Thursday, June 9, 2011

Car seats, strollers, and hours of reearch

My wife and I took a getaway to Cape May, NJ a couple weeks ago. We were sitting on the promenade behind the beach one evening and I decided to have a little fun with her.

There were a lot of families there and you couldn't go 10 seconds without seeing a stroller around there (didn't hurt that we happened to be sitting in front of a family arcade, which was terrifying in itself). Anyhow, I decided to start naming the brands and, if I could, models of strollers and travel systems as they rolled by.

"Graco Snugfit" .... "Safety 1st" .... "Chicco Cortina Travel System" .... and so forth. I shocked myself a little because it was hard to stump me. I've been doing so much research on car seats, strollers, and travel systems that my brain is bursting. I haven't felt this brain-full since I was studying for my comprehensive examinations in PhD school.

I learned a lot in the process. Car seats are not just car seats. They can snap into strollers and be a whole travel system. The infant seat probably won't last a year (this is a Littau baby, and during the ultrasound the tech measured the leg and confirmed what we already know - this kid is going to be tall). We'd have to get a regular car seat later, which means the carseat-in-stroller is a temporary nice feature. And so on.

We ended up going with the Chicco Keyfit 30 (Adventure color) car seat and decided against the travel system. I liked the Chicco's safety features and ease of use. Everything that requires a button has a nice solid click that lets me know it's locked. I like the memory foam padding near the head. And it got great safety and usability ratings from Consumer Reports, which has become my best friend in the research process. Chicco has two versions of the Keyfit, but we got the 30 because it has a higher height/weight limit which means we don't need to get the toddler car seat for a while longer.

We debated the merits of the stroller a ton. The baby is due in September and so we figure we have a good 6 weeks of neighborhood walk time max. Realistically, we didn't see ourselves doing much walking in the early going before it gets super cold. At the same time, most of these travel systems had really bulky strollers and so we didn't see that working well when we needed to put other things in the trunk with it.

Still, we did want to have a stroller option for going out and about such as the mall at Christmas time. So we decided to take a wait-see approach. We will get the Snap N Go LX stroller that allows you to mount the car seat and secure it to the frame. It's super light and compact, and it seems like a good utility stroller. Big plus: It's about a third of the cost of a regular stroller, meaning we don't have to shell out a lot of money early while waiting to see what we need. Our thinking is to wait it out until the baby can fit into a more compact umbrella stroller, which will save us some money.

To get to this point took a lot of research. For dads out there, Consumer Reports is a great start. We subscribed for $26 a year, but be warned that web access costs extra if you want to have the latest stuff, and I think you'll want that because they have a great section devoted to baby products. I tried to read the comments on CR and on Amazon a lot to get a sense of how people rated the product as well as how they actually used it.

This is generally how we've researched, although I tended to take Consumer Reports with more weight when it came to items where safety was paramount such as strollers, cribs, and car seats. When we did our registry, we had a more nuanced approach. Consumer Reports has a great Best Baby Products book that offers a range of advice. Some products there are actual ratings and recommendations, whereas others (such as the section on bassinets) it's more advice on what to look for and avoid. We used that book along with the excellent Baby Bargains book my wife got. The latter book had a list of critical items and noted their best buy; we tended to defer to that list because the CR book didn't always recommend something.

It helps that my wife and I are both research-crazy thanks to our journalism background. We might overthink everything, but we come prepared.

A final source of great advice has been my social media friends. Allison (@aleden) and Katy @katypearce), two colleagues of mine in journalism/communication education, were super helpful with advice on products and sites to find good reviews and bargains. My friend Silagh, who works at Lehigh, gave us some great advice that helped us decide against getting a bassinet.

This has been a new learning mode for me; my network is well constructed for professional and local life purposes, but I have realized how few parents I have in my social media sphere. The more I get, the more helpful it is.

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