How to select a Buggy (Stroller)

A friend was buggy shopping and sent me a desperate text. “There are so many out here, how do I select the right one for my son?” Within minutes I’d texted back a list of things he should consider. Doing so made me realise that this is just one more thing that first time parents struggle with while there is a wealth of knowledge out there sitting within the heads of parents who’ve already walked this road. So sharing my knowledge and hoping it will be a start to other parents sharing theirs.

Buggy_1 1

Too many options

A few General Notes:

Terminology: Pushchair, pram, baby carriage, and stroller are sort of synonyms for “buggy” and I’ve used them interchangeably in this post. However if you are curious, a pram or baby carriage is for newborn babies, a pushchair is for infants that can sit up, a stroller is for toddlers and slightly older kids, and a buggy is referred to either a pushchair or stroller.

Stroller Classifications: Strollers are classified into several categories – umbrella, lightweight, full-size, multi-function (convertible), sport, all terrain, travel system, and multi-seat. These words may get thrown out sometimes, but I didn’t find they helped much with making a purchase decision and have discussed them any further. If you do want to learn more, I highly recommend Baby Bargains by Denise Fields. The book is published every year, evaluates a broad range of baby products in the market, and educates parents (especially first time parents) about what to look for when buying baby stuff.

Purchase Criteria

Price

The range in stroller prices is massive – from as little as £25 to as much as £1,700 (maybe even more for ones that sport luxury labels). After the initial sticker shock of how expensive buggies can get, you’ll find yourself getting sucked into the parent trap – feeling guilty about not buying the best for your child when you don’t spend top dollars for the item. While there will be a significant difference in quality between buggies that cost £25 and those that cost more than a few £100, you really don’t need to spend £1,700 to give your child the best. It is important to know which features of the buggy are important to you and as much as possible pay only for those.

Size

Before you go buggy shopping, take out your measuring tape and do your homework. If you expect to carry the collapsed buggy in the trunk of your car see how much space the trunk has – length, width and height. If you plan to buy a side by side double buggy measure the width of your doorway (and maybe the width of any other doorway you frequently expect to take the buggy through). The standard door width in UK is 2’6″ (76 cm) but some internal doors can be as narrow as 1’6″ (45 cm).

I’ve heard stories of mums not being able to go to certain places, because their double buggy didn’t fit through the door. It sounds trivial but can be very frustrating when you’ve dragged your exhausted, sleep deprived person to something after juggling numerous things including two crying babies.

Weight

If you live in London and expect to frequently travel with the baby on the tube you may want to get a lightweight buggy. Not all tube stations have elevators and you will need to carry the stroller up and down sometimes several flights of stairs. This may also apply if you live in an upstairs apartment of a building that has no elevators or if you will be frequently lifting the buggy to put in the car trunk.

If you like a pram that is relatively heavy, don’t worry too much as there will always be volunteers among fellow tube travellers who will give you a hand with the pram. The staff at the tube stations will also help if you ask them. However for liability reasons you will have to take the baby out of the pram before they carry it down for you. I’ve also seen parents, who have an understanding with their neighbours, park their buggy in the building foyer instead of carrying it up to their apartment.

Foldability

img courtesy thebump.com

img courtesy thebump.com

This one is important. More often than not it’s going to be one parent, i.e. only two adult hands managing the pram and the baby/toddler. You don’t want a pram that you have to battle with in order to collapse. One of the worst case scenarios is to have to collapse a pram in a moving bus, with baby in one arm, because there isn’t enough free standing space for the unfolded pram. Ideally find a pram that you can collapse with one hand, or at least one that collapses (and expands) easily. Also don’t go with how easy the salesman makes it look. They do this day in day out. My husband and I found ourselves looking at you tube videos as we tried to figure out how our buggy collapses.  It took us an embarrassing hour to find the hidden black button that we needed to press. Though it was very easy once we understood the mechanism.

Also look at whether the pram is foldable when the bassinet, car seat and toddler seat are attached. It is annoying to have to remove and fit the seats each time a pram is used. If you plan to park the pram in a tight space, check again on how much space it will need with the seats attached. Our pram required almost double the width when we didn’t remove the toddler seat. Take your measuring tape to the pram store.

Reversible Seats

Babies (roughly until the age of one) constantly seek security, and will want to see the parent and talk to them from the pram. Toddlers meanwhile start to get curious about the world and prefer looking at things around them instead of their parent. So a baby seat needs to face inwards (towards the parent) while a toddler seat needs to face outward (away from the parent). Reversible seats handle this dichotomy very well.

Washability

Your child is going to throw up, eat and sometimes leak the contents of her diaper in the pram. Removable stroller seat covers are a blessing, especially ones that can be thrown into the washing machine. I would put this very high in my priority list.

Wheels

One of the newer trends in buggies is pneumatic or inflated wheels. These are filled with air, absorb the bumps better and provide a smoother ride to the babies. However like car tyres, pneumatic tyres can get punctured – very painful if you are with the baby by yourself with no one to help out. Opt for these tyres only if you plan to do a lot of hikes or if you live in the country or in a neighborhood with rough terrain. Expect buggies with pneumatic tyres to be heavier. The size of the wheels also vary. Smaller wheels are easy to maneuver, larger wheels handle rough side walks and gravel paths better.

Weight / Age Allowance

Many salesmen justify the more expensive prams with their greater weight or age allowance – the maximum being around 35 kgs (77 lbs) / 3 years. However, once kids have enough energy to walk and run independently they will only sit in a pram if they are super tired and even then they will more likely want to be carried. This happens sometime around the time they turn two. So higher age allowances are mostly useless and the higher weight allowance is useful only when your kid’s weight is in the top 10th percentile. Unfortunately it is hard to predict whether this will be the case before your baby is born. So ideally you should buy a pram after the birth. This is doable if you do not plan to step out immediately after the birth or if you are able to temporarily borrow a friend’s pram for a few weeks (I’ve known parents who do this).

