How to choose the right carrycot? The ultimate stroller's carrycot buying guide
What is essential when it comes to choosing a suitable carrycot? Do I even need a carrycot? Read all about bassinets in Strollberry's ultimate guide.
With your baby on the way, there surely will be a point when you finally start looking for the right stroller (system). It is also very likely that your search will begin with the right carrycot since it is the first place providing the little one with sweet dreams while being outside. The tiny, vulnerable newborn will need a comfortable and cozy spa - giving many moms a reason to focus, at least at the start, on the carrycot more (compared to other parts of a stroller system). Another extreme sometimes, of course, takes place as well - not considering a carrycot at all...
These days, choosing a stroller amongst the hundreds (even thousands) of various options is almost rocket science. The problem is not just choosing the right model. There are thousands of questions, such as: Does the chosen stroller system come with the right carrycot? What is essential when it comes to choosing a suitable bassinet? What is not that important? Do I even need a carrycot? What features to look out for, and to what extent? What insights from others are crucial and which are well-intended, but in fact, useless pieces of advice? I will try to help you with this detailed guide for choosing the carrycot, one of the main parts of a conventional stroller system.
Types and materials
The first factor is rather apparent after looking at the carrycot for the first time - its design. There are many kinds of plastic carrycots available. The shape of these large and robust carrycots is usually oval, and although they often look rather spacious, don't get baffled by the thick plastic and large opening. Don't rush and take measurements of the mattress if necessary. Always check the quality of the materials, because your child won't levitate - it will be laying on the mattress you have chosen. The second most important thing to consider about any carrycot with a solid base is the ventilation. The condensation and moisture retention can be present in the base of plastic carrycots - predominantly in the case of the cheaper stroller systems. A lower-quality mattress may emphasize this issue even more. This is not the best place to try to save the money too much. On the other hand, many plastic carrycots are well designed, spacious, and practical. You need to consider the overall design as well as the price. We will talk about ventilation in-depth later.
Fabrics-based carrycots (meaning a lot of fabric used as the main protection factor - and often good foldability) are usually lighter and more compact. How much space they offer depends greatly on the model - they can be really tiny but also extremely spacious. When it comes to material, fabrics are good enough and don't influence the quality of the carrycot much. Sides of each soft carrycot are reinforced with either solid bars or a foldable system, and don't forget - the baby is in every case more or less protected with a hood and an apron as well.
One of the preconceptions I can't get my head around is the sentence: "The wind will blow through the carrycot / The baby will be cold in such a type of a carrycot." I think this is one of the most absurd statements related to strollers and carrycots in particular. Just imagine, jackets and coats we are wearing in cold weather are made of similar fabrics. Moreover, in autumn or winter, you don't just put your child into the carrycot in the hope the carrycot will sufficiently protect your child against all of the bad weather.
I am quite sure you will dress your child appropriately and put him into a footmuff (which covers the head of the child too). You may even add a warm blanket.
There is always a chance you'd like to take the child out of the carrycot to feed him or just to show him the surroundings - it will need to be nice and warm even when outside of the carrycot. Talking about a wind blowing through the carrycot part right on your child is, therefore, absolutely irrelevant, even if the carrycot was made out of thinner materials. It is simply not happening like that 🙂
The hybrid carrycots are somewhere between textile and plastic carrycots, usually featuring a plastic base and fabric sides, meaning a possible folding option. There is not much difference between the hybrid and the other two (basic) types - mostly, it offers the advantages of both. I don't have a specific preference, and the material doesn't bother me too much if the carrycot is functional. The features of the carrycot are more important, and even more so in the case of the seat unit. Both carrycot types have a lot to offer, and in general, you can't go wrong, choosing any of them. The carrycot should suit your needs and lifestyle. If you often need to transport or carry the carrycot upstairs and downstairs, you will probably appreciate the more compact and lightweight one more. Outdoors-tackling fans or parents of autumn/winter babies will be, on the other hand, more drawn to the robust and enforced type.
