Everyone has their own preferences and criteria. The difficulty for first time parents is their lack of experience and knowledge of what will be important to them. The following is intended to cover the main things you need to bear in mind when working out what will suit you.
One thing to remember: if, when asked why a particular model is good and the sales assistant says, “It’s very popular,” but cannot offer any functional reasons why, there aren’t any (according to John Lewis’s nursery department, Bugaboos did not sell at all before getting product placement on ‘Sex and the City’).
Before anything else, measure the places the buggy/pram will need to go:
a) The width of your hallway (it will live there and you need to be able to walk past it); the width of your front door and the width of your front gate (it may be narrower than the door).
b) The size of the back of your car, including the width (if you get a pram that drops down flat to the size of its wheelbase) and the diagonal measurement from the floor on one side to the top of the boot on the other (to check if an umbrella-folding buggy, which is long and thin when folded, will fit).
c) The width of the centre aisle of the buses you use most regularly (travelling by bus with a pram is easier than by tube – almost all stations have stairs somewhere). Also, note the dimensions of the space where buggies can stand and which way they seem to go.
A pram or buggy that does not fit in the places it absolutely needs to go is unbearably compromising. For example, if wheels have to be taken off to get it into your car then you are not going to do it or curse every time you do. For this reason most owners of big three wheelers also have a Maclaren. The inverse is not true.
When measuring up potential buggies, don’t just consider the width. Also compare how long they are from push handle to front wheel. Some three wheelers are very long, making it difficult to manoeuvre around shops where corners are tight or to get them inside buses – though an acceptable width, some are too long from front to back to fit in the wheelchair space without jutting into the aisle.
Can one pram see you right through?
Travel systems are supposed to see a child through from birth to pre-school. Like many things that try to everything, they do not do anything very well.
Those that propose a newborn baby sit in its car seat on the pram chassis are not to be recommended for the welfare of the baby. They were designed by Britax to market their car seats and are popular with mothers who drive to shopping malls. It is not good for babies’ backs to be in a car seat for more than an hour and a half, so advice goes. Babies not yet able to support their backs in an upright position need to lie flat most of the time, because this is how they are most comfortable.
A pram/pushchair that can start as a cot-on-wheels into which the baby can be laid, without the need to use restraining straps, is ideal for a baby less than 4-5 months old. It is better for their backs and they will sleep in it like they do their bed. They are useful indoors as well as out, especially when you have more than one child. The baby can go in the pram for naps, which can help it distinguish between sleeping in the day and sleeping at night, and you do less walking up and down stairs from living areas to bedrooms. If you have to go out (e.g. to the corner shop or to pick up an older one from school) you wheel the sleeping baby out without disturbing it. It is also easier to regulate the baby’s temperature as you go in and out of doors by peeling back or pulling over a layer(s) of blankets rather than having to wrestle them in and out of all-in-one snowsuits, especially if they are asleep.
Later on, travel systems in pushchair mode will never be the lightweight option. As the child becomes bigger and heavier the weight of the buggy becomes increasingly relevant as you heave it up steps and let it down kerbs.
Once at nursery, folding up the pushchair or buggy becomes important. Most nurseries allow you to leave a buggy there during the day, but only if folded down small and stood upright or hung on a large hook. If it does not go down small and/or collapsing it is a performance, or one not easily performed with a tired nagging toddler pulling at your coat, it will drive you both crackers.
You have to get a pram before the baby is born, yet you lack the ability to make a properly informed choice. Invest as little as you can because you are unlikely to choose the right thing until you know from practical experience what will suit you. Go round the shops and check out what you like the look of, talk to people in playgrounds and ask what they think of what they have, then get whatever you like the sound/look of second hand or accept gratefully a hand-me-down.
If you really must have a Bugaboo there are plenty on Ebay, some sold by people who discovered that they are a triumph of fashion over functionality (hard to fold, do not go on many buses, an undersized inaccessible shopping bag, a toddler seat that they fall out of when upright and that does not lie flat without making the child’s legs stick up in the air. The celebrity baby that made it the pram of the moment was seen in the Hampstead Heath playground as a toddler – in an ordinary buggy. The original Bugaboo was superseded by a model that is, essentially, a buggy with more than a passing resemblance to a sixties hostess trolley). Finally, in April 2015, when WHICH? updated its regular review of baby buggies, the Bugaboo was at the bottom of the top ten, three times the price of the £275 Mothercare buggie rated highest for its performance.
