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Feeding a hungry baby isn't always a picnic. But the right high chair can help make the experience a lot more enjoyable for you and your baby. A high chair usually consists of a frame and an attached seat with a safety belt and a footrest.
When it comes to selecting a high chair, try not to be overwhelmed by the choices on the market: there are literally dozens: classic or modern, wooden, plastic, or metal, among other options. Let's start where it all began, the wooden high chair.
Old-fashioned wooden high chairs, updated with safety features, still have a claim on the market. Several manufacturers sell the classic, traditional chairs, some with more modern styles. High-end style is trickling down to the lower-end, with simpler lines, and fabrics or materials in neutral shades or motifs that may have more appeal for adults than "baby" colors.
Although many wooden high chairs hint at the past, some have modern conveniences, such as a cushioned, wipe-clean or machine-washable seat pad, and a dishwasher-safe, removable tray insert that protects the wood finish. Modern chairs also have the essential safety features that older wooden chairs lacked such as a center crotch post, which helps to prevent a child from slipping out, and a three- or five-point harness. We strongly recommend a five-point harness, though it isn't required by the current safety standard, which requires a three-point harness (in addition to a crotch post.)
But some wooden high chairs may not be as comfortable for babies as the latest form-fitting or padded models on the market. And unless a wooden chair is a hybrid of the old (timeless in design only) and the new (with essential safety features--see the Features section), we don't recommend it.
Regardless of the materials, you should look for high-chair safety features that include a crotch post; a safety-restraint system with a five-point harness; wheels that lock in place (or no wheels); and, when folding, chairs that won't scissor, shear, or pinch you or your little one's fingers.
Today's high chairs–whether they're made of wood, metal, or plastic--are loaded with features such as adjustable trays with dishwasher-safe inserts that make cleanup a cinch, seats that recline to multiple positions, and chair heights that accommodate your growing baby and give you flexibility to feed her at different levels.
At a minimum, you'll want a stable, sturdy high chair that can stand up to heavy use, spills, and regular cleaning for at least a year. Although they're intended for children from infancy up to about three years (the typical top weight is 40 to 50 pounds), some babies can't bear to sit in one once they become adventurous toddlers.
Many high chairs now convert to toddler chairs when your child is ready to sit at the table with the rest of the family. You usually make the switch by removing the tray and adjusting the chair height so you can scoot your toddler right up to the table. That's a good thing because a regular kitchen or dining room chair will probably put your child at chin level to the table. Since you'll need some kind of transitional chair, you might as well get the most mileage from a high chair.
Look carefully at the high chairs you're considering to make sure that the one you choose will suit your needs. Do you want a chair that folds? Does the chair's look and design matter to you? Do you need it to take up as little space as possible?
Mid-priced high chairs (see Types) are generally the best value and have the best combination of useful features, so begin there. You might not know what high chair will suit your child best until you try it. Keep your receipt or packing slip, or if you register for one, ask for a gift receipt to be included so you can return the chair if it doesn't work out. Some high chairs that need to be assembled come with more parts than you might expect or can be tricky to put together. If you're not handy, you might want to buy a high chair that comes fully assembled.
Don't forget to look for a certification sticker. It shows that the manufacturer has voluntarily met standards set by ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), and that it takes part in a certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. JPMA certification can provide some level of assurance that the product meets safety standards, but is not a guarantee that it does.
Certified high chairs have a completely bounded opening (created by the sides of the chair and the tray) and are required to have a passive crotch restraint and at least a three-point harness. (We think a five-point harness is safer.) The harness must pass pulling tests, among others. To be certified, high chairs must also meet the requirements for a locking device to prevent accidental folding; secure caps and plugs or other small parts (they can pose choking hazards); sturdy, break-resistant trays; a stable base that resists tipping; and no exposed springs, pinch points, or other areas that could harm little fingers.
Check the JPMA website to find high chair brands that are JPMA certified.
Mid-priced high chairs are generally the best value and have the best combination of useful features. But you can spend more or less. (Grandparents or others who will use a chair only occasionally can probably get by with a bare-bones model.) Here are the types of high chairs to consider.
Basic high chairs are simple and compact, and they generally work quite well. These models are essentially plastic seats on legs made of plastic or steel tubing, and may or may not allow tray and height adjustments. They tend to lack bells and whistles such as wheels, and they don't usually recline, a feature you might not use unless you're bottle-feeding. The seat is usually upholstered with a vinyl or plastic cover, and the pad can be removed for washing. Some have a rack or a small pocket to hold bibs, towels, and washcloths.
