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The Ultimate Baby Swing Sleep Guide For Swing Hating Babies

Newborn baby in jammies sleeping in swing

Studies show babies sleep better in cute jammies.

Step 1: Buy baby swing.
Step 2: Assemble swing.
Step 3. Put baby in swing.
Step 4: Turn swing on.

What, it’s not working for you?

But My Baby Hates the Swing

I have never failed to get a baby to fall asleep. Contrary to what you may have heard, I do not do this by reading my blog posts to babies.

I use baby swings.

baby sleeping in papasan swingMost of you live too far away for me to show you in person how I get babies to fall asleep in baby swings so I’m going to do my best to describe my no-fail baby swing sleep technique here. If you have a newborn baby (0-6 months old) and are struggling with sleep, short naps, etc. I would give the swing a try.

Start with the basic baby swing steps:

  • Run it by your pediatrician. I’ve found they almost unilaterally will support your decision. But best to make sure first.
  • Put the swing where your baby currently sleeps (or sleeps most often). This is probably in your own room and it’s OK if it’s not currently THEIR room (we can easily move in that direction once we’ve mastered the swing). This is our new “sleep spot” and for the next few weeks, the baby should generally sleep in that location, in the swing, round the clock. (It’s OK if a few car/stroller naps sneak in there, it happens.)
  • Make your sleep spot a dark place. Room darkening blinds work great for this. However you can temporarily create a dark space by simply taping aluminum foil to the windows with masking tape. Sure it’s a little ghetto but it works great!
  • Put something in there that will create loud and continuous white noise. White noise will help your baby sleep and (assuming the sleep spot is YOUR room) will also help block the sound of the swing so YOU can sleep.
  • Set up your baby monitor.
  • Move whatever other sleep supplies (swaddling blankets, pacifiers, books, chair for nursing/feeding, etc.) you need so that it’s relatively close to your new baby sleep spot.
  • Put your swing into the sleep spot.
  • Use your swing on the highest speed setting available. For newborns, faster is better.

Put the baby in the swing, strap them in, turn it on, and voilà – baby sleep nirvana!

For some babies, it may be just this simple. If so, congratulations and I hope you are currently enjoying your victory nap. In fact everybody should try to put your baby awake into the swing, turn it on, and walk out of the room. Wait a few minutes (literally – use a timer and don’t go back for 3-5 minutes) and see what happens. Your baby may surprise you.

Or maybe not. In which case we move on to what I like to call the Varsity Sleep Swing technique. We’re going to slather your baby with so much soothing that they will literally be incapable of staying awake. It’s like when I have 2 glasses of wine and then try to watch Masterpiece Theater, only modified for the younger set.

Varsity Sleep Swing Technique

All of the above PLUS:

  • Swaddle your baby. Remember swaddling is all about the arms, having the legs wrapped up doesn’t add anything. So it’s totally fine to leave the legs loose so you can safely strap your baby into the swing with swaddled arms.
  • Put something that smells like Mom near baby’s face. Like that t-shirt you’ve been living in for the past month because you’re too tired to deal with laundry. Cut off a small piece (~6″X6″ nothing large enough to become an entrapment hazard) and put it in the back of the swing near the baby’s face. When not being used for naps/sleeping keep this little piece of t-shirt tucked into your bra during the day so it always smells like you/milk.
  • Use a pacifier. Some babies don’t take to pacifiers but if yours does then by all means use it.
  • Jiggle their head.* Put your swaddled pacifier sucking baby in the swing in the dark room with the white noise. Crouch down behind the swing so they can’t really see you. Push the swing with your arm (the motor is off for now). If your baby is not calming or falling asleep, jiggle the back of the swing left and right WHILE you are swinging it back and forth. The goal here is to have your baby’s cheeks wiggling like a bowl of jello. (Here is a good video example of baby jiggling). You can also shoosh loudly (I know you are rocking the white noise already but for some reason the added shooshing seems to help). Keep it up for 2-3 minutes or until your baby starts to look tired. A great visual cue to look for is the sleepy blink – your baby starts to blink more slowly as though their eyelids are getting heavier. When you start to see sleepy cues turn on the swing motor.
  • (Optional): Nurse baby to sleep while swaddled THEN put them in the swing. NOTE: This is fine to do for younger babies (<4 months) or if you’re struggling to get them to fall asleep any other way. My advice is to play around with other methods to help them fall asleep IN the swing but this is a valid fallback tactic to use in the short run.