The leatherette-covered carrycots should be included in their own specific category. The PU leather (eco-leather if you will) exterior of these elegant and luxuriously looking carrycots is easy to wipe clean, which is a great plus - especially with little babies. Their disadvantages, however, are related to the material as well - the leatherette is easy to scratch; requires occasional maintenance (for example, an application of suitable care in the form of a cream or a spray); and there is the possible cracking because of aging of the material or exposure to unsuitable weather conditions (for ex. direct sun, rain, etc.) The breathability of the leatherette, mainly of the cheaper models, is often not too great either. If you are going to use the carrycot in summer, the breathability has to be taken into account together with choosing the suitable carrycot color. Later, if the leatherette carrycot comes with a matching seat unit, you may find it quite strange and possibly slippery for your older child.
By any means, I am not trying to put you off leatherette material. I just think that it is important to consider all the advantages and disadvantages before making a decision based only on the look.
Inner dimensions of the carrycot
As I already hinted in the previous part - the total size (length, width) doesn't equal to the size of the mattress (= the inner measurements ~ length and width of the carrycot). Quite often, the difference is remarkable. Be aware of some Polish and other, predominantly cheaper brands, as they usually use in their descriptions the larger number to get your attention. The measurement is often taken over the top of the carrycot, in some cases even over the outer 'shell', while in reality, the dimensions of the mattress are considerably smaller. If you consider the real measurements of the mattress important, I would advise you to get it out of the carrycot and take the measures for yourself.
The inner dimensions of the carrycot are, of course, essential, but often not the only thing to consider - no matter what other people say. It all depends on the time of the year the child was born. In general, the usage of the carrycot is approximately six months. However, this is subjective, and it could be 3-4 months or 10-12 months, depending on the size of the carrycot as well as the size, character, and actual needs of the baby. The time of switching from the carrycot to the seat unit t is mainly up to you. Being happy in the seat and crying in the carrycot (because of, e.g., the lack of view) are often relevant indicators for a swap. It is absolutely fine if the seat unit can be fully reclined for a child that does not sit independently yet.
It is highly unlikely that a baby born in spring will need a carrycot over the following winter. In spring and summer, the baby will still be tiny, so the inner dimensions of the carrycot are not that important for such a baby. You should focus on a quality seat unit, in this case, much more.
Things may get more complicated for a summer baby, depending on whether you are insisting on using a carrycot through the whole winter or you are open to a switch for a seat unit.
Two of my sons were born in May, and we had switched an average-sized carrycot (approximately 73.5 cm long) to a seat unit somewhere in December / January (when they reached circa 7.5 months of age). Both of them were big boys with a birth weight of over 4 kg, and we, naturally, used a winter footmuff too at the end of bassinet-use!
_If you still prefer to use the carrycot for your summer baby throughout winter, go for the inner length of 75-77 cm minimum. That's because you will need to accommodate your growing baby as well as the winter footmuff._
An excellent alternative for your summer baby is also a stroller with either a soft carrycot, a cocoon, or at least some head hugger. This option is not too costly and saves some storage space later since you don't need to find space for the full-sized carrycot that is not in use anymore. The seat unit is usually more open and better ventilated than the carrycot, and therefore more appropriate for hot summer days.
For an autumn baby, you will be looking for an average-sized or bigger carrycot. It is highly likely that the baby will use the carrycot during the whole autumn and winter, so you will need enough space to accommodate your growing baby wrapped in warm clothes and footmuff. Because of the possibility of snow and cold wind, I would recommend a bigger hood or an elevated apron. Alternatively, to extend the hood, you could get an additional shade, hood extension or a sun visor accessory.
Similar to an autumn baby, choosing the right carrycot for a winter baby is relatively easy, although many moms actually think the opposite. During winter, the baby will be the smallest, so the size of the carrycot doesn't matter too much. Even the smallest carrycot can accommodate such a tiny baby even when it's in warm clothes, wrapped in a blanket and/or a footmuff. Don't stress too much about the size of the carrycot, focus on an adequate hood, an apron, and other protection against cold, snow, and rain, and don't forget to choose a high-quality footmuff.
I want to emphasize the important fact that is often forgotten.
Your baby doesn't require an extreme amount of space in the carrycot, and it certainly doesn't suffer in a 'smaller' carrycot.
