Bouncer seats bounce or rock when your baby moves to keep him relaxed and amused.
Babies like to be where the action is. A bouncer seat--also called a "bouncy" seat--gives an infant a place to hang out near you and the rest of the family during his first six months or so, or until he reaches the weight or age limit. It's typically 18 to 30 pounds or 6 months old, depending on the model.
For babies who need a little help falling asleep, a bouncer seat that vibrates can be invaluable because it imitates a lulling car ride. (Keep in mind, however, that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on his back in a crib on a firm mattress. A bouncer seat generally consists of a lightweight frame made from metal wire, tubular metal, or heavy-gauge plastic, though the Svan Bouncer by Svan/Scandinavian Child has a frame made from bent birchwood. (Note: We did not test this product.) Covered with a soft, removable, washable pad that conforms to a baby's shape, bouncer seats are somewhat springy and bounce or rock when your baby moves to keep him relaxed and amused. The fabric seat is rounded to support a baby's still-fragile spine, and a semi-upright tilt gives him a view of the surroundings. Many parents report that their babies love to nap in a bouncer seat. The sitting angle also appears to be more comfortable for some babies than lying in a flat crib after they've had a big meal.
Most models have a detachable, bent-wire play bar (sometimes covered with padding) or an overhead mobile of toys for your baby to kick, bat, and chew. Some models have a set of colorful lights and sound effects that respond to a baby's movements and/or vibrate at two or three speeds to lull the baby to sleep. Some simulate nature sounds or a heartbeat or play computer-chip-generated classical music. Others transform your child's smallest movements or your fancy footwork (they have a foot-bounce you step on to activate bouncing) into a soothing rocking motion, sans batteries. The latest versions on the market, such as the Graco Travel Lite Folding Bouncer, fold compactly for travel.
Buy either a bouncer seat or a swing. Don't buy both, especially if space or budget is a consideration. Many parents report that it's overkill since both provide a secure and soothing place for your baby to relax and stay occupied while you get some hands-free time to catch up on things around the house. If your baby doesn't like the motion of a swing (some don't), go with a bouncer. If your baby seems to need more motion than a bouncer provides, opt for a swing. If space is an issue or you'll be traveling often, a travel swing or a bouncer is a good option since they both take up much less floor space than a traditional infant swing.
Do test rides. If you can, try your baby out in a friend or relative's swing and bouncer or test store models, if possible, to gauge what your baby prefers.
Keep this product's short life span in mind. Your baby will probably use a bouncer for only five or six months--tops. Once he can sit up unassisted, he'll likely move on to more interesting things, like playing and rolling. With that in mind, an inexpensive, lightweight model (provided it's stable), such as the Cover 'n Play Bouncer by Fisher-Price ($20), may serve you as well as a top-end design like the Maclaren Activity Baby Rocker ($80). (Note: We did not test these models.) In general, more money will get you a seat that's made to last (from durable wood, such as the Svan Bouncer) and one that may be decked out with toys, reclining and vibrating features, realistic (not tinny) music, plush fabric, and the ability to rock as well as bounce. Still, more isn't always better. Parents report product satisfaction at both ends of the price spectrum.
The major brands of bouncer seats, in alphabetical order, are: Baby Björn, Combi International, Delta Enterprise, Fisher-Price, Graco, Kolcraft, Maclaren, Safety 1st, Svan, and Summer Infant. Many require AA, D and/or C batteries (not included).
Cushiness. Seat padding can vary from basic to extra-thick. Because wet diapers are bound to come in contact with the fabric covering, upholstery should be removable and machine washable (check the label). There also shouldn't be any loose threads or gaps in the seams.
Frame. When you're in the store, give the various display models a "bounce." Bring your own batteries, in case the display models don't have them. A bouncer seat should have a wide, stable base and be springy. If it seems stiff, it probably won't bounce with your baby in it.
Foldability. Some models fold nearly flat, which is handy if you'll be traveling with your bouncer seat.
Canopy. Some models have a canopy to block light. The canopy can be a sunshade if your baby spends time in it outside, but be sure to position the bouncer in the shade so the baby won't become overheated or get sunburned.
Music and vibration. Some bouncers can play up to 10 songs, with additional sound effects, to stimulate your baby's sense of hearing. These models usually provide a vibration feature along with music since both features are often packaged in the same mechanism. Vibration simulates the motion of a soothing car ride.
