Are you a sleep-deprived parent in need of an occasional prop, like a cheap baby swing, to provide an hour or so of relief? Infant swings can lull a little one to sleep or supply a few moments of stimulating entertainment. Either way, you want a cheap baby swing that's safe, comfortable, and reliable. Now that wind-up swings have disappeared, you'll have to settle for a model that relies on batteries -- infant swings that draw power from an electrical outlet are priced above the Cheapism ceiling. For less than $100, though, you can get a baby swing that features a playlist of tunes and sounds, a toy bar, and multiple swing speeds and recline angles.
Cheap Baby Swings Buying Guide
The big name manufacturers in the baby swings market include Fisher-Price, Graco, Bright Starts, Safety 1st, and Cosco, which produce infant swings across the price spectrum. MamaRoo, a decidedly upmarket brand, sells a $200 baby swing that features space-age design and multi-directional swinging and jostling that simulate real motions, like a jumping kangaroo or a moving car. Low-cost baby swings contain the necessary elements but present with less pizzazz.
A baby swing is useful only for the first half year or so of a child's life, or until the baby weighs about 25 pounds, so there's no need to spend big bucks. In fact, for less than $60 you can get a good cheap portable infant swing, like the Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony Portable Swing (starting at $50) or Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Swing & Seat (starting at $56), which sit near the ground, work well for on-the-go babies, and offer many of the same features as cheap full-height baby swings. The standard-sized models aren't as easy to move around but require less bending over to move the baby in and out and carry price tags close to our $100 limit. Our picks for full-size swings include the Graco Swing 'n Bounce (starting at $90) and the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona (starting at $92), the former because of its versatile swing/vibrate/bounce functionality and the latter for its all-around value. Two cheap baby swings we'd steer clear of are the Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing (starting at $90) because it seems underpowered and tends to run through batteries at a rapid clip and the Cosco Juvenile Beginnings Gentle Motion Swing (starting at $50) due to concerns about build quality and the absence of entertaining distractions.
The features to look for in the best baby swings start with safety. Experts suggest opting for a model with a wide base to prevent tip-overs and a three- or five-point harness to keep the baby secure. Experts also urge you to send in the registration card that comes with every new baby swing so you can be notified in the event of a recall.
Other features found on the cheapest good baby swings include a design that affords easy access to the baby, multiple speed settings and recline positions, and entertainment options. A few feature two-way swinging (front-to-back and side-to-side) and a seat that vibrates. Our top picks for the best baby swings provide at least two recline positions, three speeds, five songs, and an open top design. As we read through reviews of budget baby swings, we did note, however, that even these models are not immune to the problem of motors that die too soon or struggle as the baby gets heavier.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Portable Baby Swings, Weight Requirements
Baby Swing Design.When you start looking at the cheapest baby swings, one of the first differences you'll notice is if its a portable baby swing or full-size. Full-size models are meant to stay in one place as opposed to smaller, cheaper portable baby swings. For example, the Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony, Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Swing & Seat (starting at $56), and Fisher-Price Open Top Take Along Seat (starting at $50) can be picked up and moved around the house or stowed in the car or a closet with ease. The Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony weighs a mere nine pounds and the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver is just shy of 12 pounds. Parents report that the compact design of these portable baby swings fits well in homes with limited space.
The cheapest baby swings pickings are slimmer in the full-size category because larger models tend to cost more than our Cheapism maximum. But choose we must, so we nominated the Graco Swing 'n Bounce (starting at $90) and Graco Lovin' Hug (starting at $92) as best and good cheap full-size baby swings, respectively. One money-saving feature of the Graco Swing 'n Bounce is its dual functionality -- a standard swing with a removable seat that serves as a carrier or a bouncer, which also vibrates. According to our research, some parents perceive full-size swings as sturdier than the portable baby swings and easier on your back because there's less reaching and bending.
Nearly all of the best baby swings, regardless of price, have an open-access design. This is a big improvement over earlier models, which sported a top swing bar that made moving the baby in or out a feat of nimble maneuvering. On modern infant swings the seat pivots from the two points at which the unit's spreadable legs connect. Don't panic if you see a toy bar or arm with soft dangling playthings positioned over the seat. These features either come off or rotate out of your way, although parents occasionally grumble about the interference anyway and say the toys are boring or not placed in the baby's line of sight.
