Despite their helplessness and vulnerability, babies are also surprisingly resilient.
They are certainly much tougher than we give them credit for. So, it is not that easy to unintentionally “break” them during normal baby handling.
There is only one exception to this rule, though. When your seemingly static baby suddenly wriggles and rolls off the bed. Which actually happens surprisingly often.
And that’s a classic scenario when parents tend to panic and rush their babies to the emergency room with suspected brain injury caused by the fall. This luckily is rarely the case, and some minor bumps and bruises are the typical consequences of a fall from a relatively low height.
As such, when you swing your baby fast, it doesn’t strike you as a big deal that may put your baby’s brain at risk.
But, is that rightly so?
Here is what science says about swinging your baby too fast and the possible consequences.
Can Swinging Baby Too Fast Cause Brain Damage?
Swinging the baby too fast won’t cause brain damage directly. However, when pushing a baby fast and high on a swing, the risk of the baby falling out is significant, and such accidents can cause severe injuries. Whilst a baby’s rapidly developing brain should be treated with appropriate delicacy, swinging baby fast won’t cause shaken baby syndrome either. Primarily because the baby swing is limited by the range and speed of motion and is nowhere as powerful as the vigorous shaking of the baby.
Baby’s Brain – the Most Sensitive & Powerful Organ
The rapidly developing brain of your baby is encased in an oversized head held in place by wobbly neck muscles.
And when trying to avoid injuring your baby, your focus should be on that.
Because a baby’s brain is the most sensitive part of its tiny body and should be treated as such.
As part of the central nervous system, the brain and spine play a crucial role in a baby’s survival.
At birth, the baby’s brain is about 25% of the size of the adult’s one.
By the time they turn 1 – their brain size will double. How incredible is that?!
And 5 years of age, their brain will reach 90% of the adult size.
How baby brains develop
Why am I telling you this?
So, you can realise that during a short period, your baby’s most sensitive organ goes through a tremendous transformation.
What is happening is that their fast-growing brain is finding room in the skull. So any vigorous movement caused by forced shaking, for example, or any uncontrollable movement may have quite dramatic consequences and should be avoided at all costs.
That’s because such movements may cause bruising by violently striking against the skull, leading to brain trauma and shaken baby syndrome.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
The consequences of the shaken baby syndrome can be devastating.
The brain may bruise, bleed and swell, which can cause depriving the brain of oxygen and destroy brain cells.
This may have a lasting effect on the functions the brain should control and result in developmental disorders. These may include seizures and epilepsy, delays in learning, a problem with movement, cerebral palsy, blindness, long-term brain injury and even death.
Furthermore, if your baby experienced a brain bleed, they would require regular doctor’s care throughout their life, i.e. neurologist to treat seizures, an occupational therapist to help with developmental delays and other specialists to deal with movement and speech problems.
In other words, your baby’s future looks very dramatic.
That’s what happens if you decide to shake your baby even for a short time, like a few seconds.
(That’s not to say that swinging your baby fast will have similar consequences.)
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So, will swinging my baby fast result in shaken baby syndrome?
Short answer – not necessarily.
And to be honest, I haven’t found any evidence that pushing a baby too fast on a swing can cause brain damage (caused by the swinging itself).
However, the potential to cause some form of harm to your baby on the swing when pushing them too fast is rather high.
But not because of the reason you may suspect.
So, the fast motion won’t likely have the same consequences as those associated with shaken baby syndrome. However, the risk of your baby falling from the swing in fast motion – is a completely different story.
Let’s go into the details.
Speed Limits Of Baby Swings
So, the automatic baby swing devices are equipped with different speed settings.
Which, let’s face it – are not very speedy at all.
Also, they have a fairly limited range of motion.
Therefore, you can’t swing your baby fast or high.
The speed of such equipment is designed to be slow to ensure a soothing and relaxing experience for your baby. Therefore, the risk of brain injury from “swinging too fast” is literally non-existent.
*** As a side note, remember if your baby dozes off in the swing, you should move them to their bed immediately. They are not supposed to sleep in these devices due to the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
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Do Exactly As It Says On The Tin
If you are keen to keep your baby out of harm’s way when on the swing, you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the weight and age requirement, as specified.
So, if the recommendation is that the swing is suitable for 12 months or for at least an 11 lb (5 kg) baby, you should not put your 3-months old who weighs 9 lb (4.5 kg) in that device. Right?
Such limits are enforced, most likely due to the newborn’s limited head control that the device may not be able to support, for instance.
Also, by following the guidance, you will most definitely avoid tipping over and accidents and keep the baby from falling out of it.
So how about a bucket-style outdoor baby swing?
So, the general age recommendation from the American Academy of Paediatrics is that swings shouldn’t be used before 6 months.
That’s when the babies should have good head control and can sit comfortably when propped. Therefore, they are clear to use the outdoor swings slowly and gently.
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Slips and Falls
One thing to be mindful of is that your little one won’t fit snuggly in the swing bucket. So there is a risk they can slip through the sides and fall. And this type of playground accident is the most common playground-related reason for a visit to the emergency room.
Traumatic brain injury represents over 8% of these accidents.
That alone should be a good reason to push the swing gently.
Furthermore, outdoor baby and toddler swings also have a limited range of movement. So the chances are if you swing your baby fast and high, they will more likely fall off the swing causing trauma to their head, rather than get injured by the fast movement itself.
Playground Safety — Swings and Slides
Another form of potential injury during vigorous swinging is whiplash to the wobbly neck of the baby.
Whiplash is a type of neck injury which is caused by a sudden movement of the head.
It is typically associated with car accidents, but don’t be misled.
Babies can get such type of injury from swinging too!
The whiplash can cause neck pain, stiff neck, headache, reduced range of motion and even spine injury, which will likely go undetected for years. Especially since babies can’t communicate what bothers them!
And this type of injury is not uncommon amongst the young enthusiast of swinging. So, stay vigilant!
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Final Few Lines
There is no doubt that a baby’s brain needs to be treated cautiously.
However, swinging your baby very fast won’t be a direct reason their brain may be hurt.
It is the falls from the swing caused by excessive height and speed, that will more likely occur. And the falls will result in brain trauma – not swinging itself.
Excessive speed and height of swinging won’t cause shaken baby syndrome either.
This type of brain damage is caused by shaking the baby forcefully – which is unlikely to happen during the fast swinging.
So, the bottom line is, even if you won’t directly damage your baby’s brain during swinging, you should still use common sense and adjust the swing’s height and speed based on their age.