Other fashion disasters included the Microlite, which has widely-splayed front wheels too wide to get on public transport, a handle too narrow to push comfortably or effectively (you can’t get any weight behind it going up a hill because your hands are too close together), a seat that barely reclines and is too narrow to take a toddler’s shoulders, making them sit slightly sideways, especially in a winter coat – so, just as you know there is perhaps a year of less of buggy-time remaining, you have to go and buy a new one with a back as wide as the seat); also the Stoke, which appears to be designed for people missing their office furniture. The non-reclining rigid seat moves up and down a pole, juddering and swaying in the higher positions (think baby in seat atop flagpole) and the tiny and hard to access underseat bag for all the baby’s kit is good only for mothers whose own handbags need only to carry a single lipstick. The Stoke is also a devil to get into a car boot. By 2010 they had all but disappeared in the five years after they were launched with a huge fanfare, then by 2015 they seemed to be back, redesigned with the pole set at a 45° angle but not much less peculiar.
Will one pram see you through? Even if it could it theory it probably won’t. Whatever they start with, most people seem to end up with a Maclaren or similar umbrella folding buggy, usually after their babies are about 5 months old. Divide the cost of that first pram by weeks of anticipated use and decide if it represents acceptable value.
A sincere note of caution: avoid allowing parents or in-laws to buy your first pram, as when you abandon it they will be mortally offended. Better to suggest they buy the top-of-the-range buggy that will be used from 5 months to 3+ years old. You will know what you want by then and they will be much happier to see it in use for far, far longer.
Can you start off with what you will be using in six months time? True, the more expensive lightweight umbrella folding buggies fold down almost flat and are said to be suitable from birth, but many mothers feel it is a very exposed position for a tiny baby, especially in the winter. They also have to be strapped in to an open buggy, which does not seem quite right for a newborn. A practical note – in order to strap them in you have to dress babies in a buggy in a snowsuit – so awkward to take off when you go into a warm shop, then put on again to go back out. They do not need to be strapped in to a carry-cot on wheels, meaning you can put warm blankets over them when outside and quickly flip it back when you go indoors. Also, if you are going to need to go out during the baby’s sleep-time, they can be put to bed in the pram and wheeled out, still asleep, rather then having to be woken up, put in outdoor clothes and strapped in.
When they can sit up a bit and want to see what is going on they are also starting to get heavy, so something lightweight is what you want. Just remember that it is inevitable that they will spend time asleep in their buggy, so one with a back that goes down flat will mean they sleep better (and longer) than one that only goes down half-way. Also, the better buggies have an extending footrest so that their feet do not reach over the edge until they are well over a year old.
Features that can be important
Three wheels or four?
Devotees bang on about how three-wheelers are better over rough ground. Be realistic. However many wheels it has, a pushchair is not going to go over anything more bumpy than you would easily ride over on a bicycle. Going over rough ground makes for a very rough ride; would you want to be joggled around to the point where you lose your liquid lunch? And if three wheels are so much better for an all-terrain vehicle, how come the Army has Land Rovers rather than Reliant Robins?
Pneumatic tyres or solid wheels?
Air-cushioned tyres are better shock-absorbers than solid wheels, but be pragmatic: if you have never taken off and mended a punctured bicycle tyre are you about to start learning now? You can take it to a bike shop to be repaired, but you will need a spare pushchair or pram to use for the time it takes to get around to going to the bike shop and the time they take to repair it. You cannot be without anything!
Large wheels or small?
Bigger wheels rotate less frequently than smaller ones over the same distance, therefore they wear less slowly. They are also better able to go over uneven ground without getting stuck in ruts. A city-dweller can get away with something with tiny wheels, though they can run into problems on holiday and trying to push the buggy along coastal paths. A pram or pushchair with huge wheels is impractical anywhere other than in the great outdoors, so something in the middle is probably the most practical all-round option. Graco pushchairs have large solid wheels that are bigger than those on umbrella-folding buggies. They are also relatively lightweight. The models that have been around for years have earned their longevity.
Fixed wheels or swivel?
Fixed wheels are fine on trains and other vehicles that never turn a corner. On rough ground it helps to be able to fix the wheels. Swivel wheels almost always have an option to make them fixed but, by definition, never vice versa. For steering purposes, pushchairs with fixed front wheels spend a third of their time on their back wheels only, with their front ones nose up in the air – especially three-wheelers. Watch the end of the manoeuvre as the adult heaving down on the push bar to raise the front wheel lets go and it goes down with a thump – then consider how this constant bumping must feel for the child sitting in the pushchair.
