You'll want a stable, sturdy model that can stand up to spilling, kicking, and regular cleaning for at least a year (some babies can't bear to sit in a high chair after that). A chair with a tray that can be released with one hand is also a plus. Picture your baby occupying your other arm while you're opening and closing the tray; it's just one of the many physical feats you'll be asked to master as a parent.
A high chair usually consists of a frame of molded plastic or metal tubing and an attached seat with a safety belt and a footrest. There are still a few old-fashioned wooden high chairs out there with a removable tray or arms that lift the tray over a baby's head, although they aren't always as comfortable for babies as the modern, form-fitting models on the market now, and most of them aren't certified as meeting the latest safety standards. You'll also find a few hybrid units, which can double as a swing or convert into other types of gear, such as a chair for an older child or a play table.
Look for a chair that has a waist strap and a strap that runs between the legs. If a tray is used, there should be a passive restraint, such as a crotch post, used in conjunction with the harness straps. A high chair, like a car seat or a stroller, is one of those shake-rattle-and-roll buying experiences. We suggest visiting the baby store near you with the broadest selection. Then do the following:
Open and close the fastener on the seat's safety harness (try it one-handed) to make sure it's easy to use. If it's not, you might be tempted not to use it every time your child is in the seat, although that's imperative.
Adjust the seat height to see how well that mechanism works. Some seats come with as many as seven possible heights. You may only use one or two, but you can't know for sure at this point.
Assess the seat cover. Look for a chair with upholstery made to last. It should feel substantial, not flimsy. Make sure upholstery seams won't scratch your baby's legs.
Make sure wheels can be locked (if you're buying a model with wheels) or that they become immobilized when there is weight (like a baby) in the seat.
Watch out for rough edges. Examine the underside of the feeding tray to make sure it's free of anything sharp that could scratch your baby. Also look for small holes or hinges that could capture little fingers.
Check for the absence of small parts. Make sure the caps or plugs that cover the ends of metal tubing are well secured. Parts small enough for a child to swallow or inhale are a choking hazard. Know when to fold 'em. If you plan to fold up your high chair as often as every day, practice in the store. Some chairs that claim to be foldable can have stiff folding mechanisms. Technically they may be foldable, but they're not user-friendly.
Major brands of high chairs include, in alphabetical order: Baby Trend, Chicco USA, Dorel Juvenile Group (Cosco), Evenflo, Fisher-Price, Graco, J. Mason, Kolcraft, Peg Perego, and Scandinavian Child. There are three general price ranges:
Basic high chairs
High chairs at this end of the price range (under $70) are simple, compact, and generally work quite well. Essentially plastic seats on plastic or steel-tubing legs, such models may or may not have tray and height adjustments and tend to lack bells and whistles, such as wheels, foldability for storage, one-handed tray removal, or the capacity to recline, which you may not use anyway unless you're bottle-feeding. The seat is usually upholstered with a vinyl covering or bare plastic, and the pad may be removable and washable. The tray is typically kept in place with pins that fit into holes in the tubing.
Pros: For the money, a basic high chair can serve you and your baby well. But it pays to comparison shop, as some brands may be more suitable to your needs than others.
Cons: Watch for chairs in this price range with grooves in the seat's molded plastic (a gunk trap); cotton seat pads rather than vinyl, which tend not to hold up as well over time; and trays with side release buttons that are accessible to your baby. Some parents report that their babies can remove such trays--food and all--as early as 9 months of age.
Midpriced high chairs
In this price range ($70 to $150), you'll find many of the features of higher-end chairs, which include multiple tray and chair-height positions; casters for mobility, with a locking feature for safe parking; a reclining seat for infant feeding; one-hand removable tray; foldability for storage; and a three- or five-point harness plus a passive restraint when used with the tray. Most have cushioned, vinyl seat pads that can be removed for washing, although you'll also still see models with cloth covers in this price range; those are a challenge to keep clean. Frames and seats are typically made of molded, rigid plastic or steel.
Pros: This price range generally offers sturdier chairs with more usable features, although, depending on the model, price isn't always aligned with quality.
Cons: Some models are bulky and can eat up space in a small kitchen, although a large footprint provides greater stability. Just watch out that you don't trip on the protruding legs.
