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Bouncer seats

Bouncer seat buying guide

Last updated: January 2014
Getting started

Getting started

Bouncer (or bouncy) seats generally consist of a frame made of thick metal wire, tubular metal, heavy-gauge plastic, or wood. Covered with a soft (and preferably removable and/or washable) pad that conforms to a baby's shape, bouncer seats are usually springy and bounce or rock when a baby moves to keep him relaxed and amused. The fabric seat is rounded to support a baby's still-fragile spine, and the semi-upright tilt gives him a view of the surroundings. A bouncer may also be more comfortable for some babies than lying in a flat crib after they've eaten.

As you read about types and features, you'll discover lots of variations on the basic bouncer seat, including models that rock as well as bounce, battery-operated versions, models with toys attached, and bouncers that play music. Given that you should only use a bouncer until your baby is 6 months old and that you shouldn't leave her in it for long periods of time, we think a basic, baby-powered model is just fine for most babies.

That said, if you do choose a battery-operated model, one feature you might find useful is vibration. If your baby needs a little help falling asleep, a seat that vibrates can be invaluable because it imitates a lulling car ride. In any case, if your baby falls asleep in her bouncer, don't leave her alone. Keep in mind that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on her back in a crib on a firm mattress.

Once your child reaches the weight or age limit for a bouncer or can sit up--whichever comes first--you should stop using it unless it's also intended for older babies and toddlers. There's a risk of tipping when a child who's too big or too active uses a bouncer.

Most models have a detachable play bar (sometimes covered with padding) or an overhead mobile of plastic or fabric-covered toys for your baby to kick, bat, or gaze at. Some models have colorful lights and sound effects that respond to a baby's movements and/or vibrate at different speeds to lull him to sleep or entertain him. Some models simulate nature sounds or heartbeats, play music, or let you plug in your own portable music device. Others transform your child's smallest movements or your own footwork into a soothing rocking motion without batteries. Some versions can be folded for travel.

You can expect to use a bouncer until your baby can sit up unassisted (around 6 months or so) or reaches the recommended weight or age limit, whichever comes first. The typical weight maximum is 25 pounds, with an age limit of 6 months. But some models are suitable for babies who weigh 28, 30, or 40 pounds, so they can be used as toddler chairs, too, when the seat back is raised to a comfortable upright position and the toy bar or restraint system is removed.

Certified bouncy seats

Of all the brands on the market, nine have been certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) for meeting safety standards set by ASTM International. They are Delta Enterprise; Dorel Juvenile Group/Safety 1st; Fisher-Price; Graco Children's Products Inc.; Kid Brands (Sassy/ Kids Line/ CoCaLo/ Bonavita/ Babi Italia/ Europa Baby/ Nursery 101/ Kathy Ireland Baby by Lajobi/ Graco); Maclaren N.A. Inc.; Regent Baby Products Corporation/Baby King, Scandinavian Child; and Summer Infant Inc. The voluntary standards cover stability, structural integrity, the restraint system, and slip resistance. Safety instructions must be stamped on the product or on a permanent label. Certified bouncers also meet standards for small parts, hazardous sharp points and edges, secure latching, and size of openings. Any wood parts must be smooth and free of splinters. Models must also comply with federal regulations prohibiting lead in paint. Shopping for a secondhand bouncer? Buy certified too, and look for a recent model. It should be sturdy and stable, with a secure toy bar, no ripped fabric, sharp edges, or missing parts, and have its instruction manual. (Current manuals might be on the manufacturer's website.) Also check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, www.cpsc.gov, to be sure that any model you're considering --whether new or gently used--hasn't been recalled.

Types

We think most babies will be happy in a simple, quiet bouncer. Some might be soothed by one that plays music or vibrates to simulate the motion of a moving car. Since you won't know what will make your baby happiest, it's a good idea to try out different bouncers in a store (or borrow some from friends to try at home) before you purchase one. Some babies love vibration, others hate it. Some babies will happily doze in their bouncer seat, some won't. One thing is for sure: You'll want a safe place to put your baby while you take a break or make a meal.

What is a bouncer?