The old coach-built prams had enormous fixed wheels. The way they got around corners was not to push up the front wheels but to lift the push bar and the back wheels just enough to swing the pram around from the back so the front pointed in the desired direction. A much smoother manoeuvre, also one requiring a lot less effort.
Stowage space beneath
This is vital to most parents if they are to avoid always carrying a very heavy bag. Of particular importance to parents who pick up bits and pieces of shopping when out and about. Even if you never use the buggy as a shopping trolley, it is still important to have somewhere to put the baby paraphernalia, the coat and jumper they have taken off, the drink they want every 7 minutes, the cloth for wiping sticky faces, etc. The shopping basket also needs to be accessible easily. This rules out prams with small under-seat bags that close with a drawstring.
Height of push bar or handles
If too low it makes the adult pushing the buggy stoop and gives them back ache. If your partner is taller than you check what suits you is high enough for them. The better models have adjustable handles/push bars.
Two handles or push bar?
Avoid two handles in preference for a push-bar if you are going to be pushing the buggy with one hand a lot – e.g. holding an umbrella rather than wearing a hat/hood, holding the hand of another child, or holding a dog lead with the other hand
Buggies get covered in whatever the child in them was trying to eat or drink and spilled in the process. Seats that can be taken off and washed come up like new (it says hand wash but all those I have washed were fine in the machine). Being able to spin them almost dry means they are ready to go back on the next morning. Otherwise it is a case of putting them in the garden, doing the best you can with a scrubbing brush and soapy water and rinsing off with the hose. Drying can take a while.
Bar across the front
The lower body of the has to be fed beneath the bar to get it in the seat. This can make it difficult, especially if the child is being unco-operative and arching its back. Most bars can be removed, but some appear to require the bar to hold the frame of the pushchair rigid.
Construction of the handle(s) and buggy suspension
Some handles are more comfortable to hold than others. Do they allow your hands to be in a natural position? The rubber handles such as those on the top of the range Maclaren Technos cushion the hands against jarring from uneven ground surfaces. The very cheap basic Maclaren has no suspension to deal with uneven ground and handles that do not absorb any of the jarring, with the result that they can make one’s wrists ache.
Transporting a baby and a toddler
The choice of side-by-side versus tandem double buggy may be made for you by the width of your hallway and front door. My own experience and that of others has yielded the following points to bear in mind, not all of which are obvious:
a) Standard width side-by-side models, such as the Graco/Mothercare one with the enormous shopping baskets underneath, will go on a bus in the wheelchair space because they are no longer from front to back than a single buggy – get on the bus at the rear door.
b) Narrow side-by-side buggies can be too narrow for a toddler’s shoulders, especially when wearing a winter coat.
c) Two children mean twice as much stuff to carry around, therefore stowage space is even more important.
d) Some umbrella-folding buggies have handles too far apart to push comfortably – they force your arms out into an unnaturally wide position, making your elbow joints ache. A double buggy with a push-bar allows you to place your hands the same distance apart as when pushing a single buggy.
e) If the older child needs to be in a buggy it is likely that it also still tends to have a nap during the day, therefore it is not just the baby’s seat that needs to be suitable for sleeping in. With two children in different sleep patterns it is almost impossible not to be out with them when one or other is going to fall asleep.
f) Think about how the buggy seats will cater to your children a few months post-purchase. Some that cater for a small baby and a toddler do not do so well when the baby is a year old and wanting to see what is happening.
There is also a problem with a currently popular three-wheeler model that, rather than having a baby seat that gradually comes up from flat, replaces the lying-down baby’s place with a sitting-up seat beneath the toddler seat above. For about three to four months, until old enough and therefore with the strength to hold itself up properly, the child is too upright and its upper body slumps over. (The latest version does recline – by all of an inch.)
Common in France but rarely seen here, Inglesina make prams that take more than one seat (up to four) on a chassis the width and length of a standard single pram. Twin seats face each other (i.e. one has its back to the parent, the one in front faces the parent). The same chassis can take seats for twin babies side by side facing a larger seat for an older sibling. All seats appear suitable from birth. Though pricey they are robust – one is being pushed around Tufnell Park that has been going strong for seven years. The seat covers are washable and it still looks new. The wheels are large and the chassis has a good shopping tray. The Inglesina web site states that the UK agents are Mothercare, though sample products are not seen in Mothercare stores.
