs to Fund More Infant Swing/Motion Research

    Seriously guys let’s get on this. You’ve done some amazing work with kids and sleep studies. But it’s time to beef up the infant research budget. Let’s give some fusty old professor something to do.

  3. Dr. Karp Totally Thinks I’m Awesome

    He didn’t actually say so in his email but obviously he meant to and was simply just too busy that day to mention my awesomeness.

{photo credit: Lisa Stout}