Not long ago, your child was squeezed in your uterus for weeks (and months). The baby is used to feeling snug; it reminds him of you and makes him or her feel safe and cozy. So, don't worry too much if your baby doesn't have a 10 cm gap all around him. My sons found a more narrow carrycot (or being wrapped in a swaddling blanket) very soothing. If it doesn't bother you, it is highly likely that your baby will be happy and content.
The depth of the carrycot is not too significant unless you need to use a footmuff or feel like buying an extra mattress. The depth of the carrycot doesn't add to the overall comfort for the baby - a shallower carrycot actually may provide a better view. The stroller systems with a 2in1 seat and carrycot in one part are usually quite shallow and, therefore, more suitable for spring/summer, but acceptable in winter too - with the right protective accessories.
Often not that apparent, but the quality of the mattress is also a factor to take into account. As a general recommendation, newborn babies need to lie flat on a horizontal, firm surface. Therefore, if you want a healthy, ergonomic, and durable mattress for your baby, look for a thicker and firmer mattress. A cheaper, thin mattress will usually give up relatively quickly and start to sag. If it starts happening, you should consider replacing the mattress with another one. Alternatively, you can place an extra mattress on top of the original one (check the manufacturer's guidelines in the pram manual, some don't allow this).
Currently, there is a wide choice of materials available - from memory foam to the biomaterials such as coconut fibers or hemp. With the fiber ones, watch out for crumbling. The presence of ants was once or twice reported inside coconut fiber mattresses - but no worries, it is a rather extraordinary situation where hygiene probably failed a bit. If you keep the mattress clean and inside of the house, you shouldn't worry about any unpleasant surprises.
Based on my own experience, an ordinary foam mattress of adequate thickness, quality, and firmness will do.
The cover of the mattress, together with the internal lining of the carrycot, can be removed and washed, which is helpful and practical. A baby can get a carrycot dirty quite quickly 😉 In case of an accident, don't forget to let the mattress dry sufficiently after cleaning so that it doesn't get moldy. You can also use a disinfectant spray for the bigger "nappy-leaking" accidents.
I want to add a short remark regarding the protective sheets and other rubber covers we use to keep the mattress clean.
From the point of health and safety of a newborn baby, and to prevent SIDS, it is not recommended to put the baby on any non-breathable materials. Such a young baby can't regulate its body temperature properly, and therefore, it can get overheated, especially in summer.
The inclining function
One of the functions mommies like to have is the possibility to incline the mattress under the head/back of the baby. I think this function is often overrated and not very practical - mainly because an inclined surface is not recommended for children that cannot sit independently yet.
Until the time the baby's back and neck muscles are strong enough to hold him upright (without any help from your part), the baby should be lying flat.
Lying on the mattress inclined underneath the baby's head, the baby often slips down. Even worse, the head may be pushed closer to the chest, making the child's breathing more difficult, which is another bug con of inclining carrycots. Moms often say that the baby wants to have a better view. I disagree - if the baby is big enough for an inclined position, it is time to switch for the seat unit offering a more natural body position while providing your kid with a better view (even when fully reclined). I just can't see the need for an inclining carrycot, where the baby has no other choice than just kind of sit clumsily without any safety belts. So much better to rather use the seat unit. The last argument against the inclining of the carrycot mattress is that the mechanism often gets damaged or broken, mainly in cheaper models.
Nevertheless, you may find some justification for an inclining carrycot - a baby suffering from reflux. Some babies do; some babies don't… I wouldn't worry beforehand. You can still go around this by placing a wedge pillow in an ordinary (non-inclined) carrycot. A wedge pillow slightly elevates the head along with the shoulders and torso, which is actually a more ergonomic and safe way in reflux prevention and treatment.
You can definitely survive without the inclining function, and I wouldn't consider this function important when choosing the right carrycot.
There is, of course, no accounting for taste, and I am sure many moms enjoyed having an inclining carrycot.
The canopy of the carrycot, the seat unit, and even the car seat is for sure an important detail to look at. The rule applying to the carrycot canopy is that it's always better to have more of it (and not to use it) than to get less (and struggle with not-protective-enough sun coverage).
A sun visor (the longer, the better), a floating follow-the-sun canopy, or an option to unzip a panel and extend the hood is always an advantage. If you need to use it, you will; and if not, you can leave it as it is.
