There are many baby travel systems out there and choosing the right one can make traveling with a baby or toddler safer and more convenient across town or across the globe. How do you know which one to choose? Can I jog with my stroller? Is it certified for airplane travel? Does the car seat pass all the safety regulations? How many pounds and height is it certified for? Which system accommodates a premature baby under 7 pound safely? Which one will actually fold from a standing position and lock? The questions are endless.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has current information on federal and state car seat regulations. As a general guideline they recommend that you choose a car seat appropriate for your child’s age, height and weight so it’s important to get one that can offer the widest range. Some, but not all car seats in a baby travel system have special padded inserts for newborn and/or premature babies that keep very tiny infants safe.
The NHTSA also recommends that you keep your child in a rear facing car seat for as long as possible, as long as your child fits the seat’s height and weight requirements no matter the age. And that all children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat. There are child car seat inspection stations in most metropolitan areas offered by police departments, fire departments, and sometimes medical facilities or clinics. Make use of them after installing a new car seat. Stop in when the service is available and your child is with you for the inspection. You can search by zip code for an inspection station on the NHTSA website. You can also lookup child car seat laws by state from a link on their site.
Car accidents are the number one leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14 years old. Statistics show that close to 9000 lives were saved in the years 1975 to 2008 by correct child restraints.
Few people know that you can, and should register your child’s car seat with the manufacturer to be notified of any safety recalls. All manufacturers are required to include the date of manufacture and model number on every seat and offer a registration service to their customers. This can usually be done quickly and easily on the manufacturer’s website. We recommend you do this as you are unpacking the car seat and have the documentation in hand.
There are many baby travel systems and price ranges available for you to choose from. In comparing and researching many of the top brands a few pertinent differences soon became apparent.
Be aware that not all travel systems include the car seat base, the base unit that is permanently installed in the car that the car seat is snapped into, so check to make sure and purchase separately if needed.
Make sure that the stroller offered with the system is engineered to securely hold the car seat (which is doubling as your infant carrier). Some ‘systems’ are not a system at all but a combo of a stand-alone stroller and stand-alone car seat that don’t necessarily work together. They look the same, have the same upholstery and color but don’t actually work together. The systems that in my mind are true ‘systems’ work together and the stroller holds your infant securely in the car seat/carrier above the built in stroller seat until they grow into it or is the only seat until you are ready to upgrade.
If you plan on using the car seat as your infant carrier, a great reason to consider a travel system, take a close look at the handle and weight of the car seat to make sure it is comfortable and not overly heavy. An infant car seat using new lightweight impact management materials and foam shouldn’t be too heavy for you to carry around or maneuver when putting it in and out of the car. The handle needs to be ergonomically designed for a firm grip without stressing your arm or hand, something that is overlooked by some manufacturers.
Some systems offer a child front facing or rear facing adjustable stroller handle. This is a great invention and many parents love it but… On these systems make sure that the front wheels can lock into a straight track, (stop swiveling side-to-side) otherwise you are pushing the stroller with the back wheels, the wheels that are closest to you (happens when baby faces you) swiveling and is very hard to maneuver and control. I prefer a system where the child seat rotates 360 degrees, not a system where the handle on the stroller flips to the other side. Having a rotating seat is incredibly convenient for you not only when on the stroller but also when placing the child into the car while in the seat. You can do it sideways, make sure everything is as you want it and then swivel them to rear facing once they are secure and in place. This is available on the Orbit Baby System.
Take a quick look at whether there are parent cup holders, how many and if there is an accessible storage space for your cell phone if you are going to be taking long walks (or jogs) with baby. If you are like me nothing is more irritating than putting your cell phone in a zipped pocket in the canopy and then checking on the baby closing the canopy and having to find, dig and unzip when it rings.
Another aspect that came up in a lot of the reviews was that the storage area under the seat on some stroller models became inaccessible when the stroller was in a full recline position. This is usually when baby is sleeping — not the best set up as the more we can remove the ‘doing without because…’ for a new parent the happier we will be. And, be aware some models don’t fully recline, maybe related, maybe not. Not a huge issue for us but might be for you.
There are many frustrations about how some of the seat belts or harness systems on the car seats adjust. What you need to look for are reviews that mention ease or difficulty about that particular feature. A center, one pull adjusting harness system is the winner here and at the bottom of that list are the models that adjust under the seat.
Another feature to be aware is available on some strollers that could be really helpful down the road, is the feature where the child tray can pivot up on one side so your toddler can get in by themselves.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a system I have found that includes every item or addresses every issue so when choosing the right travel system for you it’s up to you to think about what you are going to actually be using it for. If you don’t jog, never have and never will ask yourself if those features are worth the extra expense? You still might go for it if you are walking a great deal and like the folded size.
I hope you found this article helpful in being more aware of what to look for, what questions to ask and how to choose a baby travel system that fits your lifestyle.