A basic bouncer seat generally consists of a lightweight frame made of metal wire, tubular metal, or heavy-gauge plastic. Covered with a soft, removable, washable pad that conforms to a baby's shape, bouncer seats are springy and bounce or rock when your baby moves. Most models have a detachable, bent-wire play bar (sometimes covered with padding) or an overhead mobile of toys.

Here are the types of bouncers to consider.

Basic


Even in this category you'll find a wide range in pricing. For example, the Fisher-Price Adorable Animals Baby's Bouncer (shown) retails for $29. It's a simple model with a toy bar you can remove. The Maclaren Bouncer, another basic, modern design, can be packed flat and is made for babies up to 6 months. It retails for about $50. The $150 BABYBJORN Babysitter Balance doesn't come with any bells and whistles, although for an extra $40 you can buy a toy bar with wooden toys to attach.

Basic, loaded with features


The Sassy Ladybug Bouncer (pictured) has two reclining positions with an adjustable/removable headrest, detachable and interchangeable plush toys (a flower, ladybug and caterpillar), a removable toy bar, "five gentle melodies, three soothing sounds and five calming modes," an on/off switch and volume control. It sells for about $40. The Sassy Ladybug, like some other models, turns off automatically after 10 minutes.

The Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer, which has a bounce or vibrate mode, plays six songs and comes with a toy bar featuring a "see-through waterfall with lights."

Rocker-bouncer


This is a bouncer seat that also rocks, like the Fisher-Price Brentwood Baby Collection Rocker.

As far as price, a rocker-bouncer is in the same ballpark as a bouncer seat--starting at about $40--but you might be able to get more mileage out of it. Some infant rocker-bouncers, like the Fisher-Price Infant-to-Toddler Rocker (pictured), can be converted to a chair for a child up to 40 pounds. When you put an infant in it, you can make it stable by using a kickstand feature. You can also set it on vibrate mode. And you can convert it to a rocker that parents can move back and forth. The chair can later be put into a more upright position for an older child to sit in.

Whatever you decide to buy, make sure to check the manufacturer's guidelines for the maximum weight allowed as well as the weight limits/recommendations for each mode or configuration of a convertible product.

Tip: If you are interested in a rocker, consider one that vibrates. If your baby likes that, you might use that mode a lot initially, especially since a young baby won't be big enough to actually rock himself. The rocking function can be used when your baby becomes a toddler. Then she'll have her own little chair to enjoy.

Modern seats


Some manufacturers strive to offer futuristic styles and technology, or designs to suit adult tastes. One such model is the Bloom BabyLounger, shown here. A simple but sleek-looking seat, the Bloom is about modern design. It comes in two models. The Bloom Coco Stylewood Baby Lounger uses "white birch from certified sustainable wood forests" and costs $200. The Bloom Coco Plexistyle Baby Lounger will set you back $350. Both have a 26-pound weight limit.

The mamaRoo, made by 4Moms, is another modern baby seat. It offers five motions, including "Ocean Wave," which moves the seat around in a circle, and "Car Ride," which moves the seat in a sideways figure-eight motion. You can see videos of the mamaRoo in action online; it retails for close to $200. It plugs into a wall so you won't need batteries. The seat will also play a range of sounds (including "white noise") and music, or let you plug in your MP3 player, and it has an LCD screen.

Features


You can find everything from the most basic bouncer to a souped-up, space-pod model that runs on a "coordinated motion robotic platform." Just remember, your baby will probably be done with her seat by the time she's 5 or 6 months old and ready to move on to other activities. Consider the bouncer features that will keep her the most comfortable, amused, and safe.

Features vs. design


Although there's a big range in styles, paying more for a bouncy seat doesn't necessarily get you more features. For example, you can pay about $45 for a Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer (see "Music and vibration," below), which has a bounce or vibrate mode, plays six songs, and comes with a toy bar featuring a "see through waterfall with lights." On the other hand, the sleek and modern BABYBJORN Babysitter Balance retails for around $150 for the chair alone, but doesn't come with anything extra. (For an additional $40, you can purchase a toy bar with wooden toys to attach.) The Maclaren Bouncer, about $50, shown here, also has a modern design and can be packed flat. It's made for babies up to 6 months old.

