Why Get a Stroller?
Most parents feel a natural urge to go and get every little thing baby might possibly benefit from. A stroller is no doubt on the list, but do you really need one?
The answer is maybe not, at least not in the first year. Here's why
The purpose of a strolling product is to make it easier to transport your baby while you walk. At its simplest, it is just an alternative to carrying your baby in your arms or on your hip. And, your baby will almost always prefer to be held instead of riding.
baby carrier. Infants love the snug hold of being carried on your chest, and toddlers often love to be carried on your back. The best carriers distribute weight so well that you can wear Baby for hours, leaving your hands free to perform other tasks. While strolling is very convenient, a baby carrier offers a practical alternative, and baby carriers are a lot less expensive. Take a look at our Baby Carrier Review for more detailed information on the top baby carriers.
Health Benefits of Wearing Your Baby
It is also worth noting that too much time in a car seat, bouncer, or baby swing can contribute to plagiocephaly, or flattening of the back of baby's head. What does this have to do with strolling? In the first 6 months, most parents use their car seat for strolling, connecting it with a car seat adapter to the frame of some type of stroller. While pediatricians consider it fairly normal for a baby to spend 1.5 to 4 hours per day in a combination of car seats, bouncers or swings, if your baby spends more than 4 hours in these devices, especially in the first few months when baby's skull is soft, they will have a higher risk of developing a flattened area in the back of the head. Using a baby carrier in a parent-facing chest position can help by taking pressure off the back of the head, and in combination with supervised tummy time, can help prevent flattening of the head.
Strolling is Easy
For most of us, and even the most hard-core fans of baby carriers, the convenience of strolling makes it an essential tool that will get daily use for years. The key benefits:
- Easier on you — pushing Baby on a stroll is a lot less work for you than carrying Baby, even with a quality baby carrier.
- Soothing for baby — a gentle stroll, like a drive in the car, is a tried and true technique for soothing a baby, which in turn could mean more sleep for you.
- Safety — strolling provides a safer environment for Baby, with a sunshade, a protective frame, and a safety harness. Wearing your baby is wonderful in many ways, but you need to be careful not to bump into things, and take care when bending over in order to avoid spilling Baby out. Remember, you should never drink a hot liquid like coffee or tea, over a baby in a carrier. It is much easier to keep Baby out of harms way and enjoy your hot coffee too at a table, with Baby safely off to the side (never put a hot drink in the cup holder, where there is risk of it spilling on baby).
- Carry all your stuff — ample storage enables you to comfortably take all the things you and Baby might need while out walking such as a diaper bag, extra clothes, bottle(s), snacks, toys, and your personal items.
- Do some light shopping — for things like shopping, having both hands free is a must. While you can pull off shopping with a baby carrier, it can be awkward at times. While storage is somewhat limited, picking up a bag of groceries or laundry can be convenient when out for a walk.
- Get some exercise — getting back into shape is a challenge with a baby needing constant attention, but strolling provides one way to combine quality time with exercise. A brisk walk can be invigorating for you, and a joy for Baby. But, if you want to go jogging you'll need to get a specifically designed jogging option that includes additional suspension systems to protect Baby from dangerous jarring impacts while running, and you shouldn't go jogging until baby has more head control (6+ months depending on the jogger).
A Little Extra Investment is Justified
Unlike many other baby products, a quality strolling option will serve you for years. It gets so much use, and for such a long time, that we consider this one of the categories where you might want to spend a little bit extra to get exactly what you need. A quality stroller will serve you not just in between the ages of 6 months to 3+ years, it can work well for multiple kids, or as a hand-me-down to friends and relatives. Many of the best products, such as the BOB Revolution, enjoy a significant resale value.
Types of Strollers
There are six main types of strollers on the market today:
UPPAbaby Vista and Bugaboo Cameleon3, include a bassinet for infants.