*About head jiggling. This is what it sounds like – a jiggle. Shaken baby syndrome is an act of violence that requires forceful slamming motion. It is almost impossible to achieve this level of stress with a baby cradled in a swing but I want to be very clear that we are talking about jiggling vs. violent shaking.

Note: Your baby may be crying/complaining while you are swaddling her and strapping her into the swing. That’s OK. This probably means she’s a bit overtired – she may be short on sleep in general or maybe she was just kept awake a little longer than she could handle. Unless she is hungry this is a really good sign that she needs sleep so take a deep breath and continue to help her fall asleep in the swing.

Short-Term Sleep Swing Goals

I know some of you will feel like the swing is a detour because what you REALLY want is that peanut sleeping in his own crib. But the swing is going to solve two critical short-term issues:

1

Increase the Total Amount of Sleep

Babies sleep better and longer while moving. There is a reason most babies fall asleep seconds after you start the car. In general, babies will take slightly longer naps (+20-40 minutes) in a swing and newborns who are waking up a lot at night (4+ times) will often drop one of their night feedings after being put to bed in a swing.

2

Help Baby Learn to Fall Asleep.

Like potty training, getting the straw into the juicebox, and spitting, falling-asleep is a skill that you will need to help your child develop. Early on we help babies fall asleep primarily by rocking and nursing. However as your baby gets older these techniques will start to fail you (I’ll be writing a bunch about this later). If your goal is help your baby become a happy toddler who is capable of sleeping through the night then at some point you will have to help her learn to fall asleep. This can be a real challenge to do without any crying. Unless you use the swing in which case it’s really really easy.

Long-Term Sleep Swing Strategy

  • As your baby gets closer to 6+ months of age you want to gradually wean off the swaddling, pacifier, and swinging. To wean off the swing, simply start turning the speed down. If naps & night sleep remains the same then continue. If she starts waking up more often, she’s not ready and the speed needs to stay up where it was. Wait a week or two, then try again. There is no rush.
  • When you’re ready, move the swing next to the crib so that baby gets used to sleeping in that location.
  • Eventually you’ll find yourself putting baby down for naps/bedtime in a non-moving swing. When you get to this point, the transition to the crib is relatively painless. The first time you put your baby in the crib there may be some “hey this is new?!?” complaining but it is generally mild and ends quickly.
  • If your baby was happily sleeping in a non-moving swing, they SHOULD sleep just as happily in the crib. If, however, after a few “getting used to the new digs” nights you find that the crib-sleep is markedly worse than when they were in the non-moving swing then you may want to investigate the possibility that your child may have reflux. Swing sleepers who have mild reflux may sleep just great while held upright in the swing but terribly when placed on their backs. If you have concerns, definitely talk to your pediatrician.

Anybody else have any ideas on how to get those swing-hating babies to sleep in the swing?
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{Photo credits: Bart Cicuto and Pat David}

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514 Comments


  1. Hi Alexis! Not sure if you’re still checking comments on this, but I was wondering the best technique to swaddling with the legs out, so we can strap our guy into his swing? We had weaned him off of the swing about a month ago, but decided to try naps again in the swing because he’s been such an awful napper lately. this weekend, we got a 2 hour nap! He hasn’t slept longer than 40 minutes in weeks!