Brakes

img courtesy strollergy.com

img courtesy strollergy.com

Strollers can have brakes on one or both of the back wheels. The ones with brakes on both wheels is obviously safer. (Whatever brakes you choose, brake failure is common. Always keep a hand on your stroller.)

Handle / Steering

The salesman probably won’t tell you this but a single handle bar better facilitates one-handed steering, while a stroller with two handles folds more compactly. So choose accordingly. Also if you are 6-feet (183 cm) tall and your partner is 5-feet (152 cm) tall then also look for adjustable handles, or one of you is going to be uncomfortable while pushing the stroller. The average buggy is designed for the average female height of 5-feet, 6-inches (167 cm). Ideally, both you and your spouse should test drive the stroller.

Multi-function Strollers

img courtesy hoteltravelexpress

img courtesy hoteltravelexpress

You will be using the pram though different stages and will need different types of seats. If you buy a pram that can be fitted with a bassinet and a toddler seat, you may not need to buy multiple prams over the first two years. The pram we bought also allowed us to fit the baby’s first car seat, a maxi cosi pebble, directly onto the stroller. It was a convenient feature as we did not need to carry the pram seat when we were going somewhere by car. An extension of this is to also see if the pram can be later converted into a multi kid pram – useful if you have your second kid before the first has turned two.

Running Buggies

When pregnant I’d see mothers running around Regent’s Park, with their buggy in tag. I had lofty ideas that soon I’d be one of them. My emergency c-section threw those ideas out of the window. But I had done some research on these so I can share a few things.

img courtesy www.parkrun.org

img courtesy www.parkrun.org

1. Don’t use a regular pram to run with your baby. The vibrations are not sufficiently absorbed and you can damage the baby’s spinal system.

2. Even though there are running strollers designed for babies six months and younger, pediatric experts recommend wating until the baby turns one – as the neck muscles of infants cannot take the shocks of jogging or walking on rough paths.

3. The running prams do not replace the regular prams. They are difficult to maneuver because they have a fixed front wheel and you will still need a second pram for regular use.

Secondhand Prams

Once you’ve shortlisted the buggy brands that work with your needs, it may be worth looking for a second hand one, before you go to a baby store. Many buggies are used for only two years and are actually in pretty good shape. Ideally look for a smoke and pet free household when buying a buggy. Also ask what accessories will be included with the buggy (see below). You can get second hand buggies from the following places – your local NCT nearly new sales, Gumtree, eBay, and your local mummies group on Facebook.

Accessories / Other Features

You will be offered several add on accessories when you buy the pram, only a few are useful. Click on the links below to know typical costs for each of these so that you don’t pay a fortune at the store for these accessories:

1. Rain cover: In UK we really need this. If your stroller doesn’t come with one, it is easy to buy a generic one. However the ones that come with the stroller wrap very nicely around it allowing for better rain protection.

2. Boots / Bunting / Footmuffs: These protect the child’s feet and lower torso from cold winds and rain. My daughter hated her feet being covered with anything and would kick off a light blanket as soon as she learnt how to. So wait on these and buy if you think your baby needs it. There are generic ones available, but some buggy brands can only be fitted with a footmuffs of the same brand.

3. Sun cover / Canopy: Most strollers have a canopy that partially covers the baby. Ones with peekaboo windows that allows the baby look at you are nice for infants. A linen cloth that can be clipped on using cloth pegs or butterfly clips is a cheap solution to fill the gap that is not covered by the canopy – usually only needed when the baby is sleeping. Pram umbrellas are most of the times ineffective in blocking out the sun.

4. Cup holder: You are going to be sleep deprived, almost always short on time and always short on hands. This is not a must have but a nice to have – to carry a tea / coffee cup while pushing the pram. You can purchase generic cups attachements online, but be wary of buggies that have an oblong frame instead of a round one. Many of the generic attachements do not work with the oblong frames.

5. Safety harness: My greatest worry in my early sleep deprived months was that I may let go of the pram while waiting at an intersection or the brakes on the buggy may fail. While the likelihood of it happening was low, I am not the only mum who worried about this. A simple safety harness that wraps around the wrist and connects to the pram is a cheap solution to this problem.

6. Storage baskets: Accessibility to the storage basket is as important as storage. Some strollers have very large baskets, which are inaccessible when the seat is reclined. Recline the seat and check if you’d be able to still place a full grocery bag in the basket. I don’t think you can buy these separately later.

Purchase Checklist

So to summarise a final checklist for selecting your buggy:

Before you go to the shop:

1. Know the maximum size you can buy for storage and transport
2. Understand the terrain you will mostly use the buggy on and thus the type of wheels you will need
3. Determine whether you need a multi-function stroller or one that serves a particular development stage.
4. Check the second hand market before you visit the store, you may save a huge amount of money.
5. Check the prices of accessories online so that if you buy a more expensive stroller with accessories include, you know you are getting value for your money.

At the shop

1. Do a weight check at the shop. Lift the pram a few times to gauge your comfort level
2. Make sure the buggy is easy to fold and expand
3. Ask which models have reversible seats
4. Ask for removable and machine washable seat covers
5. Unless you think you will need, don’t opt for more expensive buggies, just because they have a higher weight / age allowance
6. Check for brakes on both wheels
7. Test drive the buggy for handle height and manoeuvrability.

Note: We’ve provided links to Amazon products in this post. If you plan to purchase from Amazon, please use the links provided. The cost will remain the same for you but we will get a small portion of the revenue. Thanks.

Related:

1. Flight safety for your kid
2. The best gifts for kids
3. Buying clothes for kids

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