Options for avoiding a double buggy
A single buggy with a buggy board for the older one
A buggy board changes the way a single buggy/pram pushes as it makes the back wheels heavy. The whole construction behaves like a defective shopping trolley when the toddler leans out to look around the side of the buggy and makes the buggy veer off in the direction they are leaning. I found a double pushchair much easier to push.
Even when adjusted to be as close up to the back wheels as possible, a buggy board forces you to stand just that bit further back from the handle that you are pushing; hard on your arms and your mid back.
Buggy boards are not suitable for hilly areas. Going uphill is OK, but going down the extra weight is hard to hold back (unless your pram has a brake) and your attempts to pull if back from running away bring the buggy’s front wheels up off the ground.
If the buggy board is for short journeys, or when you will want to drop off the toddler then continue with just the baby, you put up with it. As a permanent solution it is not the best. Standing and staying on a buggy board is hard work. Bearing in mind that most toddlers end up sleeping in the buggy at some stage in the day, if you are out at the wrong time of day you then have a buggy board being ridden by a tired bad-tempered toddler that just wants to go to sleep.
We had a buggy board for short journeys with one adult but regretted it as the toddler refused to walk at all until long after he was capable of walking properly. We finally broke the habit on holiday by leaving the buggy board behind. He walked for miles in places where he was not accustomed to being pushed. Back home he claimed he needed the buggy board again on 5-minute journeys – and got short shrift!
Pushing the toddler, carrying the baby in a sling
You tend to lean forward slightly when pushing a buggy, unless you have one with very high handles. Even so, when pushing up a hill you instinctively lean forward. When carrying a baby in a sling you need to stand absolutely upright as to lean forward puts a strain on your upper back.
If the baby is in a sling it can mean you have nowhere to put it down when you reach your destination, forcing you to continue carrying it when this may not be convenient (like trying to drink a hot coffee).
A pooey nappy that happens when the baby was is the sling can be horrible to deal with.
Unless the older one is going to be completely out of its pushchair within a few weeks of the baby’s arrival, when the baby gets too heavy to carry around for hours you will still need something for them both to be pushed in/on.
The Swiss Bibi Strolli Buggy Rider
According to the mother of three seen around Hampstead Heath with one of these (being asked by everyone where she got it), it is better than the buggy board she abandoned two years before. The toddler sits on a bicycle-type seat mounted on a pole (attaches to the buggy just under the push handle), with wheels at the bottom. The child’s feet go on a small foot rest, whilst it holds onto handlebars mounted further up the pole. It is pulled along by the buggy, but whereas a buggy board comes between the adult and the buggy, the child on the buggy rider is alongside the adult, who is able to walk normally. It costs around £65 and is available from various internet retailers, including babyenterprise.com, thekidswindow.co.uk, International Innovations (tel 01621 810838), multiplemums.co.uk and Preciouslittleones.com. Asked if it has any major disadvantages, the lady I spoke to said she has to be careful going up and down very steep kerbs and hold onto the back of the buggy rider’s seat. This is no different from a buggy board, which would have to be dismounted. If it rains there is no protection from the weather. She says having the Strolli attached to one side of the buggy does not affect how the buggy steers.
A product so new at the time of writing that I have not seen one. The Buggypod is a second child seat that clips on to the side of a single buggy like a side-car. It folds up flat against the buggy when not in use. It looks good in the picture but one wonders if how an extra weight on one side of the buggy affects how it is to push. It is more expensive than a Strolli (£80 for the seat, £18 each for rain cover and sun shade) and, like a Strolli or Buggy Board would not be suitable for a child that needs a nap, but it gets over the problem having a hallway not wide enough for a double buggy and not wanting to have both single and double buggies. See buggypod.com for illustrations and stockists.
Is there a perfect solution?
No. You may have to reconcile yourself to accepting a hallway full of child transporters. We had a double side-by-side pushchair for when there was one adult pushing the two non-walkers of our three children, but two single buggies when they were out with both parents. This was more flexible in terms of children wanting to be in different places, getting on buses (the toddler’s one could be folded) or getting around shops.
If you have two identical single buggies they can be clipped together using pushchair connectors (£15 from babyenterprise.com, tel 01457 820659 ). The net result will be wider than a double buggy and the handles might be unacceptably far apart for some, but if you want to minimise the number of buggies in your hall and to have the options of a proper seat for both children, it looks like a way to do it.
© Amy Silverston,
Tufnell Park Parents Support Group, Sept ’06 (updated July 07, May 09)