Car Seat Frame
infant car seat is a frame stroller. These products provide a frame that the car seat can click onto. For a first-time parent this seems like an odd approach, but many second-time parents wish they knew about them earlier. A car seat frame is inexpensive, compact, and light at only 11 to 16 lbs, which can be good for moms who've just had a baby or C-section and may be limited on what they can carry.
umbrella strollers" because of their small folded shape) are light and more compact, usually weighing between 8-17 lbs. But, they cut some corners compared to standard size. For starters, they don't offer car-seat adapters, and thus can't be used until Baby is at least 6 months old. They also use smaller wheels, and this makes them less maneuverable, and very difficult to push on rough surfaces.
Outfitted with large air-filled tires and shock absorbers, jogging strollers are specially designed to roll smooth and straight while running, and reduce the impact of bumps and curbs on baby. Most weigh anywhere from 23 to 31 lbs.
Needs Change After 6 months
We advocate splitting your thinking into two periods:
- Car-seat Strolling from birth to 6 months — for the first 6 months, your baby can't sit up and lacks sufficient neck strength to be seated upright. In this period you'll use either a bassinet, a fully reclined seat (if less than 10 degrees), or a car seat adapter. Of the three, we believe the car seat is the safest and easiest option.
- Standard-size Strolling from 6 mos to 3+ yrs — starting at about 6 months, once your baby gains sufficient neck muscle strength to comfortably hold their head up, your baby will increasingly enjoy (demand) sitting up and watching what is going on while strolling. At this stage baby is bigger, and requires more stuff (bottles, food, snacks, toys, clothes, diapers, wipes) than needed in the first 6 months. At this time, a standard-size product's advantages (more storage / increased maneuverability) kick in, especially for extended walks around town and in your own neighborhood.
Start Off Strolling in the Car Seat
car seat frame. Notable exceptions might be the Britax B-Agile 3 or the Baby Jogger City Mini Single that both weigh about 17.5 pounds and offer car seat adapters for many of the popular brand infant car seats including the award winning Chicco Keyfit 30.
In any event, make sure you get a car seat adapter or frame that provides a click-in method of securing your specific model of car seat rather than a strap-in. The click-in method is much faster and easier than a strap-in.
Why start off using a car seat for strolling?
Here's a few reasons to consider:
- The car seat provides safe, secure, and comfortable support for baby in months 0-6 (and up to 1 year)
- Transitions from driving to strolling are much faster and easier if baby is left in the car seat
- If baby falls asleep while driving or strolling, you can transition without jostling baby awake (if you don't already appreciate the maxim, "never wake a sleeping baby," you will soon)
- Car Seat Frames are lighter and more compact than a standard-size with a car seat adapter, making them a lot easier to use and get in/out of the car
- Only a few of the products in our tests provided a fully reclined seat with an angle of less than 10 degrees. Higher sleeping angels are believed to increase the risk of infant suffocation in which baby's mouth and nose end up pushed against the side, blocking their airway.
- Bassinets are available for some products, and can be a good solution for the first few months, but have limitations as noted in the section below.
A Bassinet is a Luxury
Some high-end strollers, such as the UPPAbaby Vista and Bugaboo Cameleon 3 come with a bassinet that can attach to the frame, and may (or may not) be suitable for sleeping. The UPPAbaby website notes prominently that their bassinet is tested and approved for overnight sleeping as well as strolling. We find no similar claim made by Bugaboo. But, as you'll read below in our safety tips, we're a bit anxious about bassinets for unsupervised sleeping due to suffocation risk.
As much as a bassinet is dreamy for strolling, we feel obligated to note that it is a luxury you will only use for a brief period, typically no more than 3 months. Once your baby can move around, a bassinet is no longer safe for sleeping or strolling because they are so shallow and lack a safety harness. It is easy for a mobile baby to fall out of one and be injured. A crib is a better investment for sleeping, and your baby can sleep in a crib from day one. On the other hand, a bassinet is very nice-to-have, fun for strolling in those first few months, and allows baby to be right next to you for night feedings.
From a practical point of view, a car seat can work much like a bassinet for infant strolling, the advantage being that with a car seat one may stroll for a full year instead of only a couple months, and maintain greater utility and improved safety. Transitions between car and strolling are vastly simplified. Plus, using your car seat eliminates the need for an extra piece of baby gear.
