First and foremost, you want your baby to be safe and comfortable in her stroller. But think about yourself, too, since you're the one who'll be pushing it. Here are some things to consider:
If you'll be taking your infant in and out of a car a lot, a lightweight stroller frame, such as the Graco SnugRide Stroller Frame, might be just the ticket. These universal frames let you attach an infant car seat. (See Stroller types.) Simply remove it from the car, baby and all, and snap it right into the frame. It's great for letting your snoozing baby continue his nap. When you're done strolling, you simply snap the car seat back into its base inside the car. Stroller frames are inexpensive, and because of their light weight they're handy for quick trips between parking lot and supermarket, or for hauling on a bus or train.
An alternative is an all-in-one travel system, which consists of an infant car seat, a car-seat base, and a full stroller. They can be heavy and take up more room than just a stroller frame, but once your baby reaches 6 months and can sit up and control his head and neck movements, you'll have the flexibility to use the travel system's stroller without the infant seat snapped in. A travel system is costlier but a good value because the stroller can be used after your child outgrows the infant car seat--unlike a car seat carrier frame, which is useful only for as long as your baby uses her infant car seat --anywhere from 9 months to a year or more, depending on your child's height and weight.
A variation of the travel system theme is a combo stroller. These let you change the stroller from a bassinet on wheels (sort of like an old-fashioned baby carriage) to a regular stroller as your child grows. Like other travel systems, some combos can accept a car seat but you may have to buy that separately along with an adapter to hold it in place inside your car. In some cases, you'll need another adapter to lock the car seat to the stroller. The car adapter for a Bugaboo stroller, for example, costs $45.
Combos tend to be costly and weigh more than stroller frames. The Orbit Baby Travel System G2, for example, has a car seat that weighs 10 pounds and a stroller frame that weights 16 pounds. All things considered, you might decide you don't need the bassinet feature. Many travel systems offer the flat surface of a bassinet as well as a flap that covers the leg holes, to give your baby the same resting area of a bassinet for a much lower average price.
Mass transit or suburban crawl?
If you're a city dweller who relies on subways, buses, and cabs, you'll need a lightweight but sturdy stroller that folds quickly and is compact. A stroller frame would work well. A stroller with large, air-filled tires, such as an all-terrain or jogging stroller, may be easier to push if you'll be going for long walks your car is big enough to accommodate it, and you can lift it. But these bigger, heavier strollers might be harder to use on public transportation.
Besides being more shock-absorbing, all-terrain and jogging strollers typically have three wheels and a seat that gives your baby more support than a simple umbrella stroller. If you'll be tromping through snow or on unpaved roads or grass, a model with large wheels is a great option. Under those conditions, a stroller with small plastic wheels might be difficult to push. If you want to run, use a jogging stroller only.
If you do have a car, make sure whatever stroller you choose fits inside easily. And give some thought to where you will put it in your house. Do you have the closet space for it, or will it block up a hallway if you have to store it there? A folded stroller in the hall might also be a tipping hazard for a crawling baby.
Stacey Ferguson, an attorney and mother of three is on her fourth stroller. Like many parents, she started with a travel system and later added a lightweight umbrella stroller for easier quick trips. When her second child came along, she got a tandem double stroller; the older child could sit in the front, and the infant could ride in the back, snug in her car seat. By the time her third child came around, stylish modern strollers were everywhere and Ferguson wanted something "cute" and sleek. She shopped around and talked to other moms before settling on a combo model.
We asked Ferguson, who lives in Maryland, what advice she has for parents shopping for a stroller: "Get something that is not so heavy mom can't manage it on her own," she said. "It was important to me to be able to carry the stroller while carrying the diaper bag and carrying my daughter." Ferguson also recommends looking for a stroller you can open and close with one hand. "Most of the time you don't have two hands free," she said. A deep storage basket in her first stroller also made a big difference when she was out running errands. She advises parents to find a stroller that either comes with a car seat (such as a travel system) or is compatible with an infant car seat you already own, "even if it doesn't match, or is not the same brand."
In addition to combos and travel systems, you can buy tandem strollers that hold two children, one behind the other, or side-by-side strollers. Depending on the model and configuration, some of these can be used with children of different ages. You might see strollers with a little platform in the back so an older child can stand up and ride along while a younger sibling is in the stroller seat in front, but we don't recommend these. The standing child could slip or fall.
What about the extras?
Even if you buy a nice modern lightweight stroller, you still may find yourself needing (or wanting) accessories such as a parasol, rain cover, netting to keep out bugs, a shopping basket, and more. The world of accessories is huge--and of course, they can drive up the final price of a stroller. Instead, you might be very happy to pay a little extra up front for a stroller with built-in cup holders for your baby bottles, adjustable handle bars, and a special clip for your cell phone.
If you're baffled by the choices, you can always start with a basic universal seat-carrier frame for your infant car seat, then decide what might work best after you get used to going out with your baby.
Make sure you have enough room in your trunk for the stroller you're considering if you'll put it there. These days Ferguson drives a vehicle that can seat seven passengers, but when she goes grocery shopping there's not enough room in her trunk for the food plus the stroller, so it gets pushed into the front passenger seat.
