The stroller is a big, expensive purchase and there are so many models, it's not surprising that shopping for one makes new parents anxious. The good news: Any JPMA-certified stroller will do. The bad news: You'll end up buying more than one anyway as your needs change and your first stroller gets worn out. But here are some basics to get you started.
Cut through the jargon. Strollers come with their own language. A "carriage" is just another name for a stroller, but often refers to one where baby faces you. A "pram" describes the old-fashioned carriages (big wheels, fancy canopy) that keep an infant lying down -- they're bassinets on wheels and are meant for newborns. A "travel system" is a stroller that comes with a car seat that snaps into it. Baby can ride in the car seat when he's an infant and in the stroller seat once he's older. "Jogging strollers" are sporty three-wheelers you can run with, though now there are some three-wheel strollers that are not for jogging, just for show. Finally, an "umbrella stroller" is a small, lightweight stroller that's more or less a fabric sling on a frame, suitable for a baby 6 months or older. It's the stroller you'll pooh-pooh initially, but will love by the time you've got a toddler and are fed up with lifting, folding, and pushing anything larger.
You can spend as much or as little as you want. Set a budget before you begin -- that's an easy way to narrow down stroller choices. Are you going to splurge on something deluxe in the $300 range? Go for one of the popular styles between $100 and $200? Or seek a real bargain? There are also strollers upwards of $600, but we assume those are for royalty, celebrities, and the wealthy people who imitate them.
Start with a stroller that fits a newborn. This means one where baby can ride lying down flat or almost flat. We love old-fashioned prams, but because they're expensive, heavy, and only safe until the three-month mark, we don't recommend them. A better alternative is one of the "carriage systems" sold by some European companies, in which you buy a separate bassinet that snaps onto the stroller frame for those first three months, and then use the stroller seat after that. But they're pricey, too.
The most practical purchase is a regular stroller with a seat that folds back, so you can continue to use it in the upright position as baby grows. You can log onto Web sites to get a feel for what's out there in your price range, but eventually you should go to a store to do test runs. Consider whether you may also want a jogging stroller and/or an umbrella stroller once baby can sit up (more on those later), in which case you don't want to overspend on this initial purchase.
Meet the Travel System
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you check out strollers in the store:
Is the handlebar high enough? Take a few strollers for a test push. The most annoying thing when you're out for a walk is pushing a stroller with handles so low that you have to stoop, or so short that you kick the back of the stroller. Look for handles that fit your height and your gait.
Where will you put the diaper bag and groceries? You'll seldom be out just strolling. You'll be running errands or visiting friends with an afternoon's worth of supplies. A basket under the seat is important, and it's lacking on some European strollers. (Where do Europeans stash grocery bags?) Less important, but certainly nice, are cup holders and storage spaces on the handlebar. You can keep water for yourself, pacifiers for baby, and other things in easy reach. Still less important are side pockets -- you can readily buy a storage bag to hang off the back of the stroller. But keep in mind that if you hang too much on the stroller, it could tip over backward.
Can you fold it easily? There may be some families that never fold their strollers. But most parents need to fold them to get them into the car, if not into the house. If you have to wrestle the stroller to the floor, that's not an easy fold. If the stroller doesn't lock in it's folded position, but instead springs back open at the slightest provocation, that's not good either. And sometimes it's just too hard to remember which buttons, latches, and bars you use to fold some models. Test before you buy, and choose one that's easy.
Can you steer it? We have to laugh at the number of strollers that call themselves "an SUV for baby." It's not easy to park an SUV, and it's not easy to squeeze a giant stroller through store aisles. Some barely fit through store doors. Always test-push a stroller. Can it turn corners? Maneuver through tight spaces? Pretend baby just tossed his sippy cup on the sidewalk and you have to spin around 180 degrees. Easy?
How much does it weigh? The lighter the stroller, the easier it is to push, travel with, pack in the car, carry up stairs, and so forth, There are now super-lightweight ones (8 to 10 pounds), but they're generally umbrella strollers for older babies. A good weight for a newborn stroller is more like 11 to 16 pounds. Once you get to the heavy-duty prams, which are -- no lie -- often more than 40 pounds, forget about it. A note: Some new parents worry that if a stroller feels lightweight, it's shoddily made. Not necessarily true; weight does not equal quality.
Can it carry a car seat? Travel systems became so popular that now many strollers accommodate car seats, even from different manufacturers. This is nice, because it's great to take a sleeping infant out of the car and snap her right into the stroller. If you know you want a car seat from a certain manufacturer, it's worth looking at their travel systems. They might price the stroller/car seat combo cheaper than the sum of the separate pieces. Another option is the car seat frame. Baby Trend's Snap-N-Go and Kolcraft's car seat frame are ways to put your car seat on wheels, making a lightweight stroller that accommodates a newborn. Get a canopy for your car seat and a warm boot to sit your baby in if it's cold, and you're set.
Does it have the features you want? Once your child is old enough, it's nice to have the bar on the front of the stroller swing open and shut so he can climb in by himself. But if there's not a bar, there's probably a snack tray, and those are nice too. All good strollers have locking wheels, and they all have harness straps, but five-point harnesses are considered the safest. Look for a removable seat cushion for easy washing.
We know plenty of parents who, despite all of this, still buy based on brand name, color, or some other superficial reason, like the stroller being named after a car. So be it -- you have to live with it. A better way to choose if you're overwhelmed is to get a solid recommendation from a friend you trust, who has a lifestyle similar to yours.
Joggers: First, we don't recommend them unless you're actually going to jog or walk recreationally with one. They look cool, but they're big, heavy, hard to turn, and often impossible to fold. The only reason you may want one aside from jogging is if you take your baby on trails or rough terrain. Because they have big bike wheels, joggers give smooth rides over bumps.
Umbrella strollers: You can get these dirt cheap, and that's great. Still look for JPMA certification, which means a stroller has been tested for stability, among other things.
Double strollers: If you have twins, a double is a necessity. If you have an older child and a baby, however, you may not use a double as often as you think. They're big and awkward and it's often easier to push the kids in separate strollers, have the older child walk, or carry the baby strapped to you while you push the older one. If you're buying a double stroller, side-by-side models are not too heavy and some have seats that fold all the way down for newborns. The front-to-back ones are bulkier but can often accommodate car seats, a nice feature. It's a toss-up!
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.