In the end, a bassinet comes and goes so darn fast. If you are on a tight budget, or even an above average budget, this is one place to save some money that you can put to better use elsewhere.
We're also concerned that safety standards for sleeping in bassinets haven't caught up with crib standards. For example, padded bumpers are no longer recommended for cribs, due to the risk of baby getting into a position where their mouth and nose is pushed up against the side, and suffocating. We have concerns that the sidewalls of bassinets presents a similar suffocation risk, but haven't been given as much attention as cribs. Because of this we advise parents to closely supervise a baby sleeping in a bassinet (or use a crib instead).
In addition, the lack of a restraining harness in a bassinet increases the risk of falling accidents or tip-over. Be extra careful.
We're not saying don't use a bassinet. We like them ourselves. But, parents who use a bassinet should be aware of the risks and use appropriate caution.
The Standard-size Sweet-Spot: 6 months to 3+ years
To find the right option for you, first try to develop an idea of how and where you'll stroll on a day-to-day basis when your baby is older. It takes a little imagination when your infant is 1 month old to envision what your daily routine might be with a 1 or 2 year old, but doing so can help ensure your purchase is satisfying in the long-term.
We can provide some rules of thumb that may be helpful.
If you are like most parents, you will start taking longer strolls as your baby becomes a toddler, and you'll spend more time at parks nearby. As your baby gets older, you may want to take in museums, the aquarium, or visit other baby-friendly venues that have you further from home.
Rather than a quick out-and-back, your walks with a toddler become an expedition and the stroller is your base camp. You'll be bringing more stuff to support an extended time away from the house. That means storage for a well-stocked diaper bag, food, bottles, extra clothes, and extra toys too. But, storage is not the only way your needs will change over time.
You may develop a need to roll across an increasingly broad range of terrain, the grass and gravel areas of parks being most common, and/or travel more often in a car or on public transportation as you start venturing further from home.
Mostly in Your Neighborhood?
A lot of people concentrate their walks in their own neighborhood, at least initially. When strolling out your door, a heavier product is not a problem (in fact, its additional storage and performance can make it great). Two of our favorites: the BOB Revolution Flex and the UPPAbaby Vista (the winners of our Editors' Choice awards), are both over 25 lbs. However, what they lose in weight and folded size, they make up for in everyday performance. If you are mostly strolling around the neighborhood, a few pounds of extra weight, and added size is not that big a deal, and so long as the folded size is not so big or heavy as to prevent you from slinging it into your car when you need to, you are going to come out ahead.
Frequently Driving Before Strolling?
If you think you will frequently drive or use public transportation before strolling, a larger folded size may become annoying. A light and compact product, like the Baby Jogger City Mini Single has great advantages in this kind of situation.
If you travel frequently, you might want to consider a lightweight umbrella stroller such as the UPPAbaby G-luxe to augment or replace a standard-size product. It can be very convenient to have both a lightweight product when on-the-road, and a standard-size for use in your own neighborhood. But, you'll need to consider whether the convenience justifies the additional expense.
Every day that you stroll, maneuverability performance will be noticeable. And, it degrades over time as your baby gets heavier. In the time frame you'll do the most strolling, ages 6 mo to 3 years, your baby will grow from an average of 16 to 32 lbs. The extra weight of your growing baby and the pile of gear you'll bring will increasingly degrade maneuverability. Almost any product is easy to maneuver when empty.
Trying out products in a store can be misleading, especially if you push them empty over a smoothly polished floor like most people do. In our tests we found significant differences in maneuverability between competing products, especially when fully loaded.
Test Drive One-handed and with 25 Pounds of Weight
To properly test a product in a store, we recommend that you put 25 lbs of weight in the seat, simulating an average 1.5 year old and a diaper bag; now try to maneuver it with one hand. We're not kidding. It's when you load them down that you can really feel the differences, and one-handed steering will help you appreciate subtle differences between products.
Consider whether the parks near you will require pushing over unpaved surfaces like grass and gravel. If you need to push over 50 yards of grass or gravel, your small wheeled product may seem Sisyphean. Will winter change the game for you? Most people go on strolls year round. If you suspect you will be pushing on unpaved surfaces or dealing with seasonal ice and snow, then you'll want to focus on products with higher maneuverability and larger wheels.
