“Babies spend a relatively short time in strollers, which is what makes this stage so special,” says Janet McLaughlin, a mom of three in Santa Monica, CA, who also happens to be The Stroller Queen, a bonafide expert in baby buggies. “You want to be sure to enjoy it while it lasts!” But if you’re constantly cursing under your breath about your stroller’s rickety wheels or the fact that you have to wrestle it into a fold, you’re going to miss out on some of that joy. We refuse to let that happen! Follow these tips as you shop, and you’re guaranteed to find one sweet ride.
Take the stroller for a test drive—fully loaded.
A lot of new parents really don’t think about how well the stroller will actually maneuver, says McLaughlin, and this is The. Most. Important. Factor. to consider, no matter what type you want to buy. “There are some strollers that are just miserable once they’re filled with 25 pounds of kid and gear,” she says. Because most will push just fine while empty, try to load up the floor models (if you have some weights, go ahead and bring them!) and then push it with one hand. That’s when you’ll start to notice the differences.
See how easily the stroller folds—one-handed.
This is the second most important issue to consider, especially if you’ll be taking it in and out of the car all the time. Does it collapse and open up easily? Can you do it one-handed? There’s a lot of emphasis on stroller weight, but if you find a heavier model that folds like a breeze, it’s probably the better option.
Consider which type of stroller best fits your lifestyle.
Look, if you’re not a runner or a fan of off-roading, there’s probably no reason to buy a jogging stroller, even if you do think they’re cool and tough. And if your ride isn’t much bigger than a vintage pram, you’ll want to think twice about investing in a modern one for your babe. That said, you’ll still be left with plenty of options to choose from. What you’ll find—and what’s actually worth your time:
- Travel systems: These strollers are usually sold along with infant seats, which can snap into the frame. Problem is, says McLaughlin, they’re often not very high quality. “Twenty years from now, I think we’ll look at travels systems as akin to feeding our babies Cheetos and Coke!” she says. What’s more, travel systems make it very tempting to keep your child in her infant seat for prolonged periods of time—a move that is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Doing so can increase the risk of plagiocephaly (misshapen skull) and may also compromise a young infant’s breathing.
- Stroller frames: For the exact same reasons as above, it’s probably best to pass on these inexpensive frames for infant seats unless you know you’ll be diligent about using them for short trips only.
- Standard and lightweight strollers: Obviously, the biggest group of the bunch. In addition to testing out the push and the fold (most important!), look for ones with reversible seats that can also lie flat (perfect for napping). You can have such a stronger connection with your baby when she’s facing you, and not for nothing, you’ll be a lot more likely to talk to her, which can help with language development. “Plus, it can be little scary for younger babies to be rolling along at good clip facing the world all alone,” says McLaughlin. A reversible stroller will give you the option of delaying that transition—one she’ll want soon enough—just a bit longer. And don’t forget to check out the wheels. If they’re plastic, move on.
- Joggers: You’ll find two main types—those with a swivel front wheel and those with a stationary one. Opt for the latter if you can, says McLaughlin. “Fixed-wheeled joggers are a little less maneuverable, but they’re less likely to catch every bump and dip when you’re going fast. That means they’re also less likely to flip,” she adds. Another must: a hand-brake. If you need to stop suddenly, yanking it back with a strap or even just your hand can cause a flip as well. One more safety note: These are generally not safe for babies under 6 months (or those unable to sit up).
- Umbrella strollers: Eventually, this will become the only stroller you use, but because these generally have much less structure and seat support, they should only be used with older babies who are strong enough to sit unassisted.
Remember the bigger picture; the details can be customized.
There are certain things that just make a mom’s life easier: a cup holder, say, and nice-size basket. Perhaps a snack tray. And some that make the baby’s ride more comfy: a cushy seat and a large canopy. The good thing about almost all of these is that you can add them on yourself a la carte if the stroller you love (the one with the great push and easy fold) is lacking in one area. There are sheepskin and terrycloth seat liners; snap-on cup holders and sunshades. If you need it, it’s out there.
Stick to your budget.
Of course, if you have the cash and just love, love, love everything Hollywood by all means, splurge away on the latest celeb obsession! Otherwise, it can help to know that you don’t have to spend half a mortgage payment to get your baby a great stroller. In fact, you can often find great deals on gently used strollers on sites like Craigslist or at local children’s consignment shops, says McLaughlin. Plus, there are always tons of deals available online, so once you do your in-store road-test and know which model you want, do a search to find the best price. If you find it cheaper, show it to the store manager who just might be willing to match it. There’s one more important step to take regardless of whether you buy used or new: Check out the manufacturer’s safety record and ensure the model you want doesn’t have a recall. You can do it quickly and easily at SaferProducts.gov.