A pram or a stroller is perhaps one of the most important tools in your parenting arsenal, so it's important to get your choice right. Otherwise, you could be sweating up a storm trying to get from A to B. We list the useful features and important safety tips to get you on the road and keep your baby safe.
The best stroller will be one that:
- Has a seat that fits your child comfortably and safely
- Is the right height and weight for you to push and lift
- Has all the right safety features
The terms "pram" and "stroller" tend to be used fairly loosely and can be used for the same product. "Stroller" often refers to a model with an upright seat while "pram" refers to one with a bassinet or flat sleeping surface, but these days most models allow both positions. Other terms you might find (some prams combine functions) are:
- Layback stroller: baby can sit up, or lay down for a sleep – good for newborns.
- Jogger stroller: Three-wheeled strollers are sometimes referred to as jogger strollers or have "jogger" in their name, but not all are actually suitable for jogging and running. If you want to regularly jog with the stroller, consider getting a genuine jogging stroller specifically designed for that purpose; these usually have large, fixed wheels that roll easily for fast movement.
- Double stroller: for multiple bubs (see our double stroller reviews and buying guide)
- Convertible bike stroller: A combination of bike (actually tricycle) and stroller.
- Umbrella stroller: A lightweight travel stroller. It may have minimal storage space but is easier to fold and take with you on public transport or at the airport.
- Often wider, longer and heavier than four-wheelers.
- Usually easier to push around, due to larger wheels (which are often on bearings so they pivot easily) and inflatable tyres that help absorb the bumps.
- Easier to manoeuvre, but also more likely to roll away if left unattended.
- Can be more prone to tipping sideways, particularly when turning corners or mounting a kerb.
- Umbrella versions are more compact and fold into a smaller package, so they can be a better option for public transport.
- Some have two small wheels at the front and two large wheels at the rear, which provide the stability of a four-wheeler with the manoeuvrability of a three-wheeler.
In principle there shouldn't be a safety difference between the three and four wheelers. But some years ago, CHOICE polled parents to identify any safety problems they'd encountered with their three or four-wheel prams or strollers, and found four-wheelers came out best. More three-wheeler owners reported problems with their strollers such as tipping dangerously or toppling over with a child inside, or rolling away unexpectedly.
It's now mandatory for strollers to have a wrist strap, so as long as you use that, the stroller shouldn't ever get away from you. Tipping over can still be a problem. Our tests show some models of both types can be prone to tipping backward; three-wheelers may be more likely to tip sideways than four-wheelers, especially when turning or going over kerbs.
In the end, choose the stroller that suits your needs. Check that it passes the Australian standard AS/NZS 2088 (preferably the 2013 version), and use it sensibly, and there should be no safety problems.
There's probably no perfect one, so you need to consider what you're most likely to be doing, and which would work best in your situation. Where are you going to be using it most? What are the footpaths around your area like?
- For shopping, you need a stroller or pram that's not too wide or bulky (or it won't get around small aisles), and a decent-size basket is handy.
- If you're going to do a lot of jogging or walking, inflatable tyres make for a more comfortable ride.
- If you'll be catching public transport, something light and easily foldable is important.
- If you're going to walk in the park or over uneven surfaces, big wheels make the ride over rough ground easier and more comfortable.
Many prams are suitable from birth and can be used until the child weighs around 15-20kgs (depending on the stroller). Some come with bassinet attachments which are then swapped out for seats as your baby grows, while others have a reclining seat that can lay flat to safely carry your newborn and then be adjusted over time. (Strollers that are unsuitable for newborns will not lie flat; generally these are suitable from 6 months.)
Swivelling front wheels are easier to manoeuvre, but it's useful if they can be locked for travelling at higher speeds or over rough terrain. Large wheels tend to be better on kerbs and stairs, while inflatable wheels can puncture but generally give a comfier ride. Before purchasing, give wheels a tug to see they don't come off.
Try folding and unfolding it in the shop to see if you can carry it comfortably when folded. Measure the stroller to make sure it fits into your car boot without needing the wheels removed. If you have a newborn, make sure the pram you buy is suitable for them size-wise – not all are.
Get an idea of how well brake locks work by applying the brakes while you try to push the handle. It's handy if rear brakes are linked, so the left and right brakes can be locked with a single action. Some prams also have front brakes – particularly handy on a reversible pram or stroller, as it means you can always lock the brakes nearest you (at the back) whichever way it is facing. Locks you can activate and release with your feet prevent you bending, but make sure your feet fit under them easily.
Give them a tug to check they're secure and the seat doesn't come away from the frame.
Two shoulder straps (preferably attached to the backrest at shoulder level; padded ones are softer), a waist strap and a crotch strap, with adjustable length as your baby grows. The straps should be easy to adjust and the buckles easy to use (for you, but not your child).
It's good to have the option of choosing which way your baby faces in the pram – although the brakes may only be on one set of wheels, making it harder to put them on if you're at the wrong end. Check in the store how easy it is to reverse the handle.
Some have an upright backrest that can also move to at least one semi-reclined position; some can be fully reclined (best for sleeping). A three-position adjustment makes the stroller more versatile.
A footrest reduces the chance of injury from your child's feet touching the ground or getting caught in the front wheel.
A detachable bar your child can hold onto. They're usually not secure, so it's not safe to use them to lift the stroller.
Some strollers or prams are compatible with car seat capsules: simply clip them into the stroller frame using the correct adaptors so you don't have to wake bub up when shifting between pram, car and back. Not all are suitable for newborns, so check before you buy. It's also not advisable to leave a baby asleep for long in a car seat, as they aren't designed for this purpose.
A strollers needs to be simple for the carer to fold and unfold with mechanisms that are inaccessible to a baby. At the same time, the unlock mechanism used to fold it can't be too easy to operate. You don't want it to collapse with baby still inside or potentially crush fingers.
We've only ever seen one such stroller – the 4Moms Origami stroller (which is no longer available for sale). It folded and unfolded at the push of a button. When we tested it, we found it could potentially be operated by a child standing near the stroller and could be a crushing hazard for a child still in the seat (as reported by some parents in online reviews) or for an adult or child who gets their hand in the way of the folding stroller.
If you travel a lot or are low on space and want to pack your stroller or pram away, some enterprising companies have invented stroller travel bags. They do a good job of keeping the pram neat and tidy, but they can be cumbersome and more trouble than they're worth.
Can vary widely; different attachments such as a newborn bassinet or additional car seat can also add to the cost. The models in our most recent pram and stroller test range from $79 through to $2199.
Other features to look for
- Rain cover for wet weather.
- Storage is useful for carrying things like nappies, baby food, clothes and your handbag. Check size and weight limit – and how accessible it is.
- Adjustable height handles are handy for particularly short or tall people.
- Look for certification to Safety Standard AS/NZS 2088, preferably the 2013 version which is the latest and safest version which is designed to eliminate the formation of a loop between the shoulder and waist straps which can be a strangulation hazard.
- Check for sharp or protruding parts or ones that could pose a choking risk, and gaps that could trap fingers or limbs.
- Is there a child-resistant mechanism for locking and unlocking the frame?
- Is the stroller stable enough not to tip easily?
"Convertible" tricycles can be used by a carer to transport a baby before converting to a regular tricycle. As of February 2019 these types do fall under the mandatory standard if designed for children younger than 24 months. They must have appropriate warning labels, a wrist (tether) strap and back brakes, for instance.
With extended handles, high backrests, sunshades and harnesses, some tricycles look similar to strollers. But we don't recommend you use one as a replacement. Tricycles are not as easy to manoeuvre as most prams or strollers and generally aren't designed with the same standard of durability in mind.