You have a baby. Baby needs to eat. You need a high chair to feed baby. Okay, it may not be as simple as that, but a high chair is an important piece of furniture for a baby and for you. When your baby starts on solid foods, it makes sense to put him or her in a chair to make feeding easier and more comfortable for him and for you (or the person who feeds him). If you have a high chair in the dining area of your house, then baby can be part of the family dining experience.
In the beginning you may be feeding the baby. Later, baby will have to learn to feed himself. And that is where the high chair is invaluable. Of course, he will make a mess. Of course, food will be thrown about and there will probably more food thrown on the tray, on the floor, on baby's clothes and face than what the baby will take in, but it is all part of the learning process so that he can eventually feed himself.
If you go to any store, real or virtual, you will be inundated with the variety available in high chairs. They may be old-fashioned, made fully of natural wood, or modern, made of plastic and aluminum. They may be tall or short, rigid or foldable, with or without cushioned seats, covers and other accessories. They may have castors or wheels, may be reclining or straight backed, their seats may be fixed or of changeable heights. All kinds of colors, prints, painted, hand-crafted high chairs are available ranging in prices from below $50 to the most expensive one, $1350 (though if you get a genuine antique baby high chair, it may be even more).
You may already be overwhelmed with all the work your baby entails. You will feel even more bewildered by the range of baby chairs in the stores. What do you look for in the baby chair - this is especially important if it is your first child?
Firstly, identify your needs. If you have a large enough living space, you can probably use a fixed high chair. If your living quarters are cramped, you may need to buy one which can fold up. A folding high chair can also be used if you travel a lot and you can put it in your car and take it with you, say if you go to relatives' or friends' houses for meals or a stay-over. In fact, there are special travel friendly chairs, which are easy to use, fold compactly and open easily to make meal times comfortable.
Then take your budget into account. You can buy good high chairs which are eminently usable even on a low budget. If budget is not a constraint, you can go in for the more pricey models, some of which can be passed on from child to child and even last for generations!
Another thing you should factor in is your taste in furnishings and furniture. If you like or have antique stuff, then an old-fashioned wooden chair will fit in with your furnishings. If you have modern furniture, then you may prefer a modern looking chair. You can even get fancy or simplistic chairs, which look futuristic, if that is where your taste lies.
Most of the time, you will need to get a high chair when your baby is around three months old, which is the time when he/she starts eating solids. There are high chairs you can use earlier, too, particularly the ones which come with reclining seats. You can put a smaller infant in some of these chairs and they recline enough for a baby to sleep in. If you want one of those then you have to select one which will go to a proper reclining position.
However, make sure that when the baby grows up a bit, avoid using the reclining position while the baby is eating, because the baby can choke on food if he tries to eat in that position. If baby goes to sleep while or after eating, then you can move the seat to a reclining position so that he can sleep comfortably.
There are some vital factors to keep in mind when buying a high chair. If it is on wheels or castors, these must be lockable, and kept locked when the chair is upright. This is of great significance specially if the chair is a folding type.
Ideally the chair should have a five-point harness for the utmost safety of your baby. The safety factor cannot be over-emphasized because babies do land up in emergency rooms due to falls from high chairs. Rarely, it can happen that an unsupervised child can get strangled while moving downwards from the chair and under the tray when he is not restrained or restrained only by a waist belt.
Some chairs have a three-point harness, others have a five-point one. The five-point one is safer. In either case, make sure that the chair is JPMA (Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association) certified. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), a highly regarded non-profit organization, publishes the voluntary standards used in the JPMA Certification Program. This is your guarantee of safety. But in any case, you should really not leave a baby in a high chair, even if restrained, alone and unsupervised. Without restraints, a baby who can stand can stand up and topple down and hurt himself or worse. Chairs can also topple over if baby rocks it too hard or uses the table as a leverage and tries to push the chair backwards, so a wide base is also important.
Once your baby grows up a little, you have to be all the more careful that he cannot open the straps. At the same time, the straps must be easy to use and secure and must be cleanable as well. Ideally a chair should also have a crotch post - this makes the chair more secure and prevents the baby from slipping out of the seat. Some chairs also come with a grab rail which makes baby safer while sitting.
While a lot of wooden chairs look good and are hard-wearing, plastic is more easily cleanable. If the chair has a plastic or vinyl seat or a seat cover, remember you can clean it up much better. If you are using soft seats with wooden chairs, make sure the covers are easy to wash and clean because you will need to do that often.
The tray in front of the chair should sit firmly in front, should be a cinch to detach, which makes cleaning in the sink or dishwasher easier. It should have a slightly high lip around it, so that baby cannot slide food or utensils with one hand! There are a few chairs which come without a tray, like the Stokke Tripp Trapp. These chairs are meant to be placed with the dining table itself. If, for any reason, you do not want to buy a standalone high chair, you can even get a booster seat which will attach to your dining chair seat, so that baby is comfortably seated at the table. You can also get a seat which can hook on to your table, but the table should be strong enough to bear the weight of the chair and the baby.
Whether you buy plastic or wood, make sure that the seat does not have any rough edges. Run your fingers all over the high chair to see that all edges are smooth. Check for any small parts through which baby can put his fingers. If there are any possible crevices or difficult to reach places it may be a problem to clean food spills.
Though there are some high chairs which can be converted for use by adults, because they can take the weight of a grown-up, most high chairs are used for children up to three years of age.
Occasionally high chairs have an inbuilt problem and have been recalled. In January 2008, the Ikea Gulliver Children's High Chair was recalled as the crotch post could get loose, though no accidents have been reported. In 2007, Graco had to recall 100,000 of their Contempo High Chairs because the chairs could collapse if not fully opened and locked properly. In 2001, Graco recalled 860.000 high chairs because the chairs legs could come out and there were 108 cases of the chair collapsing and injuring children. There have been more recalls through the years, so be careful if you are buying used or second-hand chairs.
Basically this means that it is unsafe to put baby in the chair and leave him alone in it, thinking that he is restrained and nothing can happen to him. Babies from infanthood are by and large fidgety, don't like restraints, and are pretty active as well. So you need to be on a constant watch with your baby. Then whether you go in a for an expensive hand carved wooden high chair or a modern light-weight one made of wood or plastic and aluminium is your call.