February 27, 2010

How to Buy a High Chair

How to Buy a High Chair

As soon as you start introducing solids, your baby will need a high chair as a place to sit during meals.  He won’t be ready for a dining room chair right away — and you won’t be ready for the dining room mess!

A high chair is a product that we recommend buying new. As lovely as your grandmother’s old high chair might be, antique and vintage chairs weren’t made with today’s safety standards in mind. In fact, they can actually be dangerous.  For example, most older models don’t come with a 5-point harness. Many of older highchairs have wider seats, as well, making it easier for a child to slip through. If you’re going to go the second-hand route, just make sure it’s a fairly recent model chair that will keep your child safe and secure.

High Chairs Outline:

  1. Your Basic Choices
    1. standard high chair
    2. European-style high chair
    3. hybrid
    4. portable high  chair
    5. booster seats
    6. chair harness
  2. General Guidance
  3. Features to Look for
  4. Stage Considerations
  5. Lifestyle Considerations
  6. Usage Tips
  7. Accessories

your basic highchair choices

Whether it’s a U.S.-style seat, a European-style seat, a portable seat or a booster, there are a wide range of styles available:

standard highchair
This is your standard, everyday chair with a tray. These can be used as soon as the child is sitting (at about six months) and some reclinable models can be used even earlier.

European-style highchair
These chairs don’t have trays, allowing you to bring the baby right up to the table with you starting at about nine months. As a general rule, they can be used beyond the highchair stage as a toddler seat.

These chairs have trays and can be used as early as six months, but they also grow into a toddler chair. They tend to look more like furniture and go well in dining rooms. The trade-off is that they don’t have all the features of a standard highchair.

portable highchair
Whether you’re traveling, you need a back-up seat for grandma’s house, or you just don’t have enough room for a standard high-chair, these compact seats that clip on to your table or chairs are an easy solution.

booster seats
Sometime after about 18 months, your child will make the transition to a booster seat. This is the modern version of using a telephone book to help your child reach the table, but it comes equipped with a seatbelt to keep squirming youngsters in place.

chair harness
Not technically a chair, these fabric seat covers tie to the back of a chair and have safety straps to anchor your child in place. They’re extremely easy to travel with, but don’t provide the boost that a true booster seat does.

All About Highchairs

If you buy a standard highchair, keep in mind that it’s useful life won’t be all that long, although you’ll enjoy its special features during the early stages. At some point, your toddler will need to move to a booster seat or a European-style toddler chair, and this can happen as early as 18 months for some children.

No matter what type of chair you buy, here are some factors to consider:

  • Size. How much room do you have, and how much room does your chair of choice require? Make sure these two measurements add up.
  • Stability. As a general rule, the wider the base of the highchair, the more stable it will be. Make sure yours will stay standing through hectic mealtimes.
  • Washability. There’s no way around it: highchairs get dirty. No matter what kind you choose, make sure it’s easy to clean, and definitely avoid fabrics that will stain or require a lot of maintenance.

If you’re buying a portable highchair, you have two different styles to choose from: one that clips on to your table, and one that clips on to your chairs.

  • Portable that secures to table. These have become so popular, some families buy them instead of a regular highchair. You just have to make sure they fit onto your table and won’t damage it. Although they’re as secure as standard highchairs, do adhere to weight limits to ensure their stability as your child grows. Best for travel are the fabric seats on a collapsible frame that fold and pack flat.
  • Portable that secures to chair. These use the legs of a chair for elevation, but can be as complex as a mini highchair with all the same features, including a tray. Because they don’t pack flat, fewer people choose them as a portable option. However, because they’re smaller than a full-size, they can be a great choice as a second chair to be kept at Grandma’s for part-time use.

