Before you buy a stroller, there are practical things to consider, including:
- Size: Measure it to make sure the stroller fits into your car boot without needing the wheels removed.
- Folding and unfolding: Try folding and erecting it in the shop and see if you can carry it comfortably.
You also need to consider safety — which encompasses brakes, the harness, wheels, protruding parts, sharp edges, gaps, locks, and stability. See Safety issues for advice on safety features, information on the new mandatory standard, plus tips for using your stroller safely.
Other features you may want to consider:
- Backrest: An adjustable backrest that can move to at least one semi-reclined position; some can be fully reclined (best for sleeping or babies under six months).
- Front bar: A detachable bar that the child can hold onto when seated upright. It can also serve as a barrier. As it's usually not secure it shouldn't be used to lift the stroller.
- Footrest: Reduces the likelihood of injury from the child's feet touching the ground or getting caught in the front wheel.
- Handle: A handle that can be adjusted to a comfortable height to suit different users.
- Canopy: A canopy that can be extended to provide shade or shelter. Some have a viewing window so when it's extended you can still see your child.
- Storage: A basket or tray under the stroller for carrying things like nappies, baby food, clothes and your handbag. It shouldn’t be loaded beyond its weight limit, usually around 5 kg, or the stroller may become unbalanced and therefore, unsafe. Some models have a pouch behind the seat or other small pockets where you can keep small lightweight items.
The following features are not always provided as standard, but may be available as optional extras:
- Tyre pump: A hand-operated pump for inflating pneumatic tyres.
- Leg cover: A bag-like attachment you can pull over the child's legs for protection against the weather.
- Rain cover: A clear plastic sheet you can drape over the stroller in wet weather.
- Insect cover: A mesh cloth to protect the child from insects and other bugs.
- Removable liner: This provides additional comfort, and can also help support smaller babies (and then be removed when the child is bigger).
Three or four wheels?
Strollers come in all sorts of styles these days: layback, umbrella-fold, small and basic versus large and feature-packed. The most significant of your decisions is likely to be the number of wheels: three or four. And that depends on what‘s most important to you.
These tend to be wider and longer than four-wheelers and are often heavier. They are usually easier to push around, thanks to larger wheels (which are often on bearings so they pivot easily) and inflatable tyres that help absorb the bumps.
However, that easier manoeuvrability can also make them more likely to roll away if left unattended. They can also be more prone to tipping, particularly when turning corners or mounting a kerb.
These strollers — especially umbrella types — are not just more compact when in use, but also generally fold into a smaller package, so they can be a better option for public transport.
From July 2008, a mandatory standard has applied to strollers. Among other requirements, strollers require wrist tether straps (with a label warning the adult carer to use it), to help reduce the chance of a stroller rolling away. The brake pedals/levers have to be red, and contrast with the stroller frame, so they’re easily seen and more likely to be used.
In this test, only the Steelcraft and Swallow fully complied with the mandatory standard. However, all the models were purchased in March/April 2008, before the mandatory standard applied. Manufacturers advised us that all the tested models are now compliant, unless they've already been discontinued.
Look for the following safety features (found on all the models tested, unless specified):
The effectiveness of the brakes and their engagement is vital. Look for rear brakes on both wheels that are linked, so the left and right brakes can be activated by a single lever rather than applied individually. Get an idea of how well they work by applying the brakes and then trying to push the handle. Check that they actively lock into position. Brakes that are foot-operated or operated by a lever on the handle mean you don’t have to bend down, but make sure you can access them easily.
A five-point harness consisting of two shoulder straps (attached to the backrest at shoulder level), a waist strap and a crotch strap. The waist straps in particular should be securely linked to the stroller’s frame, so that the child can’t lean out and tilt the stroller. Give the harness a tug to check that the seat doesn't pull away from the frame (which happened on the Maclaren and Red Castle in this test). The straps should be adjustable (allowing for growth) and the buckles easy to use (for you, but not your child).
Front wheels that swivel to make manoeuvring easier, and that can be locked in the forward direction when travelling at higher speeds or over rough terrain. Large ones tend to be better on kerbs and stairs; pneumatic (inflatable) ones can puncture but generally give a comfier ride.
Also, check the following:
Are there protruding parts that can hit your child’s head or small parts that can detach easily and pose a choking risk?
Are there gaps that could trap your or your child's fingers? (Look especially around the release and folding mechanism areas.)
Are there sharp edges or points on any surfaces?
Is there a child-resistant mechanism for locks?
And is the stroller stable enough not to tip easily?
Stroller safety is about more than just buying a model which meets all provisions of the relevant standard, and has good safety features. There are a number of safety precautions you should take while using it.
Never leave your child unattended in a stroller, and if it has a safety strap, put it on your wrist.
Always engage the brake when the stroller is standing to prevent it from rolling.
Use a lift where possible, but if you have to use the stairs, take the baby out of the stroller.
When at a train station, park the stroller parallel to the tracks with the brakes on and keep the stroller in view at all times. Travel in the carriage near the guard so they can make sure you’ve safely boarded or alighted.
When jogging, always lock the front wheel of a three-wheel stroller into place to prevent the wheel swivelling.
Be extra careful when talking on a mobile phone as you can easily not notice the stroller roll away – it only takes a second for a disaster to happen.
Don't attach a dog lead to the stroller.
Don't overload the stroller with shopping or other items, especially around the handles. It can affect stability.
If parking on a slope, park at right angles and lock the front wheel(s) in line if that’s possible. Apply the brakes carefully. Be especially careful on train stations, close to roads or water.
Take care when folding or unfolding the stroller that you don't get your fingers caught in the folding mechanism.
Mind your fingers
Recent incidents involving both adults and children injuring their fingers while folding or unfolding a stroller highlight the need to be careful while doing this. Most strollers have plenty of places where a carelessly placed finger could get a painful pinch (or worse).
We checked this current batch of strollers for any pinching, shearing or scissoring hazards that might pose a risk to either the child or an adult operating the stroller.
Our tester found that the sunshade support on the Bebe Care, Bertini, Bugaboo, Childcare, and Peg Perego could pose a pinching hazard to the child in the stroller if they were able to reach it. However, if the folding mechanism was released while a child was still in the stroller — which might happen if an older child played with the stroller — most of the strollers would have severe pinching, shearing or scissoring hazards to the occupant.
Also, an adult could be at risk of trapping their fingers if they were careless when folding most of these strollers. Our tester found the Bertini and Bugaboo less susceptible to this sort of hazard than the other models.
These risks are avoidable if you take care when folding or unfolding the stroller and don’t let children play with it.