Baby bouncers (aka baby rockers) have been around for as long as any of us can remember. Most of the old ones were metal and plastic contraptions that swung back and forth on a timer with very little regard to positioning or safety. These were designed essentially as simple pendulums that rocked back and forth on an axis, like a playground swing. Nowadays, there are seemingly hundreds of options for baby bouncers/rockers, all with different features. If you’re feeling paralyzed by analysis of all the options: don’t fret! We’ll go through a few of the types to help you decide what’s best for you. Why listen to me? Well, I’m a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and a father of two daughters—but most importantly, I’ve been exactly where you are and I clearly remember how it felt to look at all of the options available. I sadly admit that my wife and I owned almost every “cool” bouncer recommended to us at one point and regretted buying many of them. My hope for this article is to help you decide for yourself what you might be looking for so you don’t go down the rabbit hole like we did.
So why get a newborn bouncer/rocker at all? For most parents, it’s mostly for our own sanity. If babies could only figure out how to sleep well on their own, parents would just put them in their cribs, leave the room, crack open some wine, turn on some Netflix, and get so much sleep that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. If only it were that easy! Babies are naturally very poor sleep self-regulators. Any little motion tends to wake them up and keep them (and you) up for a while. That’s why we swaddle them—to prevent them from waking themselves up from their own movement. But what about when they’re not in their crib or they get too old to swaddle? That’s where bouncers/rockers come in—they help to soothe babies to help them get back to sleep on their own.
In the most general terms, bouncers/rockers can be divided into passive and active devices. From there, they usually swing from either a top or bottom axis and are either chair-like or bassinet-like. Each one of these device types has inherent advantages and disadvantages.
- Passive devices have no active motors to help them move. The device is powered either by the baby or parent, usually through a leaf spring or rocker mechanism (for bottom axis bouncers/rockers) or from pendulum mechanism (for top axis bouncers/rockers).
- Active devices have a live electric motor that helps them to move. They can have either a bottom or top axis and usually either rock back and forth or vibrate.
Both of these types of devices can work very well in soothing babies to sleep. Looking between the two types above—seems like an active newborn bouncer would be the way to go, right? I mean, who doesn’t want a robot to do the job that we humans usually have to do? Well, it’s not that simple. Active bouncers have three big disadvantages: noise, size/weight, and cost. If you’ve ever heard one of these, they can be pretty loud when they engage. We had one when our kids were young and I would get startled every time it turned on. Our cats absolutely were terrified from it as well! If your baby is as sensitive to sound as our daughter Ruby was, it may actually take them longer to get back to sleep! The size and weight of active bouncers can pose a challenge as well. It takes a lot more real estate and mass to house a motor and AC to DC transformer in an active device compared to a passive one. If you’ve ever tried to move one of these from room to room, you know exactly how much of a pain this can be. Literally can be a pain in the rear if you have a herniated disk like I do! It makes you just want to plant the thing in one room and never move it again. But what if you just want to buy another for another room? Well, if you’re made of money that’s definitely an option. This leads to the last big negative for active bouncers/rockers: cost. Some active devices cost more than others, but all of them tend to be more expensive than similar ones that are passively driven. Some of them cost more than a car payment (!!!), which makes my wallet shudder. Lastly, babies are messy. Getting food or fecal matter onto electronics makes me really nervous to clean.
As far as chair-like or bassinet-like types, this is largely personal preference. Chair-like bouncers have the advantage of ease of entry into and out of it. This can really help with the most common orthopedic problem that I see in mothers: the dreaded “Mommy Wrist” syndrome. The technical name for this is DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, which is an irritation of one of the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. This is usually caused by overuse of this tendon when lifting babies in and out of a crib with your hands instead of lifting with your forearms under the baby. Doing this thousands of times over a short period of time with an ever-growing baby leads to inflammation of this tendon and tendon sheath and can cause significant pain. My wife’s inflammation was so bad she needed cortisone injections into both wrists to minimize her pain and be able to lift our kids out of the crib. Putting a baby in a chair-like bouncer can help minimize the effort needed to take a baby in and out of it when compared to a bassinet-like one. The effort needed to get a baby in a bassinet is higher because you have to pick up the baby from the top, which can require a lot more wrist effort than a chair-like bouncer, where you can more easily get your forearms around the baby to lift them safely.
With all this said, that’s why I’m so proud to be involved with helping Ergobaby design the new 3-in-1 Evolve Bouncer. The most compelling features of this bouncer are that it is lightweight, hip safe, quiet, and is useful until babies hit toddlerhood (up to 29 lbs). Because the device is completely passive, it has no motors and thus no extra weight or noise and can be easily moved from room-to-room or house-to-house if needed because it folds completely flat. It’s naturally self-soothing for babies because if they startle themselves while sleeping, the bouncer starts naturally rocking and helps to get babies to get back to sleep. Parents can also give it a gentle push and it will naturally rock up and down silently to jump start the sleep process. It’s designed to be hip safe through the design of the newborn insert and the middle strap. The hips rest in a position of safety (slight flexion and abduction) but also allow movement to minimize the chance of hip dysplasia. It is nearly completely silent when working, so it won’t wake your baby or startle any nearby parents or animals. And lastly, it will grow with your baby as they grow. As a newborn, the baby can be placed in the most horizontal (flattest) lounging position which maximizes the amount of rocking the device for a given input effort (parent push or infant movement). As your baby gains better head and neck control, they can be placed into the middle sitting position which allows them to be able to be able to look around and explore their surroundings, stimulating their growing curiosity. And as your infant gets to the toddler stage, they can use the chair as a seat for naps or just hanging out. As a bonus, it is really easy to clean as the fabric is easy to remove and is machine washable.
Although there isn’t a single best option for all use cases for a bouncer/rocker, my wife and I found that the passive chair-like devices were the ones we tended to gravitate to most when our children were babies. The “cool” ones that seemed like they were invented by a NASA engineer were significantly less cool over time as we started to notice the downsides and use them less and less. I hope this post helped you learn about the different types of bouncers/rockers out there and make an educated decision.