High Chairs: An Exhaustive Buying Guide
Having a high chair at home makes things more convenient for you and the baby both. It allows you to leave the child safe and secure sitting alone and feeding him/her becomes more comfortable as the height of the chair can be adjusted to that of dining tables. There are actually different types of high chairs and various features to choose from depending on what exactly you are looking for. Here is a complete guide presenting to you basically everything you need to know about high chairs. We’re going first to go through the different types of high chairs with a particular focus on each one’s advantages and disadvantages. Next we’re going to look at the interesting features to watch out for before we end the article with some buying and safety guidelines to keep in mind when picking a model.
I- The Different Types:
We can’t exactly say one type of high chairs is better than the other, each have their own advantages and disadvantages. It is thus up to you to figure out which one does best suit your tastes, needs, and budget. In any case, let’s go through each type in more detail:
1- Basic high chair:
This is a standard, simple, and often compact kind of high chair. Simple as they are, they are actually pretty convenient. Most of the models contain plastic seats with plastic or steel tubing legs. The seat is customarily upholstered with a vinyl or plastic cover, and some models allow you to remove the pad so you could wash it. Additionally, there are models that enable you to adjust the height and tray and there are also models equipped with a rack/pocket to keep bibs, towels, and other washcloths. Being basic, they typically lack bells, wheels, they often can’t recline (a feature convenient for bottle-feeding).
The advantage of a basic chair is that it can do the job well and for a fair price. The fact that it has basic features doesn’t mean it lacks in safety or convenience. Actually, you may find basic models that are objectively better than pricier high chairs if you consider these two factors. Anyhow, as there are significant variations from a model to another, it is better to do some comparison between products to find out which is best for you and the baby. Basic chairs are a great choice for when the baby spends time at the grandparents’ for example.
On the other hand, there is the possibility for such chairs having legs that stick out or that are very spaced as it can cause tripping. Another thing to avoid is chairs displaying grooves in the tray or the seat because it will trap dirt and food. Babies, who can be only 9 months old, may be able to remove the tray; a problem that can be addressed by having double action latches.
2- Full-featured high chair:
This particular type adds more convenience with well-thought of features such as the possibility of folding the chair and adjusting the tray (easily removable and dishwasher-safe) and chair heights, more mobility with the possibility of locking movement, a reclining padded seat, and a safer 5-point harness instead of 3.
There are other features that may or not be present, like notably the opportunity to remove the vinyl/fabric seat pad for cleaning. There are also models providing cloth covers, but be aware that they get dirty very easily which makes it difficult to keep clean, same for those seat covers featuring seams and piping. In any case, the frames and seats are for the most part made of steel or plastic.
In terms of style, there is the always reliable classic and traditional one; but you can go for something different if you so wish. More and more people are now interested by a high chair that can convert into a booster seat for example. Other models can have their seats lifted off the chair frame so as to be strapped to the adult dining chair.
The benefits of full-featured high chairs is obviously the added number of nice features but there are also some other ones. They are in fact usually sturdier, its fabric material gives better patterns, and it’s more easily fitted into the whole home decor as you are provided more design options. Another interesting trend in this respect is the modern wooden high chair that doesn’t sacrifice safety and easy-clean requirements for aesthetic appeal.
Depending on what you’re looking for, all those features would seem an unnecessary additional cost if you only want a practical chair with a wipe-clean cover.
3- First-rate high chair:
More money naturally entails a refined design with better quality materials and fabric. You may find however high-end models with actually fewer features than a standard full-featured high chair. But you can also find, at the very high end, all the features combined with the best materials.
The most expensive high chairs almost always equals the best quality, but you can find some exceptions. Quality means more durability, but lesser quality high chair can also have good durability. Any which way, the priorities should still be safety and comfort. First-rate chairs aren’t necessarily safer.
4- Booster high chair:
Booster chairs are basically high chairs without the legs, as you attach them instead to the dining or kitchen chair. Booster chairs may have some of the features of high chairs, like the reclining seat and height adjustments.
Booster high chairs are pretty useful if you lack space for a regular high chair, and you can transport it easily through the car to the grandparents house for example thanks also to its lightweight. Overall, they are rather inexpensive.