Rockability. Some bouncers are designed to rock as well as bounce, but most infants aren't strong enough to self-generate a rocking motion--so if a bouncer just rocks, there won't be much movement until your baby is several months old. Some rocker-bouncers, like one we tested, the Baby Einstein Discovering Water Rocker Seat, come with a kickstand, so you have the option of keeping the bouncer from rocking. In this mode, however, we found that the Water Rocker Seat didn't bounce much at all. Moreover, when this seat was in the bouncer position (the kickstand wasn't engaged), it failed to meet two test requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) safety standards for bouncer seats. The seat was difficult to assemble, which is another reason for its low score.
Seat belts. Most models have a soft fabric three-point crotch strap as a restraint; others have a five-point harness, which is ideal for newborns because they tend to list to the side or slide to the end of the seat. Check all fasteners on models with three-point or five-point harnesses to see that they're strong, secure, and easy for you to work, and that they won't poke your baby. They should be stiff enough to be safe without being so rigid that they pinch or are difficult for you to operate.
Head support. Seats with an adjustable, removable cushioned head support are ideal for newborns.
Seat fabric. Fabric patterns range from kid-friendly to sophisticated solid color combos, such as chocolate and orange, black and watermelon. But foremost, a seat cover should be removable and machine washable.
Seat positioning. Some bouncer seats recline more than others. The recline feature is necessary for infants, since they don't have the head control that sitting, even on a slight incline, requires.
Toy bar. Besides watching you and your family from the sidelines, your baby may enjoy the sensory stimulation of toys, sounds, and lights that many bouncer seats come with. A toy bar isn't necessary in the early months, since your baby may not want to play with the toys all the time or even know what to do with them. Toy bars come into play around 4 months of age, though music and vibration features will likely be appreciated well before then. Toys usually are suspended from a removable play bar, although some models, such as the Sensory Selections Bouncer by Fisher-Price, feature a swing-away motorized mobile, which suspends toys in front of a baby in mobile fashion. Look for spinning, squeaking toys and teethers in bright or contrasting colors. Some models have toys that are pastel, which won't make as dramatic an impact on your baby as brighter colors will. If your baby can't reach the toy bar, position it so he can kick at it. Most bouncers allow you to take the play bar off and use just the seat for snoozing and quiet time. Not all models have toy bars, though many parents believe they're a must-have, especially starting at around the 4-month mark. Don't use the toy bar as a carrying handle.
Make safety your primary concern. You'll want a bouncer seat with a base or rear support that's wider than the seat itself for steadiness. Test the stability of models in the store. When you press down on a bouncer from different positions, it shouldn't tip sideways. When you rock it front to back, it should stay in place. The bottom of the base should have rubber pads or other nonskid surfaces that really work.
If you're buying a seat with toys attached to a toy bar, squeeze and tug them to make sure they won't break off. The bar should stay in place when you bat at it.
Nearly 2,000 infants are injured each year in bouncy seats. Here's how to protect your newborn:
-- Stick to the weight limit. Manufacturers suggest an upper weight limit, usually from 18 to 30 pounds. A child who is over the weight limit can make the seat tip.
-- Never use a bouncer seat as a car seat.
-- Stop using a bouncer seat as soon as your baby can sit up unassisted if the bouncer is not designed for toddlers (some are); check the manufacturer's recommendations.
-- Put the seat on the floor. Never use it on an elevated surface, such as a table, where the baby's movement could rock it to the edge, or on a soft surface, such as a bed, sofa, pillow, or cushion. The seat may tip and soft surfaces are a suffocation hazard.
-- Don't carry your baby while he's in the bouncer, even if it has a carrying handle, and never use the toy bar as a handle.
-- Always keep a close eye on your baby, even if you think he's completely safe and secure in the bouncer seat.
-- Make sure the bouncer you select doesn't have any sharp edges.
-- Always secure your baby with the bouncer's 3- or 5-point safety harness.
-- Don't use a bouncy seat that's damaged or broken.
-- Don't park your baby in a bouncer. The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies who spend excessive time in bouncers (or car seats) may be prone to positional plagiocephaly, also called flattened head syndrome, a persistent flat spot in the back or on one side of the head. The AAP doesn't say how much is too much, so use your best judgment. No more than 30 minutes at a shot seems reasonable to us. Don't substitute a bouncy seat for cuddle time.