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By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 9/17/2008 5:56:59 PM ET 2008-09-17T21:56:59

Who knew that buying a baby stroller could be almost as complicated as buying a car?

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Many factors conspire to make this particular purchase a highly personal one, including your lifestyle, your height, your arm strength and your personal preferences for various bells and whistles.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you start shopping around, but take heart: The following tips can help you choose the best set of wheels for your baby.

1. Be decisive. If you strongly suspect that a family member or close friend wants to buy a baby stroller for you as a gift, register for the one you really want. This will prevent any confusion, awkwardness or hurt feelings down the road if you must exchange your stroller gift for a different model that actually works for you.

2. Kick the tires. OK, you may not literally want to kick anything as you shop around, but it’s of paramount importance that you test out a wide variety of strollers before you make any decisions. Visit stores in person and try opening, folding and carrying different models with one hand. Make sure the stroller feels sturdy, not flimsy.

3. Remember seemingly small details. If more than one person will be pushing the stroller, adjustable handles are an important feature to have. Other features that can quickly become indispensible are a cup holder, a canopy to shield your baby from sun or rain, and a basket that’s big enough to store your stuff. Another key detail: Be sure the stroller fits inside your trunk.

4. Newborns have special needs. A newborn baby needs a stroller that lets him or her lie down or that works in concert with a car seat. After your baby reaches about 6 months of age and can sit up – but not before then – you could consider a stroller that doesn’t recline.

5. Just detach that car seat and go. Want to be able to avoid waking your baby up if he or she falls asleep in a car seat? If so, you could consider a full travel system that fits a car seat into a stroller. You’d be able to keep using the stroller even after your baby outgrows the car seat. Some travel systems can be expensive, though.

6. A lightweight frame also could do the trick. If you know you want the ability to use your baby’s car seat with your stroller, you could spend less money by buying an empty frame that rolls an infant car seat around. The frames tend to be easy to open and close with one hand. The drawback: By the time your child turns about a year old and outgrows the car seat, you’d have to replace both the frame and the seat with something else.

7. Go off road. A jogger or all-terrain stroller has three heavy-duty suspension or air-filled tires and is ideal for off-road use. These strollers also are great in tight or crowded spaces where you might want good maneuverability and the ability to turn on a dime. Bear in mind that three-wheel strollers are not appropriate for babies under 6 months of age – that is, unless you also want to invest in an adapter system that will allow you to snap your baby’s car seat into your three-wheeler while your bundle of joy is still very small.

8. You might need more than one. You may decide that you want one stroller that incorporates a car seat into the mix and another that meets your all-terrain needs on a longer-term basis. Also, a low-cost umbrella-style stroller can save you after your baby reaches 6 months. They’re convenient and lightweight – often under 12 pounds – and you can find them for as little as $20 if you shop around.

9. Stay focused on safety. Never leave your baby unattended in a stroller, especially when he or she is sleeping. The baby could strangle by sliding down into a leg opening. Always remember to use the safety belt or harness, to avoid overloading the stroller, to lock the stroller’s wheels when you’re standing still so it can’t roll away from you, and to return the stroller warranty card so you can be contacted about a recall.

10. Clarify the return policy. Look for guarantees of 100 percent satisfaction and for return policies that aren’t too stringent. For example, some policies require you to return the stroller within 30 days of purchase, and that may be an impossible thing for you to do – especially if someone buys the stroller for you as a gift. Also, if something on the stroller needs to be repaired, will you have to ship it back to the manufacturer on your own dime and then be stuck without a stroller for a time? It’s a good idea to have that question answered before you register for or buy a set of wheels.

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