A large hood is crucial in summer when the sun can be fierce and sharp, as well as in winter, as partial protection against the elements. When the low sun in the mornings and afternoons is preventing your little one from having a good nap, you will certainly appreciate the option to extend the hood.
Don't worry if your chosen stroller meets almost all your criteria, except for the hood of the carrycot not being as great as you'd wish for. It is very complicated - almost impossible - to find the perfect stroller/travel system. The issue with the hood is one of those things that, luckily, can be fixed. Many universal sun visors and shade accessories are now available. Moreover, if necessary, you can get a tailor to make you a new, bigger hood.
I have to warn you, though - if you are using a blanket or thick terrycloth over the opening under the hood (no matter if against the sun or cold), make sure the carrycot is not fully covered. It is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to keep the air flowing.
The lack of oxygen and the risk of overheating of such a small space as a carrycot can be very dangerous for a baby. Always remember to leave an open passage for airflow - even for the sharp winter air, which is not a problem. Given that the baby is dressed accordingly to the outside temperature, having a slightly cold nose, cheeks and hands won't hurt it at all. Don't overheat your baby and let the air (even if cold and/or humid) circulate in the carrycot.
The ventilation, as well as the apron, are function-wise closely related to the hood, and thus deserve more attention.
There is a number of ways of providing ventilation to the carrycot. It is always beneficial if some kind of special ventilation system is present, but of course, you can live without it 😉
The most common way of **providing airflow is through the hood*. It could be a zip-open mesh panel, a closable viewing window with a net, or a fabric part that you can pull aside, opening a mesh section. It is, however, an advantage if the hood can be fully covered even - as opposed to the situations where there is a mesh-only panel, which could be a problem when you need to extend the hood in cold weather without bringing extra cold air into the carrycot. Having said that, even a mesh panel is always better than having no means of extending the hood at all.
The second way of ventilation in a carrycot, usually found in better/more expensive models, is through its base. Using a lever or a button, you can open and close the vents on the bottom of the carrycot. Thanks to such an air circulation system, the temperature of the mattress and the inside of the carrycot are kept at an optimal level. Apart from Italian brands (such as Cam, Chicco, Peg-Pérego) boasting a flip-out ventilation system, you can find them present in many Polish brands and robust, oval-shaped prams, too.
The third way of ventilation is through the side openings in the carrycot, often hidden behind the fabric. By pulling the material away, you will let the air in, and at the same time, the baby lying either on his back or on the belly can see the world around him some more. So far, only a handful of carrycots feature this function, so if your carrycot sports this advantage, it is probably one of those more expensive ones. Cybex Priam and Mios have recently swapped to this style of the carrycot.
The apron is a functional accessory, and you are going to need it (not only) in winter.
Thanks to creating shade and protecting the child not only against the cold, the apron comes in handy during the whole year, including some summer days.
An important characteristic of the apron is its height. Be aware of some designer-style (or cheaper) carrycots, where the apron doesn't even reach the neck of the baby when being put on. The more you can extend it and keep it secured in an elevated position, the more your baby will be protected against the sun and wind. Although not necessary, you will appreciate this function when it's freezing or when the wind is too strong.
Another practicality to consider is the attachment system of the apron to the carrycot. The poppers are excellent, rather quiet, holding well - that's until one of them gets loose (then you are in trouble). The magnets are getting popular in modern prams, and just like the poppers, they are great, silent, and quick, but a livelier baby may easily kick the apron off. The velcros work too, although not so quiet, and they often look worn out over time. The conventional zipper holds well, but might be tricky to secure if you are in a hurry.
Attaching the carrycot to the chassis
It is best to check the chosen carrycot in a store before purchasing it (if unsure) - so you can see for yourself how to attach it to the chassis beforehand. The smoother and more comfortable it is for you, the better. An important thing is also to verify for yourselves whether the height suits both of you, parents.
It would be useful for a tall parent to buy a stroller system with a carrycot that's not on his or her knee level. Bending down to reach the carrycot is not something you will enjoy shortly after giving birth.
The opposite situation is not great, either. If you are on the shorter side height-wise and the carrycot's hood is above your eye level, you won't be able to see what's in front of you. Apart from that, the not-so-tall mom probably won't enjoy the loading of such a big pram into the car as well as the overall manipulation with it.