We've read some buying advice guides that describe three-wheeled products as superficial; just going after a "jogger" look. These same "guides" suggest that there is not a benefit to these features.
We beg to differ.
In our tests, some of the three wheeled products kicked some serious butt in maneuverability tests. One of the top performers is actually a jogger.
Intuitively, these three wheeled products, with their big air-filled tires, are significantly heavier, and bulkier when folded too.
But the reality is not as dramatic as you might expect. One of our Editor's Choice winners, the BOB Revolution Flex, is 25.2 pounds and the average for the group of standard products is 24.7 with 7 in the group weighing more. Plus, thanks to the large tires and other features it scored way ahead in maneuverability, arguably one of the most important metrics for this kind of product.
Key Functional Elements
Wheel Size Matters
In our tests we found bigger wheels to be significantly easier to push and roll over bumps and non-paved surfaces. That translates into less effort for you and with less stress on Baby. Air filled tires make for a smoother ride, but they can go flat just like a bicycle tire might. Some people prefer to avoid the large air-filled tires because they are heavier and might go flat. Our view is that air-filled tires are worth it if you stroll longer distances, over unpaved surfaces, or over rough pavement. Flats are rare, but you might want to get a spare tire tube and have it available in case you need it.
Some of the higher-end products offer "never-flat" tires that use a foam-filled rubber to offer more cushion than solid wheels, but without the risk of flat tires. We found these are a good compromise if you are anxious about a flat. While not as smooth rolling as an air-filled tire, the foam-filled tires did absorb bumps better and performed well.
So, why not get the biggest wheels possible?
The downside of bigger wheels is that they are heavier and bulkier. For those who frequently need to load in and out of the car, or travel on public transportation, large wheel size is a negative. Several in this review have larger foam filled rubber tires that aren't as big as those found on the jogging product, but are larger than the traditional wheels that used to be the gold standard for this type.
To help you compare competing products, our review includes specifications of both front and rear wheel sizes, as well as the type of wheels.
While it is convenient to be able to fold with one-hand, we think manufacturers make a bigger deal of the feature in their marketing than it deserves.
Neither of the two Editors' Choice winning products offer a one-handed fold, and both scored above average for ease folding.
Bugaboo Cameleon3 offers a unique carry-bag storage option. It is removable and includes a carrying strap so that it can be used like a diaper bag or purse. While we appreciate the innovative spirit, we find the design fails in practice, it is hard to remove and takes too much time to bother with. We'd rather have a larger storage basket that can be used with a better performing diaper bag. The 4moms Origami has the smallest storage bag in the group that might fit a pair of men's shoes with an open back that makes it almost useless.
Seats, Padding, and Materials
The quality of seating materials and padding varies considerably between brands. We suggest looking for an amply padded seat covered with a durable material that can be easily cleaned. Additional points are given for the use of eco-healthy materials, and/or for seat covers that can be removed for easy cleaning.
In our review we note whether handlebars are adjustable and the minimum / maximum adjustment heights. But, is it necessary that handlebars be adjustable? We don't think so.
The theory of an adjustable handlebar is that it makes pushing more comfortable for parents who are taller or shorter than average. Since many Moms are shorter than Dads, it would seem that most every couple would find this feature useful. But, in fact, our testers of different heights found comfort more related to maneuverability than to handlebar height. Simply put, a highly maneuverable product was comfortable for testers short and tall, even if the handlebar was not adjustable.
And, it gets a bit more complicated. We found that most adjustable handlebars introduced some up/down "play" into the handlebar steering, and this meant that maneuverability performance felt "loose" and somewhat degraded. As a result, an adjustable handlebar often introduced a trade-off in which a theoretical improvement in comfort was offset by reduced maneuverability. Another factor is how the bar adjusts. Some adjust by rotating on a pivot point on each side, so when the handlebar is at its highest point, the pusher is closer to the frame and wheels, which resulted in several taller testers kicking the back of some of the frames while strolling. Other handlebars adjust by telescoping in and out of the frame sides, and when the bar is at the highest point the pusher is furthest away from back wheels and thus less likely for the user to kick the frame. The products with telescoping handles had less flex or play in them than those with the pivot point. The Revolution has the rotating handlebar, while both UPPAbabys have telescoping style bars.
