If you're a runner and you have a small child or are planning on starting a family, one of your must-haves as a mom is a jogging stroller. Jogging strollers differ from standard strollers because they're designed for easier maneuverability and a smoother ride. Basic features usually include three large inflatable rubber wheels, adjustable handlebars, handbrakes, and shock absorbers with a suspension system. But not all are made alike or are the best fit for every parent and child.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, a Doctor of Chiropractic of Mitchell Family Chiropractic in Bloomington, Illinois, who specializes in women's and children's health and wellness, recommends waiting until your child is 12 months old before taking her out in a jogger — and even then, only on a smooth surface. Safety concerns like these can affect what model you buy. For the safety of your little one as well as yourself, examine your options carefully before you invest in a good jogging stroller.
One safety feature you can't skimp on is durability. "First and foremost, of course, is safety and durability for the rider," says Dr. Mitchell. "It is really important to think about terrain and distance when making a decision about which kind to buy," she adds. Look for a sturdy stroller frame — made out of a lightweight metal like aluminum or steel, instead of plastic — and a five-point safety harness designed to secure a child's shoulders and hips.
The frame and harness should be without any weak points or broken parts, so inspect extra carefully if you are obtaining a used stroller. If you plan on jogging long distances on rougher terrain, consider investing in a stroller with higher quality suspension and bigger wheels. Whether you buy new or used, check with the product manufacturer for any safety recalls.
Best Fit for the Child
It's of paramount importance that your child fits in the stroller. Sounds overly simple, but, in their haste to buy, a lot of folks don't get this right. "Make sure the stroller matches the weight and size of the child," advises Dr. Mitchell. Manufacturers usually specify these parameters. Some jogging strollers accommodate infant car seats, while others are exclusively for children who can sit up independently. Since the bouncing and jostling can be dangerous for a young baby's unstable head and neck, keep your child's age in mind before you make a purchase.
Just because the stroller's manufacturer says it can accommodate an infant doesn't mean it's your safest option. As per Dr. Mitchell's recommendation, it's safest to hold off on a jogging stroller until your baby is 12 months old. Once your child is big enough, buy a stroller that can accommodate the most height and weight so that it will fit her for as long as possible. Note that in addition to being the right fit, a safe stroller is only effective when your child is properly secured. The five-point safety harness should snugly secure your child's shoulders and hips — the same way a car seat should.
Best Fit for the Runner
Aside from the rider, you'll also want to consider the safety of the person pushing the stroller. "It can be a very high-quality stroller, but if it doesn't fit the jogger, it will cause injuries," warns Dr. Mitchell. "Make sure the stroller is the right size for the runner or, better yet, has adjustable handles — especially if you're sharing it with another runner." To determine whether a particular stroller is a good fit, she advises looking at several features and testing its height. "It is crucial that the runner does not have to bend over or lean back to reach handles while running, putting unnecessary stress on the lower spinal joints. The runner should be able to have arms relaxed at 90 degrees or just slightly below […] checking this height is key."
Beyond this, she also recommends a hand brake if you plan on running down steep hills. "It looks like just a luxury, but often, while jogging downhill, a jogger will have to lean back and completely break form to keep the stroller from going too fast." Also consider a model that has a front wheel that can either lock or swivel. "I've had many patients hurt their backs lifting a stroller to maneuver around a corner or in a tight spot," says Dr. Mitchell. A more maneuverable front wheel prevents that problem, whether you're on rough terrain, in a crowd or anywhere requiring sharp turns.
Safety of rider and runner is your primary concern when choosing a stroller, but if you plan long runs, you'll also want to consider splurging on some seemingly luxurious features. "Back in the day, my kids would be trying to escape while I was running, and I could not see them — so I didn't know until I saw a leg [hanging out of the stroller]," says Dr. Mitchell. While you don't have to worry about this if your child is secured properly, some additional features can keep her more content — which means less squirming and a safer ride.
"A drink holder is a nice touch to keep the child happy, especially for the distance runner," she says. Many strollers also have snack trays next to the drink holder and storage baskets underneath to hold extra clothing, toys and other necessities. A reclining seat can be handy if the child wants to nap. And whether you run rain or shine, an adjustable canopy can protect your child from sunburn, windburn, cold and moisture. As with any feature, make sure that these parts are not broken, torn or recalled.
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