Baby Swing Fundamentals.Baby swings are designed for infants. The usefulness of a baby swing begins when a child weighs about 5.5 pounds and ends once a child weighs 25 pounds. The specs for some of the cheapest baby swings, like the Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony Portable Swing (starting at $50), say the child should be at least a month old, and a few, like the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona (starting at $92) can handle babies up to 30 pounds. Regardless, don't start the baby too early if the seat doesn't recline enough to keep the child from slumping over, which could block vital air passages. Also, using a swing when the child exceeds the weight limit runs the risk of causing a tip-over and/or burning out the motor. And remember, never leave a baby unattended in a swing.
Baby Swing Batteries.Most of the cheapest baby swings run on batteries. Portable baby swings typically need four C batteries and full-size swings usually require four D batteries; the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona uses three batteries for the swing and one to vibrate the seat. Battery-operated baby swings are often cheaper than models that draw power from a wall socket but may be more expensive in the long-run. We found numerous complaints from parents about needing to replace batteries frequently -- sometimes as often as weekly -- and some conclude that you're better off springing for a plug-in baby swing at the start. You can get a version of the Graco Lovin' Hug that includes an optional AC plug and costs about $10 more than the battery-only model. Some low-cost baby swings, like the Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony and Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona, come with a shut-off timer that's meant to conserve battery power.
Baby Swing Safety, Baby Swing Music
Baby Swing Restraints.Like car seats and high chairs, baby swings should have either a three- or five-point harness to secure the baby in place. Our top picks -- the portable Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony and Fisher-Price SpaceSaver, and full-size Graco Swing 'n Bounce and Graco Lovin' Hug -- all feature a five-point harness. Two models we researched, the Cosco Juvenile Beginnings Gentle Motion Swing (starting at $50) and Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing (starting at $90), come with a three-point harness. Most cheap full-size baby swings also have a flip-up, pull-out, or removable activity tray that serves as an additional restraint, but here again, many parents question the usefulness and often find the trays difficult to latch in place.
Baby Swings Recline Positions.We all like to kick back for a snooze now and then, and so do babies. Baby swings that recline at different angles serve different purposes, from playing to sleeping to feeding. There are two recline settings on the portable Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony and Fisher-Price SpaceSaver, three on the full-size Graco Swing 'n Bounce and Cosco Gentle Motion, and four on the full-size Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona. We could not find information about recline settings on the Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing and Fisher-Price Open Top Take Along.
Baby Swing Music.Music and soothing sounds are also useful sleep-inducing aids. Experts at Baby Products suggest that you listen to the music on a baby swing before purchasing to make sure you can tolerate hearing the tunes over and over and over. The best baby swings offer a short playlist of tunes and background sounds. Both the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona and Graco Swing 'n Bounce feature 10 classical tunes and five nature sounds while the Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing offers 12 songs and three sound effects. The Fisher-Price SpaceSaver and Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony each feature six songs, but this latter model blessedly provides a volume control and a 60-minute automatic shut-off. Among the cheap baby swings we looked at, only the no-frills Cosco Gentle Motion dispenses with the music component altogether.
Baby Swing Motion.Whether asleep or awake, the speed and direction of the swinging motion affect a baby's enjoyment of the ride. Most cheap baby swings offer multiple speed settings. The Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony, for example, boasts six swing speeds and a timer for sessions of 15, 30, and 45 minutes, along with a proprietary technology that adjusts the motion in relation to the baby's weight. The Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona features six speeds and a timer with three settings, while the Graco Swing 'n Bounce offers six swing speeds and two vibration speeds when the seat is in bouncer mode. The Cosco Gentle Motion and Fisher-Price SpaceSaver (which has two vibrate settings) each sport five speeds.
Most baby swings rock back and forth in the usual fashion while higher priced models may additionally mimic the side-to-side motion of a cradle. The Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing is an exception at the cheap end of the market with a design that does both.
Baby Swing Reviews
Baby swing reviews are mixed, and from what we could determine, at least part of the dissatisfaction reflects babies who just don't take to the product but can't tell parents why. For babies who enjoy a little swinging, rocking, gliding, or vibrating -- for the fun or sleep of it -- baby swing reviews are fairly up tempo about most performance attributes. We did notice, however, a bit of grumbling about the speed at which batteries lose their juice and motors with limited lifespans.