A parent tray would seem a simple and logical feature to add. Why not offer a convenient place to store keys or personal items, and one or two cup holders?
But, not one of the 12 top scoring products in our review came with a parent tray as a standard feature (all offer it as an option with costs ranging from $20-$40). Only 4 products in the entire review offered a parent tray standard.
Similar to adjustable handlebars, a parent tray offers both a positive and a negative to overall performance. On the positive side, a parent tray increases ease-of-use by offering some additional storage at your fingertips. But, on the negative side, they can get in the way of folding, and make for a bulkier, awkward folded size. In addition, most parent trays offer cup holders that are too shallow to securely hold a large water bottle (over Baby's head).
Our two favorite parent consoles are both optional, costing an extra $25, for the UPPAbaby and the BOB. Both use a similar design of soft neoprene that provides a deep cup holder and a zippered compartment for keys. Neither inhibits folding or increases folded size like the larger plastic trays do.
A child tray also seems like an obvious feature, and one that should simply be included with every product. But, in fact, similar to parent trays, not one of the top scoring products offered a child tray as a standard feature, and only 5 products offered it at all.
Funnily, only the products with lowest list prices seemed to offer a child tray as a standard feature (every product in our review with a child tray cost under $250).
A child tray is a feature marketers love, and new parents intuitively think is important, but in practice neither you nor your baby really need one. And more importantly, like a parent tray, a child tray can be a negative in practice that makes folding more awkward and bulky. Alternatively, the BOB Revolution has two passenger stow pockets on the inside of the seat, that are very useful. These pockets can hold most bottles and sippy cups, did not drop items out while moving, and children don't have to reach forward to use them. We rather liked them.
Nine Tips for Safer Strolling
We don't want to scare you, but we do want to make you aware of the types of injuries that have been documented and introduce some expert advice on how to stroll more safely.
Use the Safety Harness
According the studies published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the most common strolling related injuries are a result of falls, representing more than half of all injuries. The second most prevalent cause of injuries is tip-overs. Experts believe that most of these injuries would have been prevented if Baby was restrained with the safety harness.
Each year a few strolling-related deaths are reported. Again, experts believe that the use of the safety harness would have prevented most of these fatalities.
The CPSC advises to use the safety harness every time:
Every standard-size product sold in US stores today offers a safety harness. In our tests, we found that the best offer a 5-point harness with an easy-to-use latching mechanism. Make it a habit to harness your baby every time, to avoid accidents and injuries.
Keep Baby Away When Folding
One of the most disturbing strolling related injuries is the amputation of a baby's fingertips after being pinched in the hinge while folding. This only occurs rarely, but as recently as summer 2012 Kolcraft recalled 36,000 products following reports of 3 fingertip amputations. In 2009, Maclaren announced a recall of more than 1 million products following reports of 12 fingertip amputations (another 5 fingertip amputations occurred in the 2 years after the recall).
Always make sure your baby is safely at a distance before folding or unfolding.
Make Sure It is Locked After Unfolding
It is easy to only partially unfold and leave the product in a state where it might collapse under baby's weight. Make sure to listen for the re-assuring click sound indicating it has reached its fully locked and ready-to-use position before use (depending on the model). Also ensure you are using all the applicable safety features that keep it open. All of the Baby Jogger products and the Baby Trend Expedition all have small safety straps that snap the seat onto the frame and prevent accidental folding. Because these options have a fold handle on the seat bottom, children could potentially pull the handle and accidentally cause the product to fold in on top of them.
Double Check the Parking Brake
Two of the products in our tests: the Chicco Bravo LE and the Inglesina Quad, had parking brakes that we discovered could occasionally be set in what appeared to be a locked position, yet would release when bumped. If such an unplanned brake release occurred in a train station or near a busy road, the results could be tragic. We recommend always giving a little shake after setting the parking brake to make sure it is fully set.