Usually, you are adding the carrycot to the chassis directly (without adapters). However, adapters are often necessary for stroller systems featuring a fixed, world-facing seat unit, as the attachment system for the carrycot has to be added. Occasionally, the adapters can be found in systems with a reversible seat unit as well. There are also those stroller systems where the use of adapters is not necessary, but an adapter is available anyway, helping you regulate the height of the carrycot. Using adapters, the carrycot will be sitting slightly higher on the chassis, thus closer to you, allowing bonding. These adapters are standard for brands such as iCandy or Easywalker. An even more sophisticated related function is the adjustment of height directly on the chassis by moving the attaching point, found in, for example, the Stokke Xplory or the Mima Xari lines.
In theory, attaching the carrycot in a forward-facing mode is often possible. Actually, some (predominantly Polish) brands are presenting this option as an advantage. Not for me, thank you.
With such a small baby in the carrycot, you need to keep a close eye on them and act fast if something happens.
With the carrycot facing forward, you wouldn't have a chance to see if, for example, they threw up a bit or an uninvited insect entered the carrycot. A baby's sight is rather short-ranged, so the argument about a better view doesn't apply for the smallest children needing a carrycot. Later, when they are old enough, they will have an opportunity to enjoy the view and all its advantages with a forward-facing seat unit.
Another thing that's nice to have - but not really necessary - are memory buttons. After pushing a memory button, it stays clicked in, so you can remove the carrycot without holding onto any mechanisms. One click (sometimes on both sides) and a lift is all it takes. With memory buttons, a carrycot can be taken off one-handed, which is quite comfortable.
Some carrycots can be folded - predominantly the lighter and smaller types with fabric sides (so, usually not the plastic oval prams). A foldable carrycot comes in handy (especially) for parents who enjoy traveling a lot (no matter how long the journey is), and they need to take the carrycot with them. A foldable bassinet doesn't take as much space as a conventional one, so its easier storing is an advantage once your baby has outgrown it for good. A large carrycot taking a lot of space is often sold or given away quickly because of space issues.
There are two main types of folding the carrycot. Mostly you will fold a carrycot by folding down folding the sides of the carrycot, so it folds flat while retaining its length. The carrycot of some brands, such as Peg-Pérego or Bugaboo, can even be folded together with the chassis (the folded package will, however, be quite bulky).
Another folding system, more suitable for parents on the go, is to 3D fold the carrycot into halves or sections to create a compact, handbag-sized package. The Cot To Go, the most compact carrycot from GB, would be a champion of such a 3D folding system. What is more, the Cot To Go is compatible with Maxi-Cosi adapters, allowing it to be clicked on other stroller brands as well.
Carrying the carrycot
Whether you need to carry an empty carrycot or a bassinet loaded with a baby, some sort of a carry handle or carry strap will be handy.
You can survive perfectly well with a carrycot without a carry strap, but if you, for example, live in a building with no lift, moving a carrycot like that would be rather tricky.
The most common system for moving the carrycot is a handle that is either integrated into the hood or situated just above the hood. Such a handle offers the most stable and most comfortable manipulation. There are also carrycots featuring side straps, but because you have to hold onto and balance two objects in one hand, this system is slightly less comfortable (although still manageable). The third, rather rare option involves using fixed attachments on the side of the carrycot, where you have to use both hands, which makes the manipulation even less comfortable.
Some carrycots (e.g., the Bugaboo bassinets) feature a bumper bar that's normally more typical for a seat unit. Never, however, use such a bumper bar for moving a carrycot that is loaded with your baby (= not empty)! Because of the risk of the bumper bar getting open and the fact that there mostly are no safety belts in a carrycot, there is a risk of the child falling with and out of the carrycot, potentially getting hurt.
The rocking base of the carrycot
Rocking the carrycot is a nice feature, and it is possible to use it as a rocker/crib in case you make frequent visits to friends and family. To tell you the truth, with three kids, I have used this function maybe twice overall… so I wouldn't recommend putting much priority there. However, for a child who loves the rocking motion, this may be of help if you don't have a real swinging crib at home or if you can't use your stroller inside.