On the other hand, booster chairs are inconvenient for feeding babies who aren’t able yet to sit on their own. Note also that booster chairs are not under the safety standard of regular high chairs. You can find booster seats that cannot exactly be called high. Some models have an unpadded seat and back, some others disallow height adjustments, and others yet may also lack trays.
5- Portable hook-on chairs:
Portable seats are even more convenient than booster seats when it comes to transportation. You can also prefer it over restaurant high chairs. Hooking onto tabletops, these lightweight portable seats are designed for little children between six months and three years old; they can take up a weight up to 37 pounds. The problem of such seats is that the safety depends entirely on the harness and the table it hooks on to. There is variation in the price of portable seat, with models proposing different features and materials. If you want to buy one, make sure you check first the age and weight limit. Concerning safety measures, never forget to use the harness and keep in mind that portable hook-on chairs are not under the safety regulation standards of those of high chairs.
II- The Interesting Features:
The most important features are those making the high chair safer for the child, as they would prevent falling, slipping,sliding, or the child climbing out. Other factors to consider are comfort and ease of use, although this latter may affect the safety of the child. Let us go through the interesting features one by one:
1- Seat adjustments:
Many models allow for the seats to be moved up/down in up to eight different height positions. Pneumatic pole-equipped chairs even allows an indefinite number of positions. Given the adequate height, a chair with the tray removed can be moved at the level of the dining table. Seat adjustment can be pretty useful also for feeding the baby while sitting in another chair. There is actually variation in how smooth and effective the seats can be adjusted. Audible click is a safety feature that is nice to have when adjusting.
When adjusting the chair for the first times, check if the height is at the same level on both sides, if there are adjustment slots count them. Know also that it is safer to adjust the high chair without the baby sitting on it.
There is also a chair reclining feature that is useful when bottle-feeding or to make the baby more comfortable after he/she falls asleep. Do not use a reclining position while the baby is eating something else as there is risk of choking him/her. Obviously, don’t adjust the reclining position angle of the chair while the child is sitting on it.
Some models fold for more convenient storage. If you lack space and are interested in this feature, make sure the model also has a secure latching system so as to prevent unwanted folding while the child is sitting or just being put in it. A good latching system would engage automatically once the chair is opened.
Inversely, a lock to keep the chair folded is a good thing to have too as it would make carrying the chair around even more convenient and would prevent the risk of pinching your fingers while manipulating the folded chair as well.
3- The crotch post:
Models with a bound opening created in the space between the seat bottom, the two sides of the chair, and the tray need to have a center crotch post (aka Passive Crotch Restraint) that is required by the ASTM safety standards so as to prevent risks of slipping or getting the head trapped between the chair and the tray. The crotch post may be either attached to the tray or more commonly to the seat bottom.
Note that the crotch post is not a substitute for the safety harness. A safe high chair should have both. As safety measures, there should not be more than an inch of vertical space between the crotch post and the tray because it would prevent the baby from sticking both his legs into a one-leg hole. Similarly, there shouldn’t be much space between the back of the seat and the tray so that the baby cannot be able to stand if unharnessed (this is why the five-point harness is so important incidentally).
4- The safety harness (restraint system):
As just mentioned, it is important to have this feature. The ASTM safety standard allows for a 3-point harness but a 5-point one is actually more effective as it is better in preventing an agitated baby from falling (the most common type of injury related to high chairs) since it will restrain him/her more actively.
Other important qualities for a harness to have are how adjustable it can be (accommodating both a small or a bigger child) and how simple it is to adjust. Additionally, a rubber or a rubber-covered harness straps prove to be less of a drag to clean.
As for the buckle, it needs to be secure enough to keep the child from opening it; at the same time, it should be easy enough for an adult to open.
5- The upholstery ( +seat covers):
While the vast majority of high chairs dispose of cleanable seat pads or covers, there are some that have the additional advantage of being removable for better cleaning. Seat covers displaying a pattern are more practical since they hide spots and stains better. Concerning the fabric, vinyl is cleaned of its spots more easily, although it is subject to cracks over time, which may become a choking risk for the baby. A seat cover or a cushion with cracks must therefore be replaced as soon as you notice such signs (another advantage of being removable).