features to look for

  • Five-point harness. These are a must for keeping your baby securely in place during the highchair stage. In the booster seat stage they’re optional, but recommended.
  • Seat adjustability. Babies come in all different shapes and sizes, and those shapes and sizes will change rapidly, so pick a highchair that grows and adjusts to your baby at every stage.
  • Adjustable footrest. The footrest should be able to move to accommodate your growing baby.
  • Height adjustability. This setting lets you move the seat to whatever height will allow you to reach your baby comfortably while you’re feeding her, whether you’re sitting or choose to stand.
  • One-hand maneuverability. From latches to seatbelts to adjustments, the more you can do while holding a plate of macaroni and cheese in one hand, the better. This is especially true of the tray.
  • Collapsibility. If you don’t have a lot of room to leave a highchair sitting out, find one that folds up for easy between-meal storage.
  • Recline settings. If the chair is reclinable, you can start your child in it earlier, rather than waiting till he can sit up. It also comes in handy for the child who enjoys a quick snooze immediately after eating.
  • Locking mechanism. If you pick a highchair with wheels, for obvious reasons, make sure that you can lock them into place.
  • Extra functions. Some highchairs can do double duty as a rocking chair, bouncy seat or swing, saving you an extra purchase and meaning one less thing to store.

stage considerations

A standard highchair provides adequate support for the sitting baby as early as six months. You can start using a European-style chair when the baby is able to sit totally unassisted and without support, usually around nine months.

By about age two, most children have progressed past a highchair and are in the land of toddler or booster seats, depending on the child and the parent. The focus then moves away from safety (keeping baby from falling) and towards getting your baby through the meal without distractions. European-style chairs are meant to grow with your child, and many are designed so they can be used indefinitely.

How long your child will need a booster seat depends mostly on their size and your tolerance for messes. If they can reach the table and sit still throughout the meal, they’ve earned their way out of a booster.

lifestyle considerations

Space. Space-constrained parents might want to consider a collapsible highchair that folds up for storage between meals. And if you’re really cramped, consider the minimalist approach: a portable clip-on seat that can be easily folded.

Multi-stage. Hybrids & Euro styles are multi-stage, and if you don’t mind the minimalist approach, portables are, too.

Portability. The most travel-friendly seating option is the collapsible, cloth clip-on. If your child is tall enough to reach the table, consider the harness belting system for secure seating.

Style. Highchair choices are driven as much by aesthetics as anything else, so choose what will fit best into your home.. Some look more like actual, real furniture, while others have a more molded-plastic, baby-gear feel.

usage tips

  • If you prefer using a dishwasher to hand washing, pick a highchair with a spare feeding tray.
  • Use the 5-point harness for safety, and resist the temptation to skip buckling up when your child starts getting bigger and looks more stable.
  • A slightly reclined seat can be great for bottle feeding, and is a necessity until the baby can sit upright without any help.
  • Keep sharp, hot and dangerous items out of reach of the highchair, especially in the kitchen. Even seated, kids can be amazingly fast and agile!
  • Highchairs are for sitting, not standing. Of course, if your child’s 5-point harness is always secured, this should be easy to enforce.
  • Double check that your chair is locked into place when you use it, especially for collapsible chairs.
  • Never leave your baby unattended in any type of highchair and boosters.
  • Do a bib check. If you’re using anything other than cloth (such as rubber), double check that the bib fits with the highchair tray and doesn’t create discomfort for the child.

Accessories for highchairs

  • Seat cushions & covers. While most highchairs come with some type of detachable seat cushion, some don’t. Even those that do could use a backup.
  • Splash mats. Made to go under the highchair and catch whatever falls, a splash mat can save your floors. They also make clean-up a whole lot easier, saving you from a lot of vacuuming, mopping or carpet shampooing.
  • Highchair-friendly dishes. Make sure the dishes you choose fit within the tray, and look for ones with “sticky” bottoms to help keep them in place.

This baby gear guide was written by Ali Wing, baby product expert, author of giggle guide to baby gear and founder of giggle.  Follow Ali on Twitter and the Giggle Fan Page on Facebook.