In our tests, some basic models have scored higher than some more expensive high chairs, proving that price isn't necessarily correlated to safety or ease of use.
A basic high chair can serve you and your baby well, but it pays to comparison shop because some might suit your needs better than others. It might be a good choice to keep at the grandparents' house.
Be on the lookout for chairs with protruding or widely spaced legs because they can be a tripping hazard to parents and siblings. Avoid chairs with grooves in the seat's molded plastic, which can trap food and dirt; cotton seat pads rather than vinyl, which usually don't hold up as well; and trays with side-release buttons that are accessible to your baby. Some parents report that their babies can remove those trays--food and all--as young as 9 months old, so there may be better choices.
Mid-priced high chairs can offer many convenience features, including multiple tray and chair heights; casters for mobility (with a locking feature for safe parking); a reclining padded seat for infant feeding; a tray that can be removed by the caregiver with ease, perhaps ideally with one hand; a dishwasher-safe tray insert for easy cleanup; easy folding for storage; and a five-point harness instead of a three-point one.
Many have vinyl seat pads that can be removed for cleaning; some are not removable and can only be wiped or spot-cleaned. Although you might see some mid-level models with cloth covers, keep in mind that they're a challenge to keep clean. Frames and seats are usually made of plastic or steel.
Most mid-priced high chairs are traditional in style. But at this level a bit more adventurous styling also begins to come into play.
These chairs are usually sturdier and have more features than basic high chairs. Fabrics tend to be solids or more muted patterns. If you're looking for a high chair that fits your home décor or at least isn't covered with teddy bears or nursery figures, you'll have lots of options.
If you're looking for a simple chair that doesn't fold and has a wipe-clean cover, mid-level high chairs will probably have more features than you want to pay for.
High-end high chairs include European imports and traditional models in solid wood. Not surprisingly, chairs at the top of the market tend to have a sleeker, more upscale appearance. And though some include fewer features than mid-priced models--no wheels, for instance--they command a higher price, in part because of better materials. Some manufacturers, on the other hand, go all out to justify the price of their product. Of course, at this level, you're buying status along with the chair.
Designs can go from more refined or futuristic to a stark, industrial look.
High-end high chairs should mean top quality, though we've found that's not always the case. Good quality is important if you want the chair to last, but that doesn't mean a mid-priced high chair won't last, either. And don't let looks be the deciding factor; safety and comfort should be at the top of your list.
Chairs at this level aren't necessarily the safest options. Our testing has found safety issues at all price points.
Booster chairs are similar to high chairs, but without legs; you attach them to a regular dining room or kitchen chair. Some offer typical high-chair features, such as reclining and adjustable-height options, and padded seats and back. They're a great choice if you don't have room for a high chair, and they're easy to toss in a car for to use at a restaurant or Grandma's. Most booster chairs are not suitable for feeding a baby who cannot yet sit up on his own. Booster seats are not covered by the same safety standard as traditional high chairs.
Some boosters are more bare-bones---you might see them sold as booster seats rather than booster high chairs. Some of them have an unpadded seat and back, others don't allow you to make adjustments for different heights, and some lack trays. On the plus side, they're lightweight and easy to clean, and many are inexpensive.
For parents traveling with little ones who don't feel like lugging a booster seat along or aren't fans of restaurant high chairs, portable seats that hook onto tabletops are an option. Most hook-on chairs are suitable for children from about six months to about three years, usually weighing up to 37 pounds. We haven't tested them but think they should be used with caution, if at all, because their safety depends not only on the integrity of the chair's structure and harness but also on the table. That's just too many variables for our liking. These lightweight seats vary in price, depending on features and materials. If you choose to buy one, check its age-and weight-limits, and always use the harness when your child is in the chair. Portable hook-on chairs are not covered by the same safety standard as traditional high chairs.
Check the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association for brands that make hook-on chairs that are certified.
Safety is a prime consideration when buying a high chair because you don't want your child slipping, sliding, climbing out, or possibly falling. The ease of use of several features (such as the harness, buckle, and tray) can also affect safety. Trying them in the store can help. And check our high-chair Ratings for our assessments of the safety and ease of use of high chairs.
Here are the high-chair features to consider.
