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In the Swing of Things

They may not be as comfy as your arms, but infant swings run a close second when it comes to soothing babies. Even the fussiest ones tend to calm down once the swing gets cranking  -- the rhythmic motion relaxes them. A plus for you: While your baby's chilling out, you'll be freed up for things like fixing meals and reading the newspaper. Tips for safe, fun swinging from Ivor Horn, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine:

At the store...

• Look for a sturdy swing with safety straps and a wide base that won't tip over. Also, make sure there are no sharp edges or small removable parts that could pinch or pose a choking hazard.
• Check for weight and age limits; babies up to 12 months and 25 pounds are prime candidates for swings, but safety restrictions can differ from model to model.
• For a very young infant, choose a swing with a headrest that'll provide stability for her neck and head.
• Avoid "busy" swings that may overstimulate instead of calm. Most babies can get relaxation and entertainment out of a swing with just one or two points of interest like a mobile or a few tray-mounted toys.

At home...

• Always use the safety straps, and make sure they're secure.
• Position your baby's head so that it won't slump over.
• Never put blankets and stuffed animals in the swing; they could choke or suffocate her.
• Your baby needs physical activity, so keep swing time to about 30 minutes or less per sitting, and be sure to get in some tummy time.
• Let your baby swing full speed if you want her wide-awake, or go slow to help her wind down before naptime (but don't let her go to sleep, lest you create a swing addict).
• Stop using the swing if she tries to wiggle out  -- it means she's outgrown it and wants to move on.
• Never leave your baby unattended in a swing.