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Highchairs are one of the most significant pieces of baby equipment you’ll buy and their price range varies from £15 right up to several hundred pounds. But do you know what to look for in a highchair?
It’s not just about how stylish it looks in your kitchen or how easy it is to wipe clean after a truly sensory weaning experience, your baby’s highchair can determine whether their weaning journey is successful or not!
Read on to find out more.
High chair readiness
Most babies are ready to sit in a highchair at around 5-6 months of age. They need to have a degree of postural stability, meaning they can hold their head steady and sit upright with support.
Good highchairs provide additional support so this stability doesn’t need to be totally independent.
Can I use a high-chair if my baby can’t sit up?
Yes, you can, providing that your baby’s highchair is adjustable. Some babies may need to be slightly reclined with their pelvis tilted forwards so their knees are higher than their nappy area in order to be comfortably stable in their high chair.
Is it OK to use a highchair even if we are not weaning?
Definitely! It’s a great idea to get your baby used to sitting in their highchair. Pop them in every day once they’re ready and play with toys on the highchair tray. Try to sit opposite them and at your baby’s eye level while they practice so they can seek reassurance from you if they are unsure about what’s going on.
And as soon as they start to look like they’ve had enough, whip them out so that they don’t develop any negative associations with the highchair.
Features to look for in a highchair
Before I go through the features to look out for I want to explain why this is important.
In order to practice the skills required for eating, your baby needs to give 100% attention to the job in hand.
After breathing, your baby’s 2nd priority is to protect their head (or brain). It’s instinctive and cleverly they do this by focussing their concentration on stability, or keeping themselves upright and not falling over.
This means that if they are prioritising stability, they can’t dedicate their full attention to learning the skills required for eating and drinking…
And eating and drinking skills are one of the most complex tasks that human beings ever need to master.
A supportive highchair can take away their need to concentrate on protecting their brain, freeing up their focus to concentrate on eating and drinking.
When testing out a highchair, check your baby’s position. Ideally they need to have a 90 degree angle (right angle) at their hips, knees and ankles. If you’re not sure what this looks like check the diagram here.
Many of the cheaper, all-in-one, wipe clean plastic highchairs don’t provide this level of support.
It’s absolutely fundamental that your baby’s high chair has a footrest and that they can reach it and push against it.
There are many highchairs that either don’t have a footrest at all or have one that’s so far down, your baby will probably celebrate their 5th birthday before they can reach it.
A footrest is essential for this core stability. It allows your baby something to push against or ‘brace themselves’ against so that they can concentrate on the skills required for eating. This is why when babies are having milk feeds they sometimes push their feet against the arm of the chair or you and ‘lock’ their legs.
The backrest of your baby’s highchair should go right up to their neck when they are in the early stages of weaning. Some highchairs only go midway but babies really need this full back support when they are just starting solids.
You absolutely don’t need a highchair with a tray. One that you can bring up to the table is brilliant and means that your baby can participate in family mealtimes as soon as they can sit in their highchair.
However, the table top or the highchair tray position needs to be midway between your baby’s belly button and nipple level and right up close to their body without much of a gap.
A tray (or table top) higher than this means they won’t have the ability to fully explore foods presented to them and lower than this means they’ll have to slouch forwards, losing that stable posture and putting pressure on their stomach which may cause discomfort while eating.
My baby is 6 months and we’re ready to start weaning but I don’t think they can sit in the highchair yet, what can I do?
This is such a common problem as many highchairs are designed for older babies and toddlers.
If their highchair has one available to fit, you can purchase a baby set insert with a harness.
What if my baby starts off sitting but slumps sideways or forwards?
Again, this unfortunately is so common with highchairs designed for toddlers. Your baby may start sitting upright but after a few minutes may end up slouching sideways or downwards under the tray.
If this is the case and a baby set is not available you can try making your own adjustments with rolled up towels between your baby and the side of the highchair and using cushions for them to sit on.
It may be however that you just need to invest in a highchair designed for younger babies and keep this one till they’re older.
Can we start solids in their bouncy chair?
No, definitely not. A bouncy chair does not give an adequate level of postural support needed for successfully learning how to move solids around their mouths safely.
Your mum or mother-in-law may suggest this to you and that’s because in the past babies were weaned at 3 months and then 4 months. At this age babies couldn’t sit up so we had to use a bouncy chair.
Can we use a Bumbo seat?
Again it’s a no, unfortunately not. Bumbo seats are designed to keep your baby put, by tilting their pelvis backwards and locking their joints in a flexion position meaning they can’t get out.
This position is not stable enough for practicing eating and drinking skills.
What about on my lap instead?
Feeding on your lap is unfortunately no better (yet I still see this recommended!!). If you have a very young baby and have been advised to start solids early e.g at 4 months, then your lap may be suitable.
However, the texture of foods given at this very early age will be carefully prescribed (thin purees) because this level of support is not adequate for safely moving solid foods around the mouth and swallowing.
I can’t afford to buy a second highchair, is there anything I can do?
It’s quite alright to add something to wedge between your babies back and the back of the highchair, so they move forwards towards the front of the seat. You can use a cushion to give them a little more height, some rolled up towels either side and a pile of boxes or textbooks to provide a footrest.
You can buy footrests for a certain popular and very cheap Swedish highchair, by a company called Nibble & Rest. Use the code TCN10 to get 10% off.
Other Features to consider in a high chair
Now we know the most important reasons for choosing a highchair, here are some other features you might want to consider.
Will it grow with my baby?
If you do find a toddler chair with a baby set this may be your best option as it will grow with your child and last a long time.
My favourite highchair of all time is the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair. I purchased two of these when my children were babies and only passed them on when they got to around 10!
Highchairs purchased in the UK should conform with the European safety standard ‘Childrens High Chairs. Requirements and Test Methods’ published in 2017 and amended in 2020 (BS EN 14988:2017+A1:2020).
As a minimum highchairs should have a restraint – ideally a 5 point harness and be stable enough not to easily tip over.
Ease of use
Do you plan to fold away your highchair after meals or will it stay in the same spot? If you’re tight for space a foldable version may be worth considering and if you want to put it away in a cupboard look for ones with wheels.
Highchairs that can be brought up to the family dining table often tuck away nicely underneath and take up less space compared to stand alone highchairs with trays.
Ease of cleaning
Weaning can (and should) be a messy business. It’s all part of your baby’s sensory learning experience. So having a high chair that can be cleaned easily will make life easier for you. I like those with machine washable covers and dishwasher safe trays for peace of mind that they’ll be scrupulously clean.
Choosing a highchair isn’t as straightforward as you might think and the kind hearted friend who is desperate to pass off all their baby paraphernalia on you may not have the best highchair for your baby.
My advice, do your homework, try a few out, look for functionality over style and save yourself a few quid by getting the right highchair in the first place (and save yourself a DIY job as a result)!
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Thanks to Heather Knight for the research that went into producing this blog.