You might think you know the struggle from your student days lumping ten-ton bags of shopping up a hill with no car, but no-one truly understands the importance of hands-free time until they become a parent, nor misses it so desperately. Enter: the baby bouncer.
Simply put, these clever contraptions are a safe, comfortable and entertaining place to pop baby down when Mummy or Daddy desperately needs a snack, a trip to the bathroom, or even the odd risky standing-up nap, but while that all sounds wonderful, there are a few things to consider before you rush to put one in your virtual basket (with that one thumb you still have free).
First, there are a few different types of what’s generally called a baby bouncer. Rockers are baby chairs with a slanted base that allow you to rock them gently for a soothing motion, and are generally suitable for newborns up to about six months. Swings are good for fidgety babies who will only settle down if being walked around, and are also suitable from birth to around six months. Finally, there are bouncers or bouncy chairs, which jiggle up and down at your insistence or, once they get a bit older, their own little legs, and are suitable for use from birth until around the time that baby can sit upright by themselves. As with all things baby-related, it's best to check the manufacturer's advice on each individual product.
There’s a bouncer for all budgets, from the basic models you were in all likelihood popped into yourself as a nipper to space-age looking luxury options, but as with many things, pricier doesn’t always mean better. Look for the features that’ll comfort both baby and you, like colourful toy bars and soothing vibrations for them, and non-slip feet and multi-point safety harnesses for you.
We no doubt have savvy Swede Björn Jakobson to thank for the popularity of the bouncing cradle here in Europe, and his design is still going strong today in the best baby bouncer on the market. It’s ideally suited to newborns with its soft jersey construction, snug fit and ergonomic design, designed to support growing bones in the best way possible. Four positions - play, rest, sleep and compact - make it easy for baby to nap or be entertained, and for mums and dads to take this bouncer on the road when needed. Plus, the self-rocking motion allows them to start developing their motor skills. Great all round, if a little on the pricey side.
There’s no two ways about it: the Nuna Leaf is an expensive rocker, but with that price tag comes a very respectable set of features that mean it only just misses out on our top spot. For example, Nuna say it’s suitable for use by kiddiwinks up to four years old, so even bigger brothers and sisters can have a go in it while baby’s otherwise occupied. It can also be locked in position for feeding or cleaning, doesn’t need batteries, and, unlike most baby products, doesn’t look out of place in an adult space with its muted colours and minimal design. A good one to go for if you’re not ready to relinquish your grown-up room style just yet.
The Stokke Steps system has won a host of Mother&Baby awards in the past few years for its dazzling innovation, and as this bouncer forms the seat of the range’s high chair, if you’re still in the market for a meal-time solution, it may be worth purchasing on that basis alone. But compatibility aside, it’s still a very clever product, with an ergonomic design that cradles baby’s growing spine, an included newborn insert that ensures they’re supported from the start, and a comfy padded five-point harness that’ll keep them feeling secure.
Brought into being by four design-loving dads, the Stylewood baby lounger from bloom is testament to the fact that just because you’ve brought a baby into it, your home needn’t suddenly become a shrine to Technicolor plastic. Its minimal design facilitates, with surprising simplicity, what bloom claim is a smooth, self-rocking motion without any fuss, and while we may scoff at luxurious micro-suede leatherette being anywhere near a product for notoriously messy babies, reviewers commented that the seat was easy to remove and clean. For a rocker that looks more like an art installation, but without the maintenance, go for this.
For difficult-to-soothe babies, the answer may well lie in a swing that can try lots of different approaches, like the multi-talented, multi-functional Joie Serina Swivel Swing. It plays classical music or nature sounds, has a nightlight with four brightness settings, can vibrate at two different speeds, has a two-way seat that can swing front to back or side to side, and more. Phew! It’s also got all the relevant practicalities, like a soft five-point harness, extra support for newborns, and a removable machine-washable seat, but perhaps our favourite feature is the wheels, which means you can cart them around the house and let them keep an eye on you, letting you get things done while the mains-powered rocker works its magic.
For the longevity that some fancier rockers may lack, look no further than the Mothercare motion rocker. It has all the basics nailed, rocking from side to side or back to front and boasting a toy bar with cute soft animals to keep them entertained, as well as offering some fancier extras like playing music and gentle vibrations to soothe baby. Like all of our picks, it’s suitable for use from birth, but its ability to switch from a lie-flat position, which is ideally suited to very young infants, to a higher ‘sit and play’ position suitable for older babies, makes it a standout compared to others which can be quickly grown out of.
Like many of our options, this smart 3-in-1 goes from sit-up chair for feeding and play to a laid-back rocker for soothing and gentle entertainment. Unlike some others, though, it also extends into a lie-flat napper for daytime snoozes. In all three positions, the rocker is set up to sway gently, and it also plays your choice of nine soothing and engaging songs for whatever mood they’re in, but perhaps the coolest feature is the electronic toy which can be set to be activated by baby’s touch, teaching them a little lesson about cause and effect while they play.
With its combination of comfortably wide harnessed seat with non-slip feet, and a light and foldable yet robust frame, the Chicco Hoopla is arguably our best bouncer for travel. Engineered to be easy to pack down, lift, carry and pop up again, with a handy removable toy bar, it’s the ideal choice for taking to grandparents’ houses or on weekends away. Buyers, parent and grandparent alike, have been blown away by the quality and sturdiness and the overwhelming impression is one of great value, although it’s worth noting that some found it didn’t lie flat enough for very small babies on first use.
Putting aside the technicalities for a moment, this might just be the cutest baby bouncer anywhere in the shops. Plush and snuggly, you’ll likely wind up disappointed they don’t make them in adult sizes. But does it excel in the soothing department? Reviews suggest yes, with happy parents saying the complete lie-flat function was a must, and that the vibration soothed colicky babies and helped with troubled tummies. One thing to watch out for is that the toy arch clips onto the base over the fabric, so some wear and tear can be expected after a while, meaning it may not be the longest-lasting of our picks.
A bright and colourful door jumper is a great way to keep baby entertained and moving, and they don’t come much more bright and colourful than this one from Bright Starts. With adjustable straps to adapt to baby’s changing size, it has the longevity factor, and is easy to attach and detach from doors, so not only is it simple to tidy away when grown-ups come over, it’s also great for taking on the road to Grandma’s house. And if they get bored of bouncing, there are four toys including plushies and teethers to spark their imagination, too.
If your little ones have a habit of making a meal out of meal times... check out our guide to the best baby highchairs for easy breezy dinner sessions.