  2. Just as many have stated, I feel so relieved to have read this blog! I am a mom of two boys: 3.5 y/o and a 4 month old. I can’t even begin to describe how different my parenting experience has been between the two when it comes to sleep. I made the mistake of looking through my first child’s baby book to find out he was sleeping through the night at 3 months old and taking two hour naps during the day! Oh, how that has not been the case. I’m still up every two hours during the night. I’ve approached sleep differently with my second baby for several reasons. I partially breastfeed (low milk supply), and found myself feeding at night and baby falling asleep with me. He sleeps so well in my arms! Or the swing! However, due to my safety fears I decided to try putting him to sleep in the crib next to our bed for naps and for nighttime sleeping. It has been a sleepless, tiring week of tiny catnaps and an unhappy baby…up every one to two hours during the night and only sleeping 15 to 45 min tops for a nap. Upon reading your blog and watching the interview with Dr. Karl, I feel so incredibly relieved that the swing is not unsafe. I watched a youtube video about reclining of his fisher price swing, and he is on the “flattest” position, but it’s not completely flat. The swing is truly what is working for him right now, and this week of me trying to force the crib was not working for either of us. I felt so guilty about using the swing for naps and sleeping. So, why doesn’t AAP acknowledge swings as an option for safe sleeping like Dr. Karp?

    Thank you for your blog!

  3. Hi,

    I hope you’re still checking in on this. I really want to do the swing method because I don’t have the heart for CIO. We tried and I failed miserably. I need a less stressful way to get him to sleep. My LO is almost 8 months old. I was wondering if you think it is possible to work on him? We’ve got to do something. My son is also working on his 9TH TOOTH. Yes 9th at 8 months old. He has been mostly co sleeping to this point. I was able to get him to sleep in his crib a few times but with all of these teeth he’s not happy laying by himself. He is and has need a very light sleeper. We have a white noise machine and he can hear doors closing in his room. When he’s laying next to me those noises don’t bother him. Anywho, lots of yammering later. My main question is do you think the swing method will work for an 8 month old? He goes to sleep by nursing and rocking right now. When he wakes up he will go back to sleep by being rocked. Also to be clear, for the swing method, they sleep in the swing all night?

    • Hi I have an 8 month old as well. Used to be a crap sleeper, and just recently got worse. Stephanie – did u ever get a reply from Alexis?

      • Nope. Never got a reply. I did get an email from this sight and she has completely changed her view point in cry it out. She is now all of sudden all for it. So I think that’s why she stopped replying to these comments.

  4. Most of the moms went under this problem… These guidelines are very useful! Especially for new moms. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I’m curious is it better for them to swing side to side or front to back in a swing

    • I was wondering this same thing too! We have been doing side to side. I tried front/back once and he didn’t sleep any longer so I went back.

  6. Hi and thank you for sharing such great information. I know this post is really old but I’m hoping to still get an answer. Ive been reading through comments and just cant find anyone with my same problem. My son is 7 weeks tomorrow and we have been trying the swing thing for about a week. The problem is, I’ve been traveling with him the last few weekends and I’m not going to be home for more than 5 days in a row for a few months. I know you would tell me to invest in a travel swing, but that’s not my question. At night he has gone as much as 6.5 hours (usually 4.5) and then after that every 2-3 hours not in the swing. HOWEVER, for naps, I can not get him to sleep longer than one 45 min. sleep cycle unless i hold him and bounce him during the transition. He doesnt ever nurse to sleep except middle of the night feedings. He has reflux which is new to me because my first did not. SO HERE IS MY QUESTION: When using the swing for naps (I’m currently bouncing to sleep and then laying him in because he wouldn’t fall asleep on his own even with the varsity techniques), do I accept the nap is over when he wakes up after one sleep cycle, or do I bounce him back to sleep and try and put him in again? Or do I hold him the rest of his nap so I’m not creating a sleep deficit and making things even harder. When he only sleeps 45 min. then obviously it messes up his feedings too. I hope you can reply whenever you get a chance. THANK YOU! I really want the swing to work for us.

    • Great questions, Alisa. Should we let them wake up after the first sleep cycle or put them back to sleep?
      Thank you!

  7. Hi Alexis,

    I got the varsity trchnique to work. My goal is to first get my 5 month old son to sleep without needing us to bounce him and once he’s used to the swing start weaning him off of it.

    My question to you is, I would like to only have him in the swing for naps. Is this possible/doable? At bedtime I would like to nurse him to sleep.

    Thanks!

    • Can you do this? Yes.

      BUT WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?