Baby Swing Batteries.Unlike the original wind-up baby swings that debuted in the 1950s, today's models are powered by batteries or electricity, and occasionally by both (but not at the same time). Battery-powered baby swings can be set up anywhere, inside or out, but they can also run through batteries at a rapid clip. One of the complaints lodged against the Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Cradle Swing on sites like Target concerns the frequency with which you need new batteries -- at least weekly, write parents. Battery-related comments about other models we researched are less critical, although they do pop up with some regularity. Those that fare best are the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver, Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony, and Graco Swing 'n Bounce.But even when the batteries seem to last, parents often comment on their cost; an eight-pack of batteries starts at about $10. Several baby swing reviews posted on a variety of sites recommend buying the pricier name-brand batteries, which seem to have more oomph and staying power. Parents also seem to appreciate the battery-saving timer featured on the Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony and the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona.
That said, the Graco Lovin' Hug generates some confusion because only some Barcelona units are battery-powered (as is the one referred to in this buying guide). A slightly more expensive version of the Barcelona can be plugged-in or run on batteries. This confusion leaves some parents disappointed when they think they're getting one version of the Barcelona but actually wind up with another.
Baby Swing Music.The music embedded in baby swings is a take-or-leave-it selection. Some parents and babies are fine with the jingles or classical selections while others not so much. We read baby swing reviews of all the models on our list that variously describe the music as soothing, pleasing, upbeat, and helpful for drowning out motor noise, as well as terrible, irritating, ridiculous, and lame. Ditto for the nature sounds featured on most baby swings, which seem like calming white noise to some and bad radio static to others. Who's to judge? One parent says she doesn't even bother with the music switch and instead places her docked iPod next to the swing. Note that the no-frills Cosco Gentle Motion does not include any music or sound capabilities.
Baby Swing Comfort:Plush padding and soft fabric on the seat no doubt enhance an infant's comfort and sense of security. The Graco Lovin' Hug gets a thumbs up in baby swing reviews for its soft, thick seat coverings and removable headrest,. The Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony is similarly praised for cushy seating. We found a few critics of the Cosco Gentle Motion, who say the leg openings seem tight, and of the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver, who contend the cushioning seems spare although the seat is nice and deep.
Best Baby Swings
Baby Swing Motion.All baby swings move front-and-back, and most have more than one speed setting. Some babies like the motion and others don't, but it's hard to know whether the rate of speed is the critical variable. We did find reports of swings slowing down as a baby gets heavier, even when the speed is set to high, and swings for which there doesn't seem to be much variance between low and high, regardless of the number of steps in between. The Cosco Gentle Motion and Fisher-Price 2-in-1, in particular, draw grumbles on Viewpoints.com and Target, respectively, about slow speeds and insufficient swinging movement. Several parents report the Fisher-Price 2-in-1 requires nudging with your hand to get it started and sometimes to keep it going; the side-to-side motion, meanwhile, made more than one baby happy.
Several reviews on Toys R Us of the portable Fisher-Price SpaceSaver describe the swinging motion as weak, although parents compliment its dual functionality. The swinging motion brings out a smile, notes one, and the vibration helps induce sleep; another parent says the recline and vibrate features enable a baby with acid reflux to sleep peacefully. The swinging motion of the Graco Swing 'n Bounce doesn't appeal to all babies, according to reviews on Amazon, but the removable seat that can be set to vibrate or used as a bouncer prove to be acceptable alternatives; note that some parents say the motor is very loud when in vibrate mode.
The other two swings on our list keep things simple. Adequate swing power is the consensus opinion of the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona; parents write in reviews on Walmart that it calms over-stimulated babies and the deep hammock-like seat is comforting. Likewise, the six speed settings on the portable Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony are more than enough to keep babies soothed and entertained, according to reviews on Amazon, even though some parents contend there isn't much difference from one speed to another. The Bright Starts Portable Swing claims to have technology that automatically senses the weight of the child and adjusts the speed accordingly, but we didn't find any reviews commenting specifically on this feature.
Baby Swing Durability and Customer Service.The Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony earns stars in parents' reviews for the motor's quiet operation. But based on the reviews we read, the motor is the weak link in some cheap baby swings; i.e., it has a tendency to fail before the baby has outgrown the unit. A bevy of parents posting reviews on Amazon about the Graco Lovin' Hug Barcelona complain about motors that conk out within hours or weeks of purchase; however, this issue doesn't surface nearly as often in reviews of the Lovin' Hug on other sites. The Fisher-Price 2-in-1 also takes some hits in parents' reviews for motor breakdowns, and isolated reports of motor failures crop up for other models, as well.
If the motor goes, you want a company that's quick to respond. Parents credit Fisher-Price and Graco with good customer service, although some parents note that replacement motors may also be flawed.