The CPSC notes one report of a stroller that rolled off of a dock and into a bay, which resulted in the child drowning.
Never Put Hot Liquid in the Cup Holder
We love a hot coffee every morning as much as anyone, but, hot beverages should never be placed in the cup holder (which are typically too shallow in our opinion and placed dangerously above Baby's head). A spill of hot liquid can result in terrible burns that not only hurt, but leave scars that last a lifetime.
Avoid carrying children while holding hot beverages; never hold a cup of hot coffee or tea in the beverage holder. The Burn Center at St. Barnabas
Use the Elevator
Although fall injuries are the most common strolling-related risk, most result in minor injuries to the head and face.
But, stairs change the risks in a fall.
One fatality reported to the CPSC occurred when a parent attempted to take a stroller containing an unrestrained and sleeping baby up a set of stairs and the baby tragically fell out, resulting in a fatal injury.
Falls are the most common injury related to strolling, and a fall on stairs is obviously much more dangerous. Escalators add the additional hazard of moving mechanical parts.
Experts advise to never take any strolling product on an escalator or stairs. Find a nearby elevator or ramp and use it instead.
If there is no alternative, get some help. Take the baby out of the harness, and carry baby up or down the stairs or escalator, holding on to one handrail. Have someone else bring the empty stroller up or down separately.
While we test products going up and down curbs and stairs loaded with a test dummy in our review process, those tests are intended to determine if a product has a risk of tip-over or collapsing, not to prescribe a recommended use with an actual baby.
Check for Recalls
It is wise to make a quick search on the Consumer Products Safety Commission website to see if a product has been recalled. This is particularly important for hand-me-down products from relatives or friends, or any used products. The CPSC does a good job of documenting any active recalls, and their database is easy to search by product name.
Don't Run Unless It's a Jogger
We cringe when we see user reviews where someone says they have been jogging with a standard product, or any jogging before 8 months age.
Why? Because a baby's head is heavy, and their spine and neck muscles are not yet fully developed. The jarring bumps and shocks encountered in normal jogging are not bothersome to the parent, but can present real health risks to a developing baby or toddler.
You should never run with a stroller unless it is designed for jogging, and even then not before the manufacturer's recommended minimum age. Very often we find parents confused that products manufactured by "Baby Jogger" such as the popular Baby Jogger City Mini Single, or products that look like a jogger such as the Mountain Buggy Swift are NOT designed for jogging.
Joggers incorporate additional suspension systems, reclined seating, and locked front wheels to reduce the impact and make them suitable for running.
Even so, most jogger manufacturers recommend waiting until baby is at least 8 months old before the product is used for running or jogging. Before then, brisk walks and strolling workout can help get you back into shape.
Don't Hang Anything from the Handlebar
Tip-over is the 2nd most common cause of injury when strolling, and a back-tip is the most dangerous since Baby is more likely to fall on their head.
We test for front-tip, side-tip, and back-tip risks in our review process.
But, many parents make the back-tip risks more severe by hanging a diaper bag or groceries on the handlebar.
We understand why. It just seems so compelling to hang a bag on the handlebar, where it is easy to access and might seem to be stable. But, don't do it! Depending on the product, the weight you put on the handlebar, the weight of your baby, the angle of the terrain, and the weight in the bottom storage basket, tip-over risk varies dramatically. In many cases, just going up or down a curb can turn a seemingly stable situation into something dangerously tippy. Tip-over is most common with infants, who are lighter and provide less counterbalancing center weight.
Place your items in the bottom storage basket instead of hanging them from the handlebar. Doing so will actually increase the stability by placing more weight at a low center of gravity.
How do I determine which standard option is best for my family?
Step 1: Car Seat Compatibility
infant car seat first. Why? Finding a quality infant seat that is easy to use and safe is more important for baby's overall well-being given that you will likely be using it more frequently, or at least it has the largest related safety risks. So choose your infant car seat, then follow the remaining steps for the options that are compatiable with your choice.