Only what you need for your baby. Really. (OK – and some fantastic things you don’t that are pretty cool.)
I bought a used glider rocker last weekend and the mom asked me how old Astrid was. When I said, “Eighteen months,” she said, “Why do you want a rocker?” Because Astrid still takes a bottle before bed and there’s nowhere to sit in her room except the office chair she got used to swinging in when she was tiny, that’s why!
If you have the space for it and the budget, a comfortable glider rocker is really, really nice to have in your nursery or living room, especially when you’re putting your baby down to sleep multiple times a day, and you’re exhausted too. It’s not 100% necessary though, so don’t break your budget or get one instead of another essential (like a decent stroller).
Before you buy, I’d spend a little time thinking about how long you think you’ll have it and use it. If you’re planning on having multiple children and you have the space, a new or nice used one might be a good investment. Rocking babies to sleep is a necessity, so you’ll need something that moves (or a personal trainer to keep you in prime form!), and, if you end up liking it, a glider can outlast the infancy stage: you could be reading to your four year old in it. Provided he’ll sit still, that is!
Today’s glider rockers aren’t your grandmother’s rocking chair, although the principle is the same. The gliding part replaces the curved rockers of yore: the chair sits on a flat base that remains still on the floor and the gliding takes place on the mechanism above it, so it’s a quieter and smoother ride. Today’s nursery gliders are built for feeding babies, so your comfort is paramount in the design, as is baby’s eating convenience. Padding on the arms and behind your head, pockets on the arms for bottles and pacifiers. Soothing all around.
The thing is, the most comfortable and nice-looking ones – essentially armchairs on gliders – are very expensive. $800-1000 expensive. And they take up a ton of space: all that comfort + space for rocking = a big footprint in your nursery. But they do look like a regular piece of furniture, which is a nice bonus if it’ll be in your living room. Pottery Barn Kids makes a gorgeous armchair/rocking chair that looks divine but will run you nearly $1000 all-in. (It does convert to a standing armchair later, so if you love the look and are in the market for an armchair in three years, this might be a good choice.)
Below that level are the $300-$500 chairs that look like souped up rocking chairs. Also a big financial and space investment but more d0-able, and they come in a large variety of fabrics and wood colors, so you can match your chair to your jungle themed nursery to your heart’s content. Dutailier is the big name brand in this category.
For $150-200, you can can get an even more basic version. It will offer fewer design options and less comfort but it will be functional and serve the purpose if you just must have one. Stork Craft offers a number of chairs at this price point.
We borrowed one of the low-end gliders briefly, but in the end I couldn’t take it: the cheaper you go, the more likely you are to get a awful-looking faux-oak finish and terrible cushion colors. Just looking at ours depressed me. As did the loss of space in an entire corner of our already-too-small bedroom. It lasted two months and I went back to rocking Astrid to sleep in my very comfortable office chair. (Admittedly no head rest for me, but she didn’t care!)
If you do have the room but are financially constrained, glider rockers come up for sale all the time on craigslist. Or post on your local parent’s board and see if anyone is willing to part with theirs. If you can borrow one from a friend, all the better: we have a few friends who are passing one of the nice ones back and forth as one has a baby and then the other has her second, and so on.
Note: Do not even think about getting a classic wooden rocking chair for actual use with an infant. Or one of those excellent Eames ones from DWR. They are not comfortable enough for nursing and, as a friend who went this route pointed out, they will end up being a very expensive place to store unfolded laundry!