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[Design & Parenting: Baby Swings] Between Holding on & Letting Go

Part 2 in a Series

The Multi-tasking Myth

One misconception about postpartum life is the expectation that new moms are able to constantly have their newborns within arm’s reach, as dictated by their biological instincts or societal norms. While some of us may be able to adhere to this expectation, many others may find it difficult to balance their newborn’s needs with other responsibilities that once took priority in our lives. Adapting to a new routine can be tough, especially when newborns have a three-hour eat-play-sleep cycle that repeats eight times a day. For new moms, their mental and physical transition to motherhood can feel like a long road.

Searching for Reliable Support during Post-partum

In the first few days after my baby was born, I intended that I would devote all my energy and attention to holding him, swaying gently from side to side, and singing sweet lullabies until he fell asleep. This picture of serenity was, however, betrayed by my reality of painful aches in my neck and shoulders. I also faced additional challenges such as the absence of the support from my extended family, and feeling the need to become an expert in breastfeeding and pumping. I had to find both unwearied and sustainable support systems—whether human or nonhuman—without adding to my exhaustion.

While enticed by the vast selection of sleep-aid products for babies at the store, I ultimately decided on purchasing a bouncer, a device that swings back and forth and provides babies with a soothing sensation that seemed to fit our needs and lifestyle. The decision to purchase a sleep-aid product required careful evaluation of its effectiveness and safety as many baby sleep-aid products are, in general, not considered essential or recommended by child-care experts. Having said that, I found few arguments from pediatricians or child experts against the use of bouncers or swings for newborns nor any definitive statements advocating for their use.

baby swings
 It is not uncommon for new parents to try out two or three different bouncers or in order to find one that suits their little one’s preferences. Photo: NYTimes

The bouncer arrived on the fourth week of my newborn’s life. I wondered if it would be a lifesaver for my family or become an eyesore and add to the messiness of postpartum life. I knew the bouncer didn’t replicate the perfect world from which my baby came—my womb. But he seemed pretty content and entertained by the gentle motion it offered. All I had to do was occasionally push, tap, or nudge it with my foot when I passed by. Like a moon rotating its earth, my newborn on the bouncer was always in my proximity: under my desk during video calls, next to my bed, just outside the shower, or a few centimeters away from the kitchen counter. This allowed me to quickly attend to his needs and return to my non-parenting tasks, helping me check off items from my to-do list.

The Evolution of Baby Swings

How Parenting Difficulties Gave Birth to Creativity

Baby bouncers, swings, and rocking chairs have different names based on the features and technologies they offer to cater to the preferences of both parents and babies. The variety of options are now as diverse as babies’ temperaments, including various levels of vibration and movement, built-in sound and rotating mobiles, cry detection, and even remote control via Bluetooth. However, the success of a product may depend on how well it is designed to soothe babies quickly and easily. Interestingly, as far back as the 18th century, both Eastern and Western cultures had already recognized an innate understanding of the bliss of swing movement. Earlier baby products, such as hammocks, suspended swings with a long string, and cribs with attached curved legs have all shown some creative ways to make a swaying sensation.

History of baby swings
Baby cradle
For new moms (or caretakers) who were ‘working from home’, baby swings were essential even in the 1800s. (Left: Charles Guillaume Brun (French, 1825–1908), Algerian Mother and Child, 1880. Right: Geskel Saloman (1821- 1902), Cottage Interior with Woman at the Loom, 1857)

The industrial era seized the commercial opportunity of baby cradles with rocking mechanisms. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered a new category for “Small beds for newborns or infants, e.g. bassinets or cradles with rocking mechanisms”. By the early 20th century, battery-operated baby swings were invented, including one by a famous American inventor, Harold Kosoff. The inspiration for Kosoff’s invention was said to have come from the difficulties he faced as a parent, showing that creative solutions often emerge in challenging situations. These swings became more advanced and entertaining over time, offering features that make them more convenient for busy parents.

20th century cradle
If you are a discerning parent who wants to integrate 20th century modernity into your home, this unique Bauhaus masterpiece is a great place to start. It is awe-inspiring to see a baby cradle serve as a product that carries out Bauhaus’ core design philosophy featuring playful shapes, vibrant colors, and proportions. If you find its cost exorbitant, there is a miniature version of the cradle on a 1:7 scale – however, keep in mind that this may not work for your little one.

The Possible Future of Parenting: Convenience & Cradling Comforts

The most advanced motorized crib at this time would be Ford’s Max Motor Dreams, designed to simulate the experience of riding in a car. This idea seemingly stemmed from exhausted parents who wanted to bring the car to the baby rather than the other way around. The unique features, such as its space-ship like exterior and gentle vibration, captured the attention of the yearning parents and quickly went viral. However, this idea has yet to be manufactured and has remained as a concept.

Future of parenting
Prototype of car-like cradle
Express to dreamland, the image of Ford’s Max Motor Dreams

The use of “highway hypnosis” experience in the crib design is impressive, as it represents the ‘modern’ sensation in contrast to the typical swings that attempt to replicate the womb-like experience. However, this novel design seems to fall somewhere between what parents want and what babies need, raising questions about the appropriateness of using products to quickly soothe a baby without clear evidence of any long-term effects on babies. Yet, it still functions as a brilliant prototype that prompts us to imagine what the future of parenting might look like and where advanced baby products will lead us.

The Ever-Swaying Parental Worries

While we are looking for the latest and most effective baby products, safety concerns always remain at the forefront of our minds; even a simple swing or bouncer could cause “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” or a slightly slanted back of the seat could place undue pressure on my baby’s back which was still developing. What if my baby didn’t love the expensive bouncer or became too comfortable in it and forgot what being in my arms felt like? I worried whether I missed critical safety knowledge or instructions and put my baby in jeopardy while I had just a few seconds of downtime. Lastly, the news about the recall of the swing from a famous toy brand due to a scary accident had already worsened my anxieties.

The worries dissipated once my baby got off his very last ride on his bouncer as his then-weight exceeded the maximum weight for the product. We soon found ourselves facing different kinds of worries in the next step of parenting. As our baby grows and flourishes, so do the anxieties and doubts. They are swaying back and forth like the bouncer that once swaddled and soothed my little one. All worries, moments, and phases of parenting will change and one day, our precious moon—our baby—will deviate from their earth and find their own direction. We are learning to let go of what we once held onto, knowing that nothing lasts forever.

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