AHEAD: What the scientific evidence says about the safety of letting your baby sleep (and nap) in a bouncer.
If you’re here reading this article, you probably have at least an inkling that bouncers are not safe for infant sleep.
You’re probably wondering, “Just how unsafe is it?”
This guide will answer common questions about whether bouncers are safe for naps and overnight sleep.
We’ll also talk about whether the answer changes if you’re supervising and/or in the room with your baby.
Below, you’ll see what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have to say.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- What is a bouncer?
- Are bouncy chairs safe for infant sleep?
- What are the risks of letting baby sleep in a bouncy seat?
- Are bouncers safe for supervised naps?
- Have babies died sleeping in bouncers?
- Don’t lots of people let their babies sleep in bouncers?
- Should you “do what works for you?”
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What is a bouncer?
A bouncer, also called a bouncy seat or bouncy chair, is a fabric baby container with some type of harness or straps.
It’s called a bouncer because generally, the seat ‘bounces’ a little when the baby moves, or when a caregiver applies light pressure.
Bouncers place infants at a seated incline.
They are intended for infants who are unable to sit up on their own.
Are bouncy chairs safe for sleep?
Bouncers are not safe for sleep.
This is because in part:
- They are inclined (not flat);
- They are padded or contoured (not firm);
- They have a harness and straps; and
- They do not meet federal standards for infant sleep.
“Babies should not be placed on an incline to sleep. With the head elevated, an infant is in a position that could lead to asphyxia…” —AAP
What are the risks of letting your baby sleep in a bouncy seat?
Let’s take a high-level look at what can go wrong when babies sleep in bouncy chairs.
Risk #1: Positional Asphyxia
When placed at an incline, a baby’s head can slump forward and cut off their airway, causing suffocation.
Here is a good visualization:
Graphic courtesy of StandInBaby
Risk #2: Rebreathing of CO₂
When a baby turns their head into the bouncer’s contoured or padded side, they can rebreathe their exhaled carbon dioxide, causing oxygen levels to drop.
Are bouncers safe for supervised naps?
The question that’s probably at the tip of your tongue right now is whether it’s okay to let your baby nap in a bouncy seat in the daytime—while you’re awake and in the room.
This really surprised me and will probably surprise you too…
Supervision does not make it safe for your baby to sleep in a bouncer.
Asphyxia is a silent killer. It looks just like a sleeping baby.
This means that when a baby is having trouble breathing, there is no fight for life to warn parents that something is wrong.
Often, the caregiver only notices when it’s already too late.
This is why it’s critical to never make exceptions to the basic rules of safe sleep.
Babies should only sleep in a regulated crib, bassinet, or play yard.
(Or in the arms of an alert caregiver).
Products in these 3 classes have undergone rigorous safety testing for infant sleep.
In case you need a refresher, send yourself Safe Sleep 101 to read later.
Have babies died sleeping in bouncers?
“Every year, several hundred infants fall victim to sleep-related deaths in sitting devices like car seats, bouncers or swings used improperly for routine sleep.” –AAP
But don’t lots of people let their babies sleep in bouncers?
Indeed they do.
And yes, the majority of those babies survive.
But, sadly, thousands of babies die every year because their caregivers weren’t following the ABCs of Safe Sleep.
Should you “do what works for you?”
Before we get into the FAQs, let’s address three of the extremely common assertions made by parents who opt to let their babies sleep in bouncers.
Please be warned, the responses below are harsh.
This isn’t to scare you or to judge you.
This is to remind you that the risk of sleep-related death shouldn’t be ignored—particularly since 99% of these deaths could have been prevented.
"I let my baby sleep in a bouncer occasionally. Anything is fine in moderation."
While this argument may work for conditions that develop over time (i.e. flat head syndrome), this doesn’t apply to a tragedy that could strike all at once.
For perspective, think of SIDS/SUID as a car accident. Replace “sleeping in a bouncer” with “not using a car seat in a moving vehicle”…
‘Letting a baby ride in a car without a car seat is fine in moderation.’
See what I mean?
"I let my baby sleep in a bouncer because it’s better for his reflux. It eases my anxiety about him choking on his spit up."
Many parents don’t realize that flat on their back is actually the safest position if your baby spits up.
As the NIH explains:
“When babies are in the back sleep position, the trachea lies on top of the esophagus. Anything regurgitated or refluxed from the esophagus must work against gravity to be aspirated into the trachea.”
If you have concerns about your baby’s health, speak to your pediatrician.
"I let my baby sleep in a bouncer when he's fussy and I can keep an eye on him. It's the only way I can maintain my sanity."
As parents, we have to get creative and find other ways to get through the 4th trimester. (Which I know is much easier said than done. Read that linked article, it will help.)
Remember, there is no fight for life. Suffocation can happen before your eyes.
If you’re struggling right now and your baby’s bouncer has been your saving grace, this should be your takeaway:
You haven’t found the right solution yet.
You have to keep troubleshooting and problem-solving.
It’s time to explore other ways to survive, such as involving your partner more, taking advantage of help from other loved ones, or hiring assistance if it’s within your means.
While none of these options is a fraction as easy as letting your baby sleep in a bouncy seat, they are the only way to get through this really challenging time without letting your baby sleep unsafely.
Now, let’s get into the FAQS…
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to using a bouncer safely
What if my baby unexpectedly falls asleep in their bouncer?
“If an infant falls asleep in a sitting device, he or she should be removed from the product and moved to a crib or other appropriate flat surface as soon as is safe and practical.”
(Ideally, you would notice if your baby started to look tired and move them before they fell asleep).
What if the bouncer is "breathable"? Does that change anything?
Breathable is simply a marketing term that doesn’t have any regulatory standards.
My baby will only sleep in a bouncy seat — what should I do?
Given how unsafe this is, the only thing to do is eliminate the option of using the bouncer for sleep.
It’s too risky to transition gradually. The baby should stop sleeping in the bouncey chair immediately.
If your baby is at least 4 months old and you have pediatrician approval, you can start sleep training.
Here are 2 free Facebook groups that I highly recommend to help you navigate this:
Do all of the same risks apply to sleeping in a car seat?
The risk of NOT using a car seat outweighs the risk of using a car seat in a moving vehicle.
“While car seats are always the best place for babies when they are being transported in a vehicle, that doesn’t mean they are the safest place when they’re sleeping outside of the car.” –AAP
Is there a way to tell 'just by looking' whether a product is unsafe for sleep?
Yes and no…
Many products appear safe, particularly to the untrained eye. (Actually, “experts” get this wrong all the time too).
The easiest thing to do is check the user manual, which is a legal document. If the user manual refers to the product as one of the three terms below, you’re good to go.
- PLAYARD (also called Pack N Play)
That said, there are ways to tell ‘just by looking’ that certain products are unsafe. Here is one:
“The AAP does not recommend any products for sleep that require restraining a baby, especially if the product also rocks.” —AAP
Here is an infographic that explains more ways to tell whether a product is unsafe for infant sleep:
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Articles related to the safety of sleeping in a bouncer
- Is it Safe to Make a Pack N Play More Comfortable? (Can you add a topper?)
- Is it Safe for a Baby to Sleep in a Snuggle Me Lounger? (Is it safe for naps?)
- How to Stop Swaddling: The Ultimate Swaddle Transition Guide
- Other safe sleep articles