To prevent a baby from slipping under the tray and getting his head caught between it and the chair, models that have a completely bound opening--often created by the seat bottom, the two sides, and a tray--must have a fixed center crotch post to comply with the voluntary ASTM safety standards. The crotch post is usually attached to the seat bottom, but some designs have it attached to the tray.
The post is not meant to replace the safety harness, though. A high chair needs both for safety. Once your child is seated in the chair, fasten the harness. With the tray adjusted to the most comfortable and convenient position for your baby to eat, do a quick check to make sure that there is not more than one inch of vertical space between the underside of the tray and the top of the crotch post. Keeping that space small ensures that your child can't wiggle his leg over the top of the crotch post and get both legs into one leg-hole. It's also important that there not be too much space between the tray and the seat back to allow an unharnessed baby to lift up his knees and try to stand up, risking a fall or chair tip-over. This also reinforces the importance of a five-point harness for keeping a young child safe and secure.
This is an important feature. While the current ASTM standard only requires a three-point harness, our experts say that a five-point harness, as shown here, is a must. Since the most common types of injuries associated with high chairs are falls, the shoulder straps on a five-point harness keep a tenacious, on-the-go baby from standing up or climbing out, and falling.
It's also important the harness adjustment be easy to use and adjustable enough to accommodate a small or large child. Rubber or rubber-covered harness straps can be easier to clean.
The buckle, a critical part of the restraint, should be secure enough to contain a wriggling child and keep him from opening it, yet easy enough to be opened and closed by an adult.
Seats can be moved up or down to as many as eight height positions on some chairs, or, in the case of pneumatic pole-equipped chairs, infinite positions. Others have no adjustments at all and are fixed at one height. At the appropriate height, the chair (with the tray removed) can be pushed up to a dining table. In our most recent tests, some height adjusters worked more smoothly than others. Audible clicks can be a reassuring feature, to be sure that the seat is clicked into a given height setting. Some high chairs also have numbered height positions, which can also help you be sure you're adjusting the seat correctly. The first few times you use a chair, if you adjust the height, make sure it's even on both sides; count the adjustment slots from the top or bottom if you need to. And remember, it's safer to adjust the chair's height without a baby in it.
Some chairs also recline (in case your baby falls asleep after eating). But except for bottle-feeding, don't use a seat in the reclining position while feeding your baby because it's a choking hazard. Remember that it's not safe to adjust a high chair's angle while the child is in it, either.
Wheels are handy if you'll be scooting the high chair from the kitchen to the dining room frequently. Of course, don't move the chair when your child is in it. On the other hand, wheels can be a nuisance if they cause the chair to move as you're trying to pull a tray off or put your baby in. And older children might be tempted to take the baby for a joyride when you turn your back. If you decide on this type of chair, look for locks on the wheels, preferably on all four. One new model has a push-and-go system, in which buttons on either side of the chair must both be pressed to unlock the wheels and allow the chair to roll. That's an even more sibling-proof system.
You'll want a lightweight tray that you can take off easily but that your child can't kick or push off, or otherwise remove. Or look for a tray that swings to the side when not in use. (Just be careful about pinching with any moving parts--you can close a swing-to-the-side tray back up after taking the child out of the chair to avoid the risk of pinching should a child decide to play with it.) Trays that are hard to put on or take off can be cumbersome. Try them in stores before buying. Many high chairs have a dishwasher-safe tray insert that snaps on and off for easy cleanup.
Tray-position adjustments to allow the tray to move closer or farther from the child can make eating more comfortable for a child as she grows, or for a smaller or larger child than the chair was designed for. A high chair with one tray position may be uncomfortable if it is too far or too close for the child for the majority of time the chair is in use.
A few models' trays have compartments to hold utensils, dishes, jars of baby food, or sippy cups. Those are nice but not necessary.
Some high chairs fold for storage. If that's important to you because your house lacks space, make sure that there's a secure latching system to prevent accidental folding while your child is in the chair or being put into it. Such a latching system should engage automatically when you open the chair. A lock to keep it folded is a good idea, too: It makes for easier carrying and also helps prevent pinched fingers for parents as well as kids.
Some high chairs have toy bars or toys that attach to the tray. This is an option your baby is likely to enjoy, although you can also buy toys with suction cups that attach to high-chair trays. But don't attach strings to them because strings and cords are a strangulation hazard. Make sure that the toys are securely fastened and have no small parts that could become detached. And be prepared to clean and disinfect them after meals. Any toys that come with or are part of a high chair (or other juvenile product) are required to meet the safety specifications of the ASTM F963 Toy Safety Standard.
