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Baby swings, from simple to fancy

When it's 2 a.m. and your newborn won't stop crying, a baby swing can be a lifesaver. What used to be viewed as a luxury has become a baby-registry staple for many new parents, and for good reason. While the swings of yesteryear were often loud contraptions parents had to wind up, today's swings are quiet, plush rides that can be operated with one button.

Before you buy a baby swing, reviewers say, parents need to know one thing: Many infants like swings, but some don't. The only way to find out is to put your child in a swing and see whether they take to it.

If you do decide to buy a baby swing, focus on safety first. Make sure the swing seems stable, with a wide base, secure five-point harness, adequate padding and head support. It should recline to a near-flat position for newborns, because they lack the head control to sit upright. It's also a good idea to check for recalls: The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled more than a dozen swings and bouncers in the past 15 years.

A few additional things to consider are whether you care about extra features -- music, hanging toys, mobiles and the like -- and if you want a swing that moves in multiple directions, not just front to back. Also, consider the swing's power source. Some only take batteries, while others can be plugged into an outlet.

Finally, realize that all baby swings have a limited lifespan. Many have a weight limit of 25 pounds, but chances are you'll stop using a swing long before your baby is that heavy. The more your baby weighs, the slower the swing will get. In fact, some manufacturers recommend you stop using the swing once your baby can sit up unassisted, perhaps as early as 5 or 6 months.

Full-size baby swings offer the most features for your money. Many swings can move in multiple directions, increasing the odds that you'll find an option that will soothe your baby. They feature a wide range of speeds, songs and other sounds to keep your child entertained. However, full-size swings are often pricey -- expect to pay around $120 to $170 -- and they hog a significant amount of floor space. There are a handful of full-size baby swings for under $80, but they usually lack all but the most basic features. Cheaper swings often only take batteries, too.

Travel swings are designed with portability in mind. They're lightweight, low to the ground and easy to move from room to room. Most also fold up. While many travel swings offer music or other distractions, they may not have as many speeds or recline positions as full-size models. They also only swing in one direction: front to back. However, at about $50 to $70, they are easier on the wallet. Many can also be used as an everyday swing in an apartment that may not have the room for a full-size swing.

Bouncers offer another option for soothing little ones. Traditional bouncers usually have some sort of vibration mode, and many feature music and toys similar to those found on swings. Some simply provide a cozy place for relaxing and napping, and lack any sort of rocking motion. The simplest models start at around $30, and there are several popular options from $40 to $60. High-end bouncers can top $200.

ConsumerSearch has analyzed more than a dozen expert reviews and hundreds of owner reviews to evaluate the safety, performance and durability of baby swings and bouncers. The result is our picks for the best baby swings and bouncers available.

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