Love the one you're with
Strollers are popular baby gifts and shower presents. But make sure you put the one you want on your registry, and shop for it yourself by pushing a few different models around the showroom floor. If you end up using your stroller heavily--and your baby will spend a lot of time in it--you should love the one you end up with.
A range of options
As you can see from our Ratings, there's a wide price range among stroller types and brands. What makes one stroller worth $100 and another $1,000 or more? Several things drive up the price.
More expensive strollers are usually made of high-grade, lighter-weight aluminum, making them easier to lift in and out of a car or onto a bus. At the higher end, these strollers may also give you more options when it comes to selecting fabric and choosing a designer label and fancier seating options. The pricier models, such as a $600 Bugaboo Bee, for example, let you change the direction your baby faces--out toward the world or looking at you. But you can find less-expensive strollers that are lightweight and are packed with features. The Pliko Switch Stroller by Peg Perego costs about $400, will take a car seat, has height-adjustable handlebars, and even lets you switch the direction baby faces. The Graco Spree Travel System lets you fold it up with one hand and has a multiposition reclining seat. It sells for about $160. Like many travel systems, these models tend to be durable enough to be passed along from child to child.
So remember, a higher price doesn't always mean higher quality. Consumer Reports' tests have found that some economical strollers perform as well or better than models costing hundreds of dollars more. Even the priciest models we've tested in our labs can have typical stroller flaws: frames that bend out of shape, locking mechanisms that fail, safety belts that come loose, or buckles that break.
In the end, a much lower-priced stroller might serve you well. A lot depends on where and how much you'll use it. For infrequent travel or trips to the mall, a lower-end umbrella stroller (less than $100) might be all you need once your baby is old enough to sit up. But if you're going to be out more often and in all kinds of weather and conditions, or you'd like the stroller to last for more than one child, consider spending more. Your child will be more comfortable, too. Good-quality traditional strollers start in the low $100s.
Test "driving"--real and virtual
Many companies now have extensive photo galleries, video demos, and "virtual" test drives posted online. You can watch videos of parents pushing their children, or, like the video on the BOB stroller site, you can watch parents run with a jogging stroller. Some websites will show you combo strollers being closed, opened, and reconfigured like a Transformer toy made for modern parents.
Even if you spend time online, it's best to check out strollers in person. Are you comfortable with the handle height and the grip? Are the brakes or locking mechanisms easy to use? Compare maneuverability between models, and practice opening and closing the strollers--with one hand as well as two. See if it's easy to adjust the backrest, lift and carry the stroller, and apply the brakes. Make sure you can stand erect when you push the stroller and that your legs and feet don't hit the wheels as you walk. If you're going to share the stroller with a partner, both of you should try it out. If possible, take the floor model out to your car to be sure it will fit in your trunk when it's folded, and bring along a measuring tape. Also, jiggle the stroller; the frame should feel solid, not loose.
Consider your child's age
Since newborns can't sit up on their own, they need a stroller that lets them lie on their back for the first few months, or one that can accept an infant car seat. Don't put a newborn or young infant into a traditional stroller that doesn't fully recline--including umbrella-style models. Wait until he or she can sit up, usually at about 6 months. This is important because a young infant who can't hold his head up is at risk of positional asphyxia if not properly reclined, meaning that his head could fall forward, restricting his breathing.
If the stroller you buy doesn't have a bassinet feature but fully reclines, make sure it has cushioning around all sides. Some strollers have features to prevent your baby from slipping through the leg openings.
Some combo strollers accept a car seat or come with seats that similar to infant car seats. If you buy a combo that allows you to adjust the seat angle for babies of different ages, be sure you recline the seat properly for a newborn. Also make sure you read the manual; some combos that come with a bassinet, for example, also come with an infant seat, but you aren't supposed to use the seat until your child is at least 3 months old. With these, as with all strollers, it's important to use the 5-point harness.
Search the stroller's frame or carton for a sticker showing that the manufacturer takes part in the certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), and that the product meets the minimum requirements of ASTM International, (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials). The current key tests are for the restraint system, brakes, leg openings, and locking mechanisms that prevent accidental folding, and for stability and the absence of sharp edges. The certification program is voluntary, and so models from uncertified companies might be as safe as those from certified ones. Plus, our testing has found that certified models don't always meet ASTM standards.
Still, to be on the safe side, choose a certified model. Companies that sell certified strollers include Baby Trend, Britax, Bugaboo, Chicco, Delta Enterprise, Dorel Juvenile Group, Evenflo, Go-Go Babyz, Graco, Hauck Fun for Kids, Joovy, Kolcraft, Maclaren, and Peg-Prego.
Evaluate warranties and return policies
Most stroller manufacturers and retailers offer warranties that cover poor workmanship and inherent flaws, but they won't necessarily take back a stroller if it malfunctions. You might have to return to the store for a replacement or ship the stroller back to the manufacturer for repair --at your expense--leaving you stranded without baby wheels. A puncture to the wheel of your high-end stroller may not be considered a manufacturing defect, and you'll have to pay to repair the tire or possibly get a new inner tube for it. Your best bet is to purchase the stroller from a store, catalog, or website that will let you return it if you're not satisfied. Some manufacturers have 30-day money-back guarantees.
Shop at a store with a flexible or long-term return policy, since you might buy your stroller or register for one many months ahead of your due date. And keep the stroller's packaging until you're sure you're happy with it.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.