Katie Gulbransen of Canton, Michigan, begins feeding her children in their infant seat or on her lap instead of a high chair. "I find that it's easier when they're so little to give them food in a place that's familiar to them," says the mother of three. At about eight months she moves her children into a high chair for playtime and meals.
But high chairs these days are all about versatility. Many are designed to accommodate children from age 4 months to 2 years with only a few adjustments. Some high-end brands even convert to an adult chair.
At its heart, a high chair is just that—a chair that elevates your child to a comfortable height and supports her while she's eating. Most high chairs also come with a tray.
Here are some of the options you'll find when looking at high chairs:
- Waist and crotch straps
- Easy-to-operate trays
- Table base
- Casters (wheels)
- Adjustable heights and reclining positions
Securing the baby in the seat is one of the biggest concerns parents have with high chairs, since a fall can cause serious injury. According to Gina P. Duchossois, Trauma Prevention Coordinator at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, at least 20 deaths since 1998 have been reported in which children were strangled after being caught in waist straps or on the trays of their high chairs. The safest seats have waist and crotch straps so that the baby cannot slip through the straps and onto the floor (the crotch strap comes up between the baby's legs, the waist straps lock into place on either side). Later these straps keep toddlers from standing up in their chairs.
The chair's tray also helps keep your baby in place. Most seats have a crotch bar that comes up either from the seat itself or from the tray. Do not, however, rely on the tray to keep your child restrained. Keep in mind that trays should be easy to operate with one hand as well as easy to clean.
Another safety issue is the construction of the chair itself. The legs of the chair should be wide at the base, offering stability for even the most active toddler. Take time to test the chair by wiggling it and moving it.
Some models offer casters, or wheels, on the base legs making it easier to move. Check that the wheels lock firmly in place.
Many high chairs are height and recline adjustable. The reclining position can be used for bottle-feeding babies and then adjusted to a full upright position later. Varying heights also help the chair to fit your child as he grows.