High-end high chairs
In this price range ($150 and up), you'll find European imports and traditional solid-wood high chairs. Chairs at this end of the market tend to have thick, tubular frames topped by densely padded seats upholstered in vinyl. As a result, they may have a more solid feel and cushier digs for baby. Some models come with add-on fabric covers that are removable for laundering. These chairs can be adjusted to many different heights and reclining positions with a simple squeeze-release mechanism. Some have folding "A"-shaped frames to make them easy to store.
Pros: You'll get extra features, such as seven height positions instead of five, and often better quality, which is important to consider if you want the chair to last through another baby or more. Another bonus: Many parents report that companies that sell higher-end chairs tend to have responsive customer service, which helps if you have a problem.
Cons: Chairs in this range can be bulky because they tend to have a wider base for stability. That's good because it reduces the risk of tipping. However, you'll need more space to accommodate the footprint, which tends to be more like that of a baby swing.
FEATURES TO CONSIDER
Crotch post. To help prevent a baby from slipping out under the tray and getting his or her head caught, high chairs now typically have a center crotch post attached to the tray or to the seat. It's not meant to replace the safety belt, though. A center post that attaches to the chair rather than to the tray is better because it enables you to push your child up to the table without the tray but still have that center-post support.
Foldability. Some high chairs fold for storage. If that's important to you, make sure there's a secure locking system to prevent accidental folding while your child is in the chair or being put into it. Such a system should automatically engage when you open the chair.
Safety belt. As we mentioned, this is an important feature. When buying a high chair, examine the restraining straps to make sure the waist belt has a buckle that can't be fastened unless the crotch strap is also used. Safety belts should hold your baby securely in place, with no leeway for standing up or climbing out. Some high chairs offer an adjustable three-point harness--two adjustable shoulder straps and a lock between the child's legs--or an adjustable five-point harness--two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap, which is ideal.
Seat adjustment. Seats can move up or down to as many as seven height positions on some chairs. They may also recline (in case your baby falls asleep right after eating). However, except for bottle feeding, don't use a seat in the reclining position while feeding your baby--that's a choking hazard. With a height-adjusting chair, the seat slides along the chair frame, locking into various positions. Height options range from nearly floor level to standard high-chair level, with the middle height low enough to allow the seat (with the tray removed) to be pushed up to a dining-room table.
Toys. Some high chairs have toys that attach to the tray, an option your baby will likely enjoy, although you can certainly buy toys separately that fasten to high-chair trays. But avoid strings when attaching them.
Tray. In general, you'll want a lightweight tray you can take off with one hand or that swings to the side when not in use. Certain designs help contain spills: a tray that surrounds baby on all sides, a tray angle that channels liquids away from baby, or a tall rim all around the tray. Some chairs have two trays: a big tray with a deep rim for feeding and a smaller one for snacking or playing. Don't be lured by a claim that the tray is "dishwasher safe"--most trays are too large to fit in a dishwasher.
Upholstery. Many models have seat coverings--or entire seat panels--that come off for easier cleaning. Be sure fasteners won't cause upholstery to tear as you pull off the seat or coverings. Opt for a seat cover with a pattern rather than a solid color; patterns are better at concealing spills. Some covers look like cloth but are really vinyl, which is easier to spot clean than cloth.
Wheels. Wheels may make it easier to move the high chair around, which is important if you'll frequently be hauling your high chair from, say, the kitchen to the dining room. On the other hand, wheels can also be a nuisance because they may allow the chair to move as you're trying to pull a tray off, or as you put your baby in. Older children may be tempted to take the baby for a joyride when you turn your back. Wheels on some models appear to make the chair less stable. If you decide on a wheeled model, look for locks on the wheels, preferably on all four. Some models come with locking casters. Still others have just two wheels and stay in place unless you tilt them on their wheels for rolling around.
There are pluses and minuses with every price range of chair. All can be tough to clean because, let's face it, baby food has a way of getting into every possible nook and cranny (and most seats have them somewhere). High-end models offer flexible positioning, extra-thick seat padding, and attractive upholstery.
Mid priced models generally represent the best value. And, like high-end models, they usually have an easy-to-remove tray, a sturdy safety belt, a tip-resistant frame, and a crotch post. But even some basic chairs can compete with higher-end models in terms of safety and other features. No matter what your budget, buy a chair of recent production that's certified so you can be sure it meets the current voluntary safety standard.
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