This article provides you with all you need to know about highchairs before making that all important purchase – your baby’s high chair.

Once upon a time high chairs were all the same – bulky, wooden chairs that were hard to clean, difficult to transport and a pain to get baby in and out of. Nowadays highchairs are incredibly practical and there are several types of chair to choose from depending on your lifestyle. Every chair has its own set of pros and cons.

Folding Highchairs

Folding highchairs are free standing highchairs which fold up for easy storage and transportation. There are a range of styles on the market, with features such as removable trays, reclining seats, toddler seats and wheels. Weigh up what is important to you and consider the following points when making your choice.

How much space do you have?

Take a walk around a baby store and you will notice that some highchairs take up a whole lot more space than others. If you have a big kitchen / dining room this may not be an issue for you, but if space is limited you will need to take this into consideration (especially if you are planning on having more than one child). There is nothing worse than a hectic dinner time where everyone has to squeeze past the highchair or, worse, having to keep moving it out of the way.

Nowadays all free standing highchairs fold away, but even in ‘fold up’ mode some highchairs take up a lot more space than others. Before you make your purchase check how easy it is to fold away (and re-set) and just how much space it takes up in storage. If you do a lot of travelling you will need to consider how much room it takes up in your boot.

How long do you want to use a highchair?

Essentially highchairs are designed to keep your baby or child still and safe while they are eating, while at the same time being a part of the family meal time. For those reasons some people use a high chair right from baby’s first mouthful, through to when their child starts school. Other parents use a combination of methods and ‘chairs’ to achieve the same result.

If you want baby at the table right from their first solids, then you should look at a highchair that has a reclining seat. The seat tips back just enough to support baby’s head and neck, while at the same time being upright enough to eat. If choosing a reclining seat, make sure you look for one with a locking mechanism that fully supports the weight of your baby.

If having your baby at the table is not essential for your family while baby is young, then you could feed baby in a pram / pushchair or a bouncinette. As they become able to sit up properly, you can transfer them to an upright highchair.

If you are planning to keep your toddler in a high chair, make sure it is one with plenty of room. Some modern highchairs have enormous amounts of padding to keep baby comfortable, but these are no good once your child is about 2. Either choose a roomy chair that will see your child right through, or change to a booster seat when your child gets too big.

How easy is the high chair to clean?

Trust me – this is important! Make sure the highchair is made of wipeable, washable and scrubable fabric. If the chair is contoured and padded for comfort, check that the cushions can be removed for cleaning. No matter how perfect your child is, mealtimes are messy.

Wheels or no wheels?

Having a highchair with wheels is great if you plan on using the highchair outside of mealtimes. Some mums like to be able to sit baby in the chair with a few books or toys and have them watch whatever they are doing. Wheels are useful for this purpose, as we all know mums do not stay in one place for long!

Most ‘wheeled’ highchairs also have the option of using the chair as a toddler seat. Essentially the chair slides down the legs to sit at floor height and is used when teaching your older child to sit down when they are eating or drinking (instead of running madly around the house). They can relate to the highchair as being where they sit to eat, but it is much more grown up.

The down side of a wheeled high chair is that they usually take up more space, both upright and folded away. It is also important to check the wheels have a locking mechanism, so you can keep the chair safely stationary when necessary.

What about the tray on the high chair?

Highchairs come with trays in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are flat (which are great for babies and play time), some are contoured with spots for cups and plates (great for toddlers learning manners) and some are removable and changeable – perfect!

The most important things to consider are:

  • How easy is it to slide the tray when putting baby in and out?
  • Can the tray be removed for cleaning and is it dishwasher proof?
  • Does the tray have a ridge around the edge? This keeps the mess on the tray and not on the floor.
  • Can the tray be locked into place at different points? (Great as baby grows)
  • How much room does it take up at the dining table? (Some trays are huge!)

Convertible High Chairs

As the name suggests, convertible high chairs are chairs that convert from highchair to booster seat and beyond. They cater for baby from when they can sit up right up until a child is 6 or 7 by using various converting mechanisms. When choosing a convertible system, keep in mind all the same points as you would for buying a high chair or booster seat.

Booster Seats

Booster seats are plastic seats which strap onto your dining chairs. They work in a similar way to a booster seat in your car and allow your baby to sit at the table with the rest of the family.

The best thing about a booster seat is that there is no storage required, (you simply leave it strapped to the chair), and it is easy to take with you if you are travelling or going out for a meal. Being plastic they are easy to wipe down and keep clean.

The down side of a booster seat is that they are impractical to use until baby can well and truly sit on their own. With no sides for support, young babies can easily tipple sideways and take the whole chair with them. For this reason, booster seats are best used with children who are at least 18 months old.

The other down side is the mess that falls directly onto your dining room chair. If your chairs are wooden it can be easily cleaned up, but if they have a fabric cushion I suggest laying a cloth over the chair before you strap on your booster seat. It is easier to throw a cloth in the washing machine, than try to sponge down a chair.

Hook-on Seats

Hook-on seats are canvas seats which literally hook onto the side of your dining room table. They take up no room in storage, and are great for travelling or going out for a meal. The down side is they can only take a limited weight, so once baby becomes a toddler you will need to move on to another system.

If you are looking at purchasing a hook on seat, check that the hook system will work with your dining table. Most tables (and seats) are fairly standard, but it is better to check before you make the purchase.

What do I really need in a highchair?

What you need is entirely dependent on your lifestyle, but some things to look out for include:

  • The highchair passes Australian (AS), New Zealand (NZS), British (BS) or American (ASTM or CFR) safety standards. This will be marked on the side, back or underneath of the highchair.
  • If the highchair has adjustable settings, make sure it has suitable locking mechanisms to hold the setting in place. Some highchairs rely on the baby’s weight and while this still complies with safety standards, a locking mechanism makes it that much safer.
  • Check how easy it is to slide the tray in and out and lock it in place with one hand before feeding your baby. Trust me – 5 minutes fiddling with a highchair tray will feel like 5 hours when you have a crying baby and a warm plate of dinner.

How much will highchairs cost and where do I go?

Like anything, highchairs range in price depending on the brand and the features. You can buy a basic new highchair for around $100 and prices range as high as $300 for convertible systems. Booster and hook on seats range from $50 – $90.

You can buy highchairs from most major department stores, as well as specialist baby stores. There are also online stores which specialise in baby products, but make sure you factor in shipping costs and currency conversion if it’s an overseas site. It is also useful to check out the product in real life before ordering online.

No one particular site has a great selection of high chairs, so google search ‘baby high chairs’ in New Zealand and have a browse through them all. Terms and conditions are pretty standard throughout.

How can I save money on high chairs?

Buying a second hand highchair is a good way to save money, but be aware that older style high chairs may not have the safety features which are standard in modern chairs. If buying a high chair  for sale second hand, look out for the following:

  • Does the highchair carry a New Zealand, Australian, British or American safety standard mark?
  • Does it have a wide base to stop it from tipping?
  • Is there are a stopper on the end of any steel tubes? Fingers easily get caught in there!
  • Does it have a 5 point safety harness?
  • Are there any holes in the cushion or padding? Foam can easily be picked out and baby could choke.
  • Are all the edges and corners smoothed off?

High chairs can be bought through traditional second hand methods including general second hand stores, newspapers, auction websites, and buy/ sell/ trade and exchange type publications in NZ.

For information on other large baby purchases visit our Kiwi families articles on Car Seats & Capsules and Cots and bassinets.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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