Sturdiness/safety features

You'll want a bouncer seat with a base or back support that's wider than the seat itself. When you press down on a bouncer in different spots, 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 another nonskid surface that really works. Don't place a bouncer on any surface but a floor.

Frame

When you're in a store, give the various display models a "bounce," if possible. 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.

Safety belts

Most models have a three-point crotch strap as a restraint; others have a five-point harness. Check all fasteners on three- or five-point harnesses to make sure they're strong, secure, and easy to use, and that they won't be uncomfortable for your baby.

Head support

Seats with an adjustable, removable cushioned head support are ideal for newborns.

Seat positioning

Some bouncer seats recline. The Svan Baby Bouncer, for example, can go from nearly horizontal to upright. We don't see a need for this feature, but if it appeals to you, find a reclining bouncer that's easy to adjust. Never adjust the seat with your baby in it, and make sure it has latched into place securely before putting her in.

Seat fabric


Fabrics should be soft and comfortable, yet durable. Patterns include soft pastels, bright solids, and more subdued color combinations, like the dark green and brown on the Fisher-Price Zen Collection Infant Seat. There are also sophisticated solid and patterned color combos like the black and silver on the BABYBJORN Babysitter Balance, shown here. A cloth seat cover is the norm; make sure it's easy to take off and put back on the frame and that it's machine washable.

Cushiness


Seat padding can vary from basic to extra thick. You don't want it to be so cushy that your baby can bury her face in the padding, which could cause her to suffocate. Because wet diapers are bound to come in contact with the fabric covering, the seat's material should be removable and machine washable (check the label). And there shouldn't be any loose threads or gaps in the seams.

The Bright Starts Comfort & Harmony Bouncer (pictured) has a plush seat, cushioned foot pillow, removable headrest, and bolster. It retails for less than $50 and has a maximum weight of 19.8 pounds.

Canopy

The canopy can be a sunshade if used outdoors, but you still want to put the bouncer in the shade so your baby won't become overheated or get sunburned. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants under 6 months old not be exposed to direct sunlight. Even with a canopy in complete shade, dress your baby in light-colored, lightweight cotton clothes that cover her arms and legs, as well as a hat with a brim.

Toy bar


Besides watching you and your family from the sidelines, your baby might enjoy the sensory stimulation of the toys, sounds, and lights that come with many bouncer seats. A toy bar isn't necessary in the early months, since your baby might not even know what to do with them. Toy bars come into play around 4 months of age, though music and vibration features might be appreciated well before then.

Toys are usually suspended from a removable play bar, although some models feature a swing-away mobile that suspends a toy in front of the baby, such as the Fisher-Price My Little Snugabunny Bouncer Seat, pictured here. Look for spinning, squeaking toys and teethers in bright or contrasting colors. Some models have toys that are pastel colored, which won't make an impression on your very young baby as much as brighter colors will. If your baby can't reach the toy bar, position it so she 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 think they're a must-have. Be careful that the toy bar won't dislodge too easily and hit your child. And don't use it as a carrying handle.

Music and vibration


Some bouncers can play a dozen songs, with additional sound effects, to stimulate your baby. The Fisher-Price Rainforest Bouncer, shown here, plays 12 songs, for example. 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, a feature you might use often.

Bouncers that fold


Some models fold flat or nearly so, which is handy if you'll be traveling with your bouncer seat. The Svan Bouncer (for children 6 to 30 pounds), shown here, folds up for travel and weighs seven pounds. The BABYBJORN Babysitter Balance folds totally flat for easy packing.

Battery use

Besides the differences in design and features, there's the issue of batteries to consider, especially if you think your baby will like the vibration, music, or light options available on some models. Seats with those features, such as the Fisher-Price model, need batteries (in this case, four D batteries), while the BABYBJORN runs on baby power, bouncing slightly when your tot kicks his legs. The BABYBJORN Babysitter Balance can hold a child from 8 pounds to 29 pounds, and the restraint harness can be removed so an older child can sit in it.