Most models have seat coverings, or entire seat panels, that can be wiped clean or removed for more-thorough cleaning, a plus. Choose a seat cover with a pattern rather than a solid color because patterns are better at concealing stains. Vinyl is easier to spot-clean than cloth, though it can crack as it dries and ages. And children can peel or tear off pieces, which can then become a choking hazard. If you note any tears or cracks, you should replace the seat cover or cushion (or in the worst case, get a new high chair). When removing a cover for cleaning, note how it was attached so it can be replaced easily.
This 22-year-old Canadian company is the inventor and exclusive manufacturer for several unique juvenile products, including high chairs. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
This is a 50-year-old Swedish family company whose products include bouncer seats, baby carriers, and feeding and bathroom items. Available at baby stores, Target, specialty stores, Amazon.com, and the company’s website.
For more than 65 years, Badger Basket Company has been manufacturing high chairs, bassinets, bassinet bedding, changing tables, and other items for babies and children. Check its website for a retailer near you.
This company was founded by four dads who wanted to put innovation and contemporary design into a range of baby products that has “traditionally been functional but not in tune with the sense of style of today’s parents.”
Since 1969, Bright Starts has been producing high chairs, seat covers, play gyms and mats, and a variety of other juvenile products. Bright Starts is a division of Kids II. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
Carter's Inc. is an Atlanta-based maker of apparel and related products exclusively for babies and young children. The company owns the Carter's and OshKosh B'gosh brands, with products available in department stores, national chains, and specialty retailers in the U.S. and abroad and through more than 400 company-operated stores. Its Child of Mine brand is available at Walmart, and its Genuine Kids, Just One You, and Precious Firsts brands are available at Target.
One of the largest baby brands in Europe, this 50-year-old company is part of the global Artsana Group, a “holistic, innovative lifestyle” company that makes everything from baby feeding systems to cosmetics to medical supplies. Chicco (pronounced "kee-ko") products are now sold in more than 120 countries in six continents. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
A member of Dorel Juvenile Group since 1988, Cosco manufactures high chairs, play yards, swings, car seats, strollers, and more, at low-to-midlevel prices. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
Eddie Bauer, along with Cosco, Safety 1st, Maxi Cosi, and Quinny, are part of the Dorel Juvenile Group. They manufacture and sell strollers, car seats, high chairs, and other gear and accessories. Eddie Bauer is the brand behind the Classic Wood high Chair. Its products are available in mass merchants and online. http://eddiebauer.djgusa.com
For more than 85 years, Evenflo has been making products such as car seats, strollers, high chairs, play yards, and other baby-care products for children from birth to preschool age. Available at most retailers and online.
Based in upstate New York since 1930, this company has been making learning toys, award-winning baby gear, and many licensed children’s products. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
One of the world’s best-known names in child-care products. Graco originated popular products such as the baby swing sold in the 1950s, and later the Pack n’ Play portable play yards. Graco is part of the Newell Rubbermaid group of companies, whose portfolio includes strollers, car seats, high chairs, activity centers, and more. Their products are sold in major juvenile retailers nationwide and online.
Ikea is a Sweden-based worldwide company with stores in more than 38 countries, including the U.S. Its items range from products to help with your kitchen remodel to household furniture and accessories. Ikea introduced Children's Ikea in the 1990's, with a focus on family and children's products. We've reviewed its cribs and high chairs. Products are sold in Ikea stores and some through the website.
Based in Italy for more than 40 years, the company manufactures high-end strollers, prams, high chairs, and table chairs. Go to the company’s website for purchasing information in your area.
This family-run, U.S.-based company manufactures strollers, high chairs, and play yards, and a full line of accessories for its products. It has centers in Dallas and Orange County, Calif. Available online and at Buy Buy Baby.
Founded by Tim Bergeron in the ’80s, the company designs and manufactures high-end high chairs, booster seats, comfort cushions, and infant insert seats. Visit the company’s website for purchasing information in your area.
This Wallingford, Conn., company sells woodenware (including high chairs), bamboo, ceramics, resin magnets, cast-iron cookware, and licensed products for M&M, Pillsbury, and Pfaltzgraff. Check its website for a store near you.
Founded in 1981 in Britain by the entrepreneur Louisa Scacchetti, the company manufactures baby carriers, strollers, toys, infant seats, and high chairs. Go to the company’s website for purchasing information.