      Look eventually nursing to sleep at bedtime is going to blow up on you. Maybe it’s working today but I guarantee you that at some point in the future you’ll come to the realization that the nursing to sleep thing is a huge problem. At that point the swing will be done for you (at 5 months you’re already at the tale end of swingdom). Then it’ll be too late and you won’t have great options to gently transition to independent sleep.

      So nurse to sleep at bedtime if you want but I would encourage you to consider how nursing to sleep fits into your long-term sleep plan and possibly reconsider.

  8. Just want to say THANK YOU!! I wish I had found your site a few years ago with my first. We held him for nearly every single nap until he was 6 months old and did CIO. Yeah, we had lots of snuggle time and it was special but it was also maddening too! I vowed not to make the same mistake with our 2nd but we were in the same boat, only able to get him to sleep more than 15 minutes if we were holding him. We finally got him (2.5 months old) to sleep in a swing yesterday after reading your recommendations. I could not fathom how to put down an infant “drowsy but awake” and have them actually go to sleep without crying, but the swing did it! He even slept for almost 2 hours there this morning. My partner and I are amazed. Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and creating this great community!! Your newest fan, Laura 🙂

  9. Hi,

    Thank you so much for the info!! I love your website and it helped me through the newborn sleep deprived days tremendously!

    I was wondering if you have any suggestions to get my 2.5 months old to nap a little longer. I tried you method, swaddle, turn on the white noise and put him in the swing and he is slowly learning how to fall asleep on his own. But..he wakes every 40 minutes, then I have to pick him up and calm him down then put him back to the swing drowsy. And any noise wakes him, like my dog jumps on my bed or toilet flushing, etc. My baby is just so jumpy and I feel like he is not getting the sleep he needs during the day.

    Any advise is appreciated. Thanks!

  10. I just wanted to say a big Thank You! After many late nights of endless fussing, crying and carrying babying around, my husband and I are exhausted. We tried the swing before but our baby girl hated it… Or so we thought! She screamed and screamed! We applied your techniques tonight including the varsity ones and they worked like a charm, like immediately! You have our heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

  11. Hey Alexis,

    I know you are probably very busy but please try and reply to my question as I have been very anxious and curious for a while now but haven’t had a firm answer from anything or anyone!
    You’re an absolute life saver by the way. Your words of wisdom on these types of posts have saved me a lot of stress and confusion and my daughter (10 weeks old) is happier and I swear healthier than ever.
    She’s been able to get a great amount of sleep – as well as myself lol.

    Anyways my question is
    I’m concerned because say; if I place my daughter in the swing and she sleeps for hours and hours on end (and i’m talking 5-8hour stretches or so) would that be any stress on her back/neck or body to be in that position for such an amount of time – without moving?

    • Hey Jacinta,

      So there is almost no research on baby swings, rock n plays, etc. and this is unfortunate because we would ALL love some real evidence to base our decisions on. As it is all we have to go on is anecdotal evidence which is that no – this doesn’t stress body/neck/etc. There are some doctors who claim that swings exacerbate flat head issues but there is no evidence that it’s any different than a crib. There are others who prefer swings for flat head issues vs. crib. The answer you’ll get on that question depends on which specific doctor you ask.

      I will say there is no reason to think that a motionless swing is more or less “stressful” than a non moving swing. And typically once your child is sleeping well AND falling asleep in a non moving swing, you’re basically ready to transition to the crib. So if you’re WORRIED (not that I believe you have reason to be) the simplest answer is to make the move!

      Hope that helps,
      Alexis

  12. Is 6 months too late to start using the swing as a sleep training tool? Is CIO (after much reading and debate, this is almost certainly in our near future) okay in the swing? Or, if crying is happening either way, should we just go straight to the crib with it and be done?

    Thankful to anyone who may have insight to offer.

    • If he were sleeping in the swing as a general theme prior to this it might not be a bad idea to see if you can gently teach him to fall asleep using the swing. I wouldn’t do full on CIO in the swing. If he’s not historically slept in the swing I wouldn’t be optimistic about it working now and might encourage you to just skip it and move directly to the crib.

      • Thanks for the reply! Sadly the swing hasn’t been the godsend with Baby #2 that it was for Baby #1. But hopefully our days of naps in the wrap and human pacifier-ing in my bed all night are coming to an end!

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