A useful tip for changing removable cushions and seat covers: pay attention to the process of how to remove/attach it so that you will easily find the adequate replacement. Taking step by step pictures or a video would prove also more reliable than your memory.
6- The tray:
Lightweight trays are better since you can place/remove it with ease, but it also needs to be secure enough so that the child can’t kick it off. A tray swinging to the side when unused is also a good feature, just be cautious of not getting pinched by the moving parts; you should also close the swing-to-the-side tray back up again when the child is not in it so he/she wouldn’t get pinched if ever he/she comes close to the tray. Being able to remove/put on the tray easily is important as it would get irritating and inconvenient if that’s not the case, that’s why it’s always better to test the model out before buying if you get the opportunity.
Another interesting feature concerning trays is the dishwasher-safe tray insert. Tray inserts like that are real convenient when it comes to convenience in cleaning and use. Such inserts are better when they cover completely the top of the tray.
Tray-position adjustment possibilities (positioning the tray farther or closer to the seat) are very useful by adapting to the growth of the child and keeping him/her comfortable while eating.
7- The Wheels:
Wheels come in very useful if you plan using the high chair in the dining room as well as the kitchen. Obviously, you don’t want moving the chair with the baby sitting in it. The absence of wheels will make moving way more difficult, especially if the chair is heavy, and would probably scrape or scratch the floor.
However, wheels can prove to be bothersome as the chair may move while trying to put the baby or the tray in/off it. Grown babies would also be able to move the high chair on their own. A lock on the wheels, preferably on each one of them, will address these problems. A newer system is the push-and-go present in more recent models: you will need to push the buttons placed on both sides of the chair in order to unlock the wheels and be able to move the high chair.
A feature present in some models is toy bars or just toys adjoined to the tray, something the baby would probably enjoy. An alternative is purchasing toys having suction cups so as to stick to the tray. Make sure there are no strings or cords attached to the toys as they hold a potential risk of strangulation. Moreover, the toys need to be fastened securely and doesn’t break into detaching parts. Toys need also be cleaned after meals to avoid infection.
Toys sold with the high chair or part of it need be conform to the ASTM F963 Toy Safety Standard regulations.
III- Buying + Additional Safety Guidelines to Have in Mind before Choosing:
1- The brands:
If you’re unsure of the quality of the high chair, here is a large list of reliable brands you can go for:
- Baby Trend
- Baby Bjorn
- Badger Basket
- Bright Starts
- Dream On Me
- Eddie Bauer
- Heidi Klum
- Lipper International
- Mamas and Papas
- Mia Moda
- Peg Perego
- Prince Lionheart
- Safety 1st
- Scandinavian Child
- Summer Infant
- The First Years
- Valco Baby
2- Testing the safety harness:
If you can, try to test out the most important features on a model before making a decision. One of these features is the safety harness. It should be easily opened/closed by you but not for the child. A difficult harness to operate might be an incitement to forgo using it, which may prove dangerous. We already mentioned our preference for five-point harnesses.
3- Testing the tray:
Same as the harness, it should be easy for you to place and remove but not for the child.
4- Controlling the seat cover:
The upholstery should be durable and “fat” enough. Check that the upholstery is easy to clean or even better, be machine washable, and that the upholstery seams do not scratch the baby’s legs. If there are too many seams or other piping and decorative stitches it will make the cleaning process more frequent.
5- Checking the locks (wheels):
We have said that if you go for a model with wheels, there should be locks to them for more safety. Make sure the model you pick has that feature.
6- Checking if there are no rough edges or hinges:
There has to be no rough edge on the seating area (+armrests and seatback) and the tray’s underside as they would probably scratch the baby. Similarly, there should be no hinges or holes so that the baby’s fingers wouldn’t get trapped there.
7- Checking for small parts:
The caps/plugs that are typically on the ends of metal tubing must be firmly secured as babies tend to put inside their mouth everything they got their hands on. Same for labels, stickers, tags, etc.
8- Testing foldable chairs:
It’s better to practice folding the high chair before buying it if you get the opportunity so as not to be later disappointed if the mechanism is rather challenging or if the folding doesn’t actually save much space.
9- Check the sturdiness of the chair:
Try and shake the model to test its stability. Those with a wide base are better.