Brands

4moms arrow  |  BabyBjorn arrow  |  Bloom arrow  |  Fisher-Price arrow  |  Kolcraft arrow  |  Maclaren arrow  |  Sassy arrow  |  Svan arrow

4moms

This small, Pennsylvania-based company, which says that it has "redefined the baby gear industry through the use of advanced robotics," makes mamaRoo and rockaRoo infant bouncer seats, as well as infant bathtubs, playards, and strollers. Its products are available through mass-market and specialty retailers in-store and online, and on the company's website.
www.4moms.com

BabyBjorn

This 50-year-old Swedish family company’s products include bouncer seats, baby carriers, and baby feeding and bathroom items. Available at Target, specialty stores, Amazon.com, and the company’s website.
www.babybjorn.com

Bloom

Founded by four dads wanting to bring “innovation and contemporary design” to a range of baby products that has “traditionally been functional but not in tune with the sense of style of today’s parents,” Bloom’s highly stylistic products may not be for everyone.
www.bloombaby.com

Fisher-Price

Based in upstate New York since the 1930s, this company has been making learning toys, baby gear, and many licensed children’s products. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
www.fisher-price.com

Kolcraft

Founded in 1946, Kolcraft manufactures bouncers, play yards, high chairs, walkers, strollers, bassinets, swings, and juvenile furniture. The company is partnered with brand names such as Jeep, Sesame Street, Contours, and Sealy to produce a variety of children's products. Available online and wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.kolcraft.com

Maclaren

The company began in 1965, when Owen Maclaren designed and patented his prototype Baby Buggy, the B-01. Today Maclaren offers a full array of parenting products for parents and children. Shop for baby buggies, travel strollers, twin baby strollers, toddler strollers, baby rockers, baby carriers, baby essentials, nursery furniture, baby toys, and organic personal care products for baby and mother.
www.shopmaclarenbaby.com

Sassy

Based in Michigan, Sassy operates independently as part of a family of companies known as Kids Brands Inc. Since 1982, the company has been manufacturing toys and other juvenile products focused on stimulating four specific developmental areas during baby’s first year of life. Available wherever baby products are sold, online, and on the company’s website.
www.sassybaby.com

Svan

Launched in 2003 and based in Raleigh, N.C., Scandinavian Child is the exclusive North American distributor of children’s products that “meet the highest style, function and safety standards of discriminating parents.” Includes brands such as Svan, Anka, Cariboo, lillebaby, Micralite, and Beaba. Available at Williams-Sonoma, buybuyBaby, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and online.
www.scichild.com

Shopping tips

You might love the look of a bouncer but that doesn't guarantee your baby will like it one bit–even if it has multiple vibrating settings and plays Beethoven.

Keep this product's short life span in mind

Your baby will probably use a bouncer for only five or six months. In those early days you'll be relieved to have a safe place to put him besides the crib so you can grab a quick bite, for example. But once he can sit up unassisted, he'll probably move on to doing more interesting things, like playing and rolling, and the bouncy seat could become hazardous. At that point, a play yard might be a safer place for your little explorer.

Buy a bouncer seat or a swing

If budget and space are considerations, choose one or the other. Many parents say it's overkill to buy both because a bouncer seat and a swing essentially do the same thing: provide a secure and soothing place for your baby while you get some time to catch up on things. If you can, try a friend or relative's swing and bouncer or test store models first to determine what your baby prefers. If he doesn't like the motion of a swing, go with a bouncer. If he seems to need more motion than a bouncer provides, choose a swing.

Check seat weight and developmental limits

Remember your child's weight when you go shopping for a bouncer, and be sure to check manufacturer guidelines carefully. While a seat might look like it can accommodate a larger child, the maximum weight might be limited to 25 pounds (with an age of 6 months as a cap). Some seats come with headrests to use with the youngest babies, and you will want to make sure you have that in place.

Fully charged?

Check to see if the seat you want to buy requires batteries or comes with an AC adapter that you plug in. You might be happy with the price of your seat, then find out it burns through batteries, costing you money you weren't planning to spend. Some seats don't require anything but a little kick from baby or a light push from Mom or Dad.

