Child Carriers: Tips for Runners, Bikers, and Hikers
Bryant Stamford, PhD
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 26 - NO. 11 - NOVEMBER 98
Whether for efficiency or bonding, exercising parents often take along their young children in jogging strollers, bike seats or trailers, or backpacks. Some experts view this as dangerous. But those who do it claim it can be safe and rewarding.
So before taking a baby or toddler in tow, consider all the factors, especially risk. As a rule, the younger the child, the greater the risk—a crash could be disastrous for a newborn. But how likely is such an occurrence? It's difficult to speculate because data are scarce, but many factors could increase the risk.
Running or cycling fast leaves little reaction time. Reaction time is even less with a stroller, which will hit an obstacle first. Also, an exerciser may be concentrating on jogging or cycling, lost in thought, or tired, any of which can impair judgment.
Terrain is another factor. Potholes, cracks, or rocks could upset a rapidly moving stroller or bicycle, especially one going downhill.
On the other hand, parents deserve some credit. Responsible parents are going to take every precaution, like exercising in a park instead of in heavy traffic. If you decide to use a child carrier, follow the commonsense safety tips below.
Choosing. If you decide to buy a jogging stroller, don't trade safety for savings: Expect to pay over $200. Look for sturdiness and stability; the stroller should not tip on turns.
Look for a deep seat and a secure seat belt. Alternatively, the stroller should accommodate a well-made car seat. If the carrier needs to be transported in a car, make sure it collapses and reassembles easily. Two-child models are available.
The child must fit the seat, so take him or her to the store. Buy a stroller to fit your growing child. The stroller should have a locking brake and a secure handle that will not turn slippery from sweat. A safety wrist strap will prevent the stroller from getting away from you.
Using. Take a practice jog or two without the child to get used to the stroller. Scope the terrain for what the child will encounter. Never jog at night, even if the lighting seems fine. Using a familiar route may be boring, but it's the safest approach.
Keep in mind that a clear path ahead is not necessarily without hazard. Anticipate hazards like a car door opening or approaching cyclists. Avoid traffic and close quarters of any kind. Never leave the stroller unattended, even for a moment, because it can easily get away from you.
A smooth running surface is a must to keep a baby's head from bouncing, which is important until the child is at least 1. A child's bicycle helmet offers added protection. Large, slightly deflated tires can decrease jostling. Run slower than usual to avoid exhaustion.
Check the weather. Good jogging conditions may not be suitable for a young passenger. Heat and humidity are particularly brutal, especially if the child is clothed to keep the sun off. Sunblock and an overhead canopy help keep the sun's rays off.
Cold and wind can also be a problem. While a lightly dressed jogger will produce adequate body heat, a sitting child won't. So don't judge the child's comfort by how you feel. A windshield or plastic bubble offers added protection (but a bubble can get warm on sunny days—and remember sunscreen).
Bike Seats and Trailers
Choosing. Bicycling with a young passenger may be more dangerous than jogging with a stroller. Some experts totally reject the idea of child bicycle seats. Bicycles are, by nature, unstable, and adding a seat decreases stability even more. The added weight can shift unpredictably, especially if the child weighs more than 40 pounds. Others say cycling can be safe with adequate precautions.
Experts, though, agree that:
Bike seats come in front-mounted and rear-mounted versions. The rear-mounted seat is more popular, possibly because it feels more natural to bikers and because parents feel more protective with their child behind them. But the jury is out on which version is safer.
With a rear-mounted seat, the child's head gets whipped from side to side if the parent needs to pedal hard up hills (especially while standing). Also, a rear carrier tends to make a bike rear- and top-heavy, which can cause it to tip when the biker comes to a full stop, mounts, dismounts, or pushes the bike.
However, most cyclists are used to having extra weight in the rear when they use saddle packs, and this familiarity could make the ride more stable. Also, rear-mounted seats can be larger than front-mounted seats, with high backs to offer greater support.
Critics of the front-mounted seat contend that while communicating with a youngster seated in front may have advantages, the rider may focus too much attention on the child and neglect the road. Also, steering might be more cumbersome, and the child is directly in the path of a head-on collision. As a benefit, older children can see the road ahead and anticipate when to shift weight.
An alternative to the mounted seat is the bike trailer. A trailer eliminates the top-heaviness problem. Also, if the bike crashes or falls, the child might not be affected.
But bike trailers have drawbacks of their own, like reduced communication. Also, the ride can be quite rough. There is extra length to contend with, which can hinder maneuverability. Another factor is that trailers cost much more than seats.
Using. Regardless of the choice of seat or trailer, many common safety tips apply. In addition to avoiding traffic, nighttime workouts, an unattended child, a poorly fitting seat, and inadequate clothing, several other tips apply:
Backpacks may be the safest option, but they are not risk-free.
Choosing. Comfort for the parent is important, especially on long walks. Padded shoulder straps and a waist belt help take much of the load off the lower back.
Backpacks come in various sizes. Large backpacks are more comfortable for the child and offer greater support. But because of their size, they can be cumbersome to use indoors and to store. The backpack must comfortably keep a baby's back, trunk, and head upright.
Safety straps will constrain the child if you fall and keep babies from crawling out. Ample padding on the frame ensures the child's comfort and prevents injury in a fall.
Using. Many of the safety tips cited earlier also apply to backpacks. In addition, remember that carrying a backpack can affect balance. So take smaller steps, avoid rough, hard-to-see, or slick terrain, and don't walk too fast, especially when going downhill. If more than one person uses the backpack, adjust the straps for comfort and stability.
Never wear a baby backpack when fly-fishing, lawn mowing, skiing, or doing other activities in which a fall or moving equipment could harm the child.
Regardless of the carrier, risk can be involved. To have fun with your young one—and avoid leaving the wrong kind of lasting impression—stay alert for the unexpected.
Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.
Dr Stamford is director of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center and professor of exercise physiology in the School of Education at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He is also an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.
Copyright (C) 1998. The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights Reserved