The best baby swings have:

  • A five-point harness. This will keep babies more secure than a three-point harness, especially once they get older and more mobile. No matter what bouncer you buy, it's important to educate yourself about swing safety.
  • Ample padding that's machine-washable. Some swings have pillows designed to cradle a small infant's head, while others have full inserts that can be removed once an older baby needs a little more space. All padding should be easily removable and machine washable.
  • Good battery life or electrical power. Most travel and budget swings only use batteries, so be sure to choose a model that won't run through a new pack every day. A plug-in swing is an even better option if you have it in your budget.
  • Multiple speed settings. Some babies prefer more vigorous swinging than other, and it takes more power to gently rock a 6-month-old than it does a newborn.
  • Various seat positions. At the very least, a swing should have a reclined position for sleeping and a more upright position for entertaining. A nice bonus is a seat that can be turned to face different directions.

Know before you go

How much room do you have? Some baby swings are notorious space hogs. If you're short on space, consider a travel swing or bouncer that has a smaller footprint. Make sure you can fold the swing to make it smaller for storage without completely taking it apart.

Do you want to travel with the swing or move it around the house frequently? In either case, choose a travel swing or bouncer over a full-size swing. Travel swings and some bouncers are designed to fold nearly flat, making them easy to stow in trunks or fit through doors. While it might be possible to move a full-size swing from room to room, you'll probably find that it's a pain -- especially if you have a baby in one arm.

Will you keep your swing in a high-traffic area? If so, you may want to consider a swing with more neutral colors that will blend in with your decor.

Are you looking for a place to soothe your baby, entertain your baby or both? If you plan on using a swing purely as a place for your baby to nap, you may not need a full array of sounds, lights, toys and other flashy entertainment features. However, if you plan on letting your baby swing while awake, you may want those things to keep his or her interest.

What kind of motion does your baby like? Some babies like swinging front to back, while others prefer swinging from side to side. Some dislike swinging but love vibrating in a bouncer. Pricier swings offer many or all of these options, but you'll pay for more features.

Buying tactics and strategies

Before buying, ask friends whether they have swings or bouncers you can borrow for a trial period. You'll learn what keeps your baby happiest so you can make a more confident purchase -- just make sure the model meets current safety standards by checking the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Plug-in baby swings are more expensive than battery-only models, but consider the big picture: If you replace batteries every few days, your initial savings will vanish. Also beware that reviewers say baby swings are not built to last -- complaints of faulty motors are common. Manufacturers might send replacement parts at no cost, but it may take weeks before they arrive, and, by the time they do, your baby may have outgrown the swing.

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