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Buyer's guide to pushchairs

What you'll need to consider before making that key purchase

Posted: 12 December 2007
by ThinkBaby

There's a confusing amount of choice on offer when it comes to buying a pushchair for your baby: traditional prams, lightweight 'strollers', flat-folding, umbrella-folding, three-wheelers and so on. In order to narrow down your options you need to think about the main features you are looking for in a pushchair, which will broadly depend on how you're most likely to use it. Here we've taken a look at the main features on offer from different kinds of pushchairs and given you a check list for the essentials regardless of type.

Positioning options
The very first thing to consider when buying a pushchair or buggy is your baby's well being. If you're buying for a newborn you'll need to have a fully reclined option, as your newborn needs to lie completely flat. Be sure to check that the fully reclined position is suitable for a newborn, or if you're looking at a travel system, that the chair is compatible with a fully reclined option, like a carry cot.

A fully reclined position is also going to be important if you're going to want to leave your baby in the pushchair for long periods of time, as it's much more comfortable for baby to sleep flat. Lots of pushchairs are adjustable and offer semi-reclined positions, but not that many offer flat options.

If a model you are considering has several different positioning options then test them out to see how easy it is to switch between them and whether the mechanism appears robust.

The quality of the seat/padding on the chair is also important, and the longer you plan to be able to have your baby in the pushchair, the more important this will be. It's generally the case that the most comfortable travelling options for your baby are the more robust models, particularly traditional prams and three-wheelers, but these are bigger, heavier, less portable and often more expensive than other kinds of pushchair, and so aren't always practical.

Portability & storage
A key consideration in the type of buggy you purchase will be the space you have available and the way in which you intend to use it. You may harbour a secret hankering for a large traditional pram, but if your home is anything less than capacious and you travel by public transport frequently it's clearly not a realistic option.

If you're short on storage space in the home then you'll want to look for a folding chair that folds up nice and neatly. Umbrella folding chairs are good on this point as they concertina up into a compact package. Flat-folding chairs don't fold up as neatly as the umbrella mechanism chairs, but they may offer more flexibility when it comes to seating options and a better padded seat for your baby.

The size and shape a chair folds up into is also important when you think about portability, and here weight and the ease of the folding mechanism are crucial too. If you take public transport often or you want to use the buggy for air travel you'll need to the pushchair to be very light and it would help to have a folding mechanism that is easily operated using only one hand.

If you want to be able to take the pushchair with you in the car it needs to fold up small enough to be packed into the car boot while preferably still leaving you space for any groceries or other shopping. Again the weight and folding mechanism will be important.

Generally speaking the lighter and more portable your buggy is, the less robust and more simple it will be. If you intend to use the pushchair mainly for walking with your baby from the house or if storage room isn't a problem, then you might other qualities like durability or flexibility might be more important to you.

Durability / sturdiness
There's a broad range of options when it comes to the robustness and durability of pushchairs. How important the durability of the chair is will depend on a number of factors. Firstly how you're going to use the chair, and how much. If you're going to use the chair only from getting from your car to the shops you'll want a very different level of robustness than if you want to be able to jog along the canal tow path with your child. If you plan to run on paths or offroad tracks with your buggy, or what to be able to walk with it on difficult terrain, then you might want to look at the specifically designed (and expensive!) three-wheeled models.

Secondly, do you plan to be able to use the pushchair for a second child? You might not plan for further children, or you might want to upgrade for another child, but if you want your pushchair to be used for more than one child then its sturdiness will be an important consideration.

As we've suggested the lighter weight and more portable models tend to be less sturdy than heavier ones, but that's not to say that you can't get a good compromise between the two, nor that lightweight pushchairs are necessarily flimsy and fragile: There are some excellent lightweight buggies around, but they're not designed for leaving your baby in for an extended nap, nor for going for a jog.

Flexibility & accessories
If you have one specific use in mind for your pushchair then you won't need it to be very flexible. If, however, you want a pushchair that you can whip in the boot of the car, leave your baby to sleep in and accommodate a tray load of shopping and use it in all weathers, you'll either have to look to meet your requirements through more than one chair, or find a suitably flexible chair.

Generally speaking, the more complex/ flexible the chair is and the more accessories it offers, the heavier it will be. However, there are a number of chairs that offer numerous seating positions, removable shopping trays, removable parasols and covers, good robustness etc. while still being easily portable and stowable. As with most things, the more convincingly a pushchair ticks more boxes, the more it is likely to cost. Depending on your needs and available space you might find that separate pushchairs for different circumstances are more cost effective.

Another option to consider if you want a multi-purpose chair are travel systems. The idea with these is that different parts are designed to attach to one frame, changing the pushchair completely. Commonly a usual pushchair seat is replaceable with a car seat, so that you can move your baby undisturbed from car to pushchair, or a carrycot, so you can turn your pushchair into something more like a traditional pram for sleeping. If you're looking at a have-it-all travel system then you need to check that it performs each of its functions well, rather than the flexibility compromising performance where it counts.

General points to check on all models

Stability - Is the buggy stable or might it easily tip backards when pressure is applied at the back?
Padding - Will the seat offer a comfortable ride for your baby given the conditions in which you plan to use the chair?
Build quality - does the buggy look well made with robust parts? And do the various functions or settings work smoothly?
Brakes - What is the brake function like, can it be locked?
Handles - Are the handles at a comfortable height for you pushing, if not, can they be adjusted? Are the handles good for grip and comfort?
Wheels - Do the wheels pivot? How does the buggy handle?
Straps - How fiddly are the straps on the child's seat? How secure is the fastening?

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