I would consider getting a carrycot suitable (and certified) for overnight sleeping if you do overnight stays a lot with your child - no matter if it's visiting friends, family, or on trips. Otherwise, the feature is not really a thing I would use at home, where a normal crib is present.
0+ Carrycots usable instead of car seats (Car seat / carrycot hybrids)
Some carrycots have a safety mechanism to keep them fixed in the car, and therefore, they may be used instead of the Group 0+ car seats. Such carrycots provide maximum comfort for a child as the baby lies flat instead of sitting arched in the car seat, but unfortunately, the degree of safety is lower, which will mainly be evident in a serious accident. So far, none of the carrycots proved to be extremely safe, so they should be used more for occasional, short journeys only.
In general, this type of carrycot is less generous space-wise because of the thicker sides restrict the internal space in case of a collision. One of the few exceptions providing more than enough space are the carrycots of the Cam brand.
If you have decided to go for this type of carrycot, check the type of safety harness too.
Often, the in-car usable carrycots only offer a 2-point safety system with the belt going around the baby's belly, which, I think, is definitely not enough. Better to look for carrycots with a 'car kit' consisting of the conventional 3-points safety system, which is sometimes available separately. When not in use, the seat belts can be tucked away under the mattress.
Moreover, an important fact to take into account is that car-approved carrycots are bulkier and take a lot of space in the car. If you have a small car with short seat belts or often ride with more passengers on board, better to look for an alternative (like a reclinable car seat, e.g., a Joie i-Level).
Lie-flat car seats
If you travel a lot and like the idea of carrycots with auto-kit usable instead of a car seat, but at the same time, you want to prioritize the safety of your child the most, you may want to look into lie-flat car seats. I know - this is not a carrycot per se, but it is still important to mention this option for parents often traveling with their young baby. Look at those that can be reclined while traveling, not only on the pushchair frame. The price of such a car seat is obviously at the higher end of the market, but you possibly won't even need a conventional full-featured carrycot if you're always on the go. I talk more about choosing the right car seat in this guide.
Is the country of origin of my stroller/pram/carrycot important?
I would say no, not really. Most of the strollers are made in countries with cheap manpower (Poland, China, etc.). Some brands, such as Hartan, are keeping to tradition with products made in the country of origin of the brand - Germany in this case. This results in products being more expensive, and not everyone is willing (or able) to pay as much, even if it means quality. Instead of dwelling on the country of origin, I would move the focus on the quality of materials, reliable customer service, and the overall status of the brand, reflecting customer satisfaction (= stroller reviews).
Should I buy a pram (carrycot mode) only?
One of the options, when your expectations of the carrycot and the stroller/seat unit differ, is to buy a pram-only stroller (without a pushchair mode/seat unit). The choice is not as great, however, and if you find some, they are usually the cheaper types or the retro-style ones. Quite often, they are retro-type models featuring an X-shaped or C-shaped rocking chassis and fixed wheels. Although these prams may look good, only so many of us will find them practical since they don't feature the agile swivel wheels we modern moms've gotten so used to.
Some brands, such as Stokke, Mutsy, Cam, Inglesina offer the carrycot, the seat unit, and the chassis separately so that you can put together any combination you want. Chance is, if you ask for it, the manufacturer of your chosen stroller system may be able to provide you with only the carrycot part with the stroller frame, so it is worth asking if you really need that.
Because the carrycot is generally used only for a few months anyway and usually doesn't get worn out much, a second-hand pram with only the carrycot attachment (and no seat) may be a relatively safe, budget-friendly, and eco-friendly option too.
Another - and a rather good - approach is to choose the stroller system with a seat unit you like and just survive any carrycot that' fits it for those first few months, no matter how large or functional it i
In the end, unlike the carrycot, you will use the seat unit for much longer, and most of the disadvantages of the carrycot are bearable or easily resolved anyway.
Prioritizing is essential when it comes to choosing the right stroller - and with carrycot, this is even more prominent. I know I talked a lot about the carrycot here, but my last words want to say: DO think about the carrycot, but don't prioritize it above other parts and features, because in the end, your baby will be more or less OK in any carrycot, but not so much in any (bad) seat unit.__