Navigating the Upper West Side With a Baby: Strollers vs. Babywearing
MANHATTAN — Bugaboo ushered in a new era of tricked-out wheels for urban infants, but the pricey stroller no longer reigns supreme on the Upper West Side, one of the city’s most kid-centric neighborhoods.
UPPAbaby strollers have been on an upswing, and Baby Jogger’s City Mini is running close behind, with its popular one-handed fold, city shops reported.
But despite the array of options constantly coming to the market to suit families, whether they live in elevator buildings or the top floor of a walk-up, the decision on which stroller, if any, to get is rarely easy.
“In a city like New York, the stroller can be your ‘car.’ It’s basically an extension of your life for that time period,” said Ali Wing, founder and CEO of Giggle, which has shops on the Upper West Side, Upper East Side and SoHo.
Men and women sometimes want different features for their kids’ rides.
“To some women, the stroller is almost a fashion accessory, which is more about the brand, color and fabric choices,” she noted. “New Yorkers are sophisticated, so there are plenty of men who think similarly, but most men tend to care more about a stroller’s utility and performance.”
What do the babies think?
“To be honest, a child is going to be comfortable in a range of strollers,” said Kelsey Champlin, assistant manager of the Upper West Side neighborhood staple Albee Baby. “It’s if you’re comfortable.”
Meanwhile, some new parents are ditching fancy strollers entirely as the baby-carrying harness is the accessory du jour.
Though Upper West Side subways stations for the IRT at Lincoln Center, 72nd and 96th streets have elevators, plenty of others don't, not to mention the area's walk-ups, brownstones and narrow store aisles that make stroller lugging difficult.
For families looking beyond the well-known Baby Bjorn carrier but who don't know about a front wrap cross-carry or how to knot a mei tai, there’s a cottage industry springing up around the art of babywearing.
“The No. 1 rule for newborns: The baby needs to be supported from hollow of knees up to the neck. The baby should be high and tight,” said Bianca Fehn, of Metro Minis, a carrier supplier that provides "Babywearing 101" classes. “The head should be visible. You should be able to smell your baby’s hair and kiss his head without straining your neck.”
Despite the growing popularity of wraps, slings and other carriers, “it’s still niche business,” noted Fehn, who closed her store on the Upper East Side in February after six years and is now focusing on Internet sales. She's traveling to baby and nursing stores, such as the Upper Breast Side on the Upper West Side, where she offers a babywearing drop-in clinic every Tuesday ($15).
Battle for “It” stroller of the moment: Bugaboo vs. UPPAbaby
For trendy parents looking for a smooth ride on the city’s rugged sidewalks the debate often comes down to the Bugaboo Chameleon ($979) versus the UPPAbaby Vista ($729) or the more lightweight Bugaboo Bee ($699) versus the UPPAbaby Cruz ($459).
UPPAbaby and Bugaboo are the top sellers at neighborhood staple Albee Baby, said assistant manager Kelsey Champlin.
Many moms are drawn to the customizable fabrics of the Bugaboo, while others like the big shopping basket of the UPPAbaby, she said.
For families in walk-ups:
Walking up and down stairs with a stroller is not an easy feat for many parents, which is why the quick one-handed fold of the City Mini ($249) has gained in popularity. The price is also a big selling point for parents who don't want to drop $600-plus on a stroller, stores said.
For gear-heads looking for high-tech strollers:
“It boasts a cutting-edge fold design that makes it super slim for stashing in tight spaces and freestanding when folded flat,” Giggle’s Wing said. “It also sports a first-of-its-kind solar lighting system that allows you to shine a light beam or flash hazards for added safety.”
For families with twins or a toddler and an infant:
Most families with twins don’t want a side-by-side stroller, Albee Baby’s Champlin said, noting that Baby Jogger’s City Select ($669) tandem stroller was the best seller since it was the only tandem they carried where both seats accommodated kids of the same weight rather than a bigger child and a smaller one.
“If you have twins and don’t want to do side-by-side, it's your only option,” she said, “If you do like side-by-side, the City Mini Double GT [$579] is good. Like the City Mini, it has a quick fold. You have to use two hands instead of one, but if you have two kids running around you don’t have a lot of time to fold a stroller.”
For families with an infant and toddler, many opt for the Phil and Ted’s [$499/$650 with double kit], which has a relatively small footprint that's easy to navigate in the stroller-heavy streets of the neighborhood.
For riding the subways
When taking the train, you're in the realm of lightweight umbrella strollers — but most can't be used until children are a year or so old.
Families heading to the airport tend to buy the lightest umbrella strollers they can find, Champlin said.
Soft Pack Carrier:
The classic Baby Bjorn is the most popular of the soft pack carriers, but many babywearing experts frown on it because of its lack of back support.
The ErgoBaby, which has back and hip support, but only lets the baby face inward, has become a popular alternative. The Beco — which has the support of an Ergo, but the outward facing option like the Bjorn — and the Boba, which has foot straps for older babies, are also gaining fans.
Some parents like the simplicity of a ring sling — a long piece of fabric that can be adjusted by a ring that’s easy to take on and off — since there are no knots to tie.
But for those feeling more ambitious, wraps — long pieces of fabric that can be tied in several different ways around babies — have become fashionable, such as the stretchy jersey Moby or sturdier woven wraps.
Then there's the Asian-style carrier mei tai, essentially a panel of fabric with four straps — two that tie around your waist and two that go around your shoulders —which some parents find less intimidating than a wrap.
Most babywearing experts advise against a pouch sling, essentially a big pocket that a baby “sits” in and is worn on one shoulder like a ring sling, but it usually isn’t adjustable. Because of possible dangers of babies being worn incorrectly in pouches and the possibility of airways blocked if their chins are squished up to their chests, many babywearing experts don’t recommend these.