A division of the Dorel Juvenile Group, USA, Maxi-Cosi made its debut in 1968 in the Netherlands and quickly became a popular car-seat brand. See company website for purchasing information.
Founded in 1990 by Sam Farber, the company started out manufacturing kitchen tools. Today, OXO offers more than 850 products covering many areas of the home, including baby and toddler products such as high chairs, feeding utensils, and bathing accessories. Available at Babies "R" Us and other juvenile product stores.
This Italian company has been making strollers, car seats, high chairs, and kid-sized riding chairs for more than 60 years. These higher-priced products are available at Babies "R" Us, specialty shops, and online.
Founded in 1973 and based in Santa Maria, Calif., the family-owned-and-operated company manufactures baby accessories for the nursery, feeding, travel, safety, play, and more. Available at specialty shops and on the company’s website.
A division of Dorel Juvenile Products, Safety 1st entered the juvenile market in 1984 with its now classic and internationally recognized "Baby on Board" sign. Fueled by the immediate success of the sign, the company claimed a market niche in child safety and became the first brand to develop a comprehensive line of "childproofing" products. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
Begun in 2003 and based in Raleigh, N.C., Scandinavian Child is the exclusive North American distributor of children’s products that “meet the highest style, function and safety standards of discriminating parents.” Includes brands such as Svan, Anka, Cariboo, lillebaby, Micralite, and Beaba. Available at buybuyBaby, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and online.
A Norwegian company founded in 1932, Stokke has been family owned and operated since its beginning. Historically, Stokke has produced a wide range of furniture for different needs and target groups through the years, focusing on ergonomics, uniqueness, and functionality. Visit the company website for purchasing information.
The founder of this company invented the baby bouncer seat for his new daughter in 1985. Since then, the company has been making baby care products such as bathtubs, nursery products, high chairs (under the Carter's name), health and grooming kits, and travel gear. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold, and online.
A division of RC2, a designer, producer, and marketer of toys, collectibles, and infant and toddler products, The First Years offers products for every stage of a child's development, including feeding, playing, traveling, sleeping, health, and safety. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
This 30-year-old, family-owned-and-operated company operates out of Australia, with an order fulfillment center in New York. It offers high chairs, strollers and doll strollers, and parts and accessories.
This is a Spain-based company that offers modern-styled juvenile products, including high chairs and strollers, and accessories. Its products are sold at juvenile product stores and online.
This New Zealand-based company makes strollers, travel systems, sleep-and-go carriers, on-the-go child seats, backpack carriers, and accessories. Products are available on its website.
Take a hands-on approach to buying a high chair. We suggest visiting the baby stores near you that have a broad selection. Then put the prospective high chairs through their paces with these simple tests.
Make sure you can easily operate the harness fastener but your child cannot. If it's difficult for you to use, you might be tempted not to use it every time your child is in the seat, which is a mistake. Although the current voluntary industry standard set by ASTM International doesn't call for a five-point harness (a waist and crotch restraint with shoulder straps), a three-point harness (waist and crotch restraint) is required for certification. On some chairs, you can convert a five-point harness to a three-point one, but we don't recommend it. Five-point harnesses are safer because they can prevent a child from standing up in a high chair and possibly falling or tipping the chair over.
It should be easy for you to engage and disengage, but not for your baby. Tray latches shouldn't be accessible or visible to your baby.
The voluntary industry standard requires high chairs with completely bounded openings to have a passive crotch restraint, which is a fixed post attached to the tray or the seat of the chair.
Not all chairs have this feature, and some parents might not feel that it's necessary, but some come with as many as eight possible heights, along with pneumatic-equipped chairs with infinite settings. Adjustable seat heights allow the high chair to be used at the level of your dining room table, so your baby can eat with the rest of the family, or at a height that works well for a seated caregiver.
Look for a chair with upholstery made to last. The seat cover should feel substantial, not flimsy. And make sure that upholstery seams won't scratch your baby's legs. Seat covers should be easy to wipe clean or be machine washable.
If you're buying a model with wheels, make sure they lock or become immobilized by the weight of your baby in the seat.
Examine the underside of the feeding tray and the edges of the seating area, including the arm rests and seatback, to make sure there's nothing sharp that could scratch your baby. Avoid high chairs with small holes or hinges that could trap little fingers.
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.
If you plan to fold up your high chair every day, practice in the store. Some chairs that claim to be foldable have stiff folding mechanisms, making them less user-friendly.