Go low-end

An inexpensive, lightweight model (provided it's stable), such as the Fisher-Price Bouncer (about $29), might serve you and your child as well as a top-end design like the Svan Bouncer from ScandinavianChild ($120), which converts to a chair for a child up to 30 pounds. In general, more money will get you a seat that's made to last and will probably be decked out with toys, reclining and vibrating features, realistic (not tinny) music, and plush or designer fabric. Still, more isn't always better. Parents report product satisfaction at both ends of the price spectrum.

Consider an infant rocker-bouncer

It's like a bouncer seat, only it rocks. Rocker-bouncers can be in the same price range as a bouncy seat--around $40--but you might get more use from the rocker. Infant bouncers such as the Fisher-Price Infant-to-Toddler Rocker can typically be used until your child reaches 40 pounds, which is about 4 to 5 years old. Tip: Consider one that vibrates. You might use that mode a lot initially, especially since a young baby won't be big enough to actually make the device rock. The rocking function kicks in as your baby becomes a toddler. Then, he'll have his own little chair to enjoy.

Safety strategies

Make safety your primary concern. An estimated 3,600 infants are injured each year in bouncy seats. Here's how to protect your baby:

Safety counts

For steadiness, choose a bouncer seat with a base or back support that's wider than the seat itself. Test the stability in a store, if possible. 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 another nonskid surface that really works. 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 it.

Stick to product weight and development limits

Most manufacturers specify an upper child-weight limit of 20 to 25 pounds. (A heavier child can tip the seat.) And they suggest that you stop using the seat as soon as your baby can sit up unassisted or attempts to climb out. Some seats do accommodate toddlers and even bigger kids, with weight limits ranging from 28 to 40 pounds. With this style of seat, most manufacturers say you should continue to use the restraint system until your child is able to climb in and out of the chair unassisted. Always use the harness. Bouncers come with three-point or five-point harnesses.

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 might tip, and soft surfaces are a suffocation hazard. "The main danger we see is when [bouncer seats] can fall off of surfaces, such as tables and couches," says Benjamin Hoffman, a pediatrician at the University of New Mexico who's on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. "Make sure the baby is observed," he says. "Don't put them in there and leave." When your child is in the seat on the floor, keep an eye on pets that might be nearby. Both babies and pets can be unpredictable. And don't put the seat near a radiator, space heater, or stove.

Don't place the bouncer with your baby in it near window-blind or phone cords

They're a strangulation hazard.

Don't suspend strings over a bouncer seat or attach strings to toys on the play bar

They're also a strangulation hazard.

Don't carry your baby while he's in the bouncer

Don't do this even if the bouncer has carrying handles. And never use the toy bar as a handle.

Always keep a close eye on your baby

Don't leave the room, even if you think he's completely safe and secure in the bouncer seat. And remember that some children sit up earlier than others, so be vigilant.

Don't park your baby in a bouncer

As much as your child enjoys her bouncer, you shouldn't leave her in it for long stretches of time or let her sleep in it overnight. (See Avoid parking your baby.) Babies need plenty of time being held and cuddled. They also need time on their bellies. "There is nothing you can do that's better than getting down on the floor and interacting with them and playing with them," Dr. Hoffman says. "I have to remind people on a regular basis about the importance of ‘tummy time.' Bouncy chairs are for a small amount of time, to allow parents to have the use of their hands. It is not a place they [babies] should be spending the whole day." The AAP doesn't say how much time in the seat is too much, so use your judgment. No more than 30 minutes at a time seems reasonable.

Register the bouncy seat you buy

That's so the manufacturer can easily notify you in case of a recall. Many companies now allow you to do that online through their websites. Just make sure to save the model number.

Read the instructions carefully during assembly

Many bouncy seats have lots of parts. If there's something you don't understand, don't guess. Call the manufacturer for clarification.

Other tips:

  • Only use the play bar and toys that come with the unit
  • Make sure the bouncer you select doesn't have any sharp edges
  • Don't use a bouncy seat that's damaged or broken
  • Never use a bouncer seat as a car seat
   

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