When you google the best high chairs for babies, you get all sorts of opinions. There’s talk of what is the easiest to collapse, what looks stylish in your house, how easy they are to clean. But there is almost never a discussion about which ones will actually help, and not hurt, your baby’s ability to actually eat! Keep reading to find out what you need to know about high chairs and how to help your baby thrive in them!
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When I was doing some background research for this article I came across several lists by well known baby review sites. How your baby sits in the chair wasn't even a topic of conversation, outside of one site mentioning that a chair paid attention to "small details, like ergonomics"! I don't know about you, but as someone who spends a great deal of my life helping parents figure out how to feed their babies and toddlers, how your baby sits should be one of, if not the main, consideration when buying a chair.
It may sound dramatic, but the chair that your baby uses to learn how to eat does actually matter. And as they grow, problems like fussiness at the table, refusing to eat, pickiness, and so many others can all often be traced back to high chairs and how they're sitting for meals.
The Best High Chair Position for Eating
Most high chairs on the market today don’t actually take into account what is the best position for your baby to successfully eat. Look at most chairs out there, and you might notice that they have a huge back that is often tilted slightly back, a deep seat, and a footrest that isn’t moveable, if they have one at all. So just what is wrong with that?
A seat that is tilted back means that your baby is not an active participant in the meal. It can affect your baby’s ability to actually get their hand to their mouth. I always like to equate how we place our babies in chairs with how we sit ourselves. If you sit at the table to eat, you lean forward to take a bite. Your shoulders are over, or slightly in front of, your hips. Because that is how you can most easily and accurately get food into your mouth!
If you’ve ever leaned back in your chair and then tried to take a bite of something, especially with a utensil, you’ll know it’s hard. If you haven't, try it out the next time you're sitting at the table. It's not easy! And that’s for adults with years of practice eating. So imagine a newly eating baby in a tilted back chair. They're often strapped in tightly so they can’t actually sit forward from the back. And they're trying their hardest to actually get food anywhere close to their mouth. That’s frustrating for them, and often leaves parents wondering what's wrong.
Now let’s talk deep seats. Again, picture yourself in a chair with a seat bottom that is entirely too big for you. If you sit your bottom all the way back (which in high chairs we almost always have kids do, and then strap them down so they can’t move…) then your knees aren’t able to bend to 90 degrees.
Now what do you do with your feet? Even if you had a floor you could reach to rest your feet on, you can’t actually get them there, because you can’t bend your knees. We'll all seek stability for our bodies by finding someplace for our feet. Whether you rest them on a part of the table, underneath you, pull them up, cross them somehow, you’re likely to have found yourself doing all of these at some time or another.
As adults we like to talk about how our babies are constantly putting feet on tables, pulling them up, and generally being fidgety. Can you blame them if they can’t actually rest their feet somewhere by bending their knees?
Feet and Ankle Positioning
Let’s pretend that we’ve solved the knees not able to bend issue. Now we get to the part where most high chairs have nowhere for kids to rest their feet. In another adult analogy, pretend you’re sitting at a bar with a chair that is bar height. Your feet can’t touch the ground. What do you do with them?
No one likes feet just dangling! We all will seek stability for our bodies through our feet. Whether we cross them, prop them on a chair rung or the back of the bar, we do whatever we can to make ourselves feel stable. This is exactly what kids are doing when they put their feet places so they aren’t just hanging.
Bottom line is, when you aren’t stable and comfortable, you are distracted from eating. Some babies and toddlers more so than others, of course. But I think we can all agree that we wan’t our babies to be comfortable while they’re learning to eat, and to provide them with the best experience we can. It goes a long ways towards good eating habits as they grow!
What Exactly Are We Looking for in a High Chair?
We want our babies and toddles to have their hips, knees, and feet all at 90 degrees to promote proper eating dynamics and allow your baby to get the most out of mealtimes. Seems like it should be simple enough, no?
Unfortunately, very few high chair makers have gotten the memo. And even more unfortunately, those that have tend to be on the pricier side.
I walk you through what to look for in some of the more popular high chairs out there in this video!
My Favorite High Chair
My favorite high chair out there, and what most other feeding professionals swear by, is the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It meets all the requirements, and allows your child to fit in their chair properly, starting when they start solids around 6 months all the way through adulthood! That means that while you do pay more for it upfront, you will never need to buy another booster seat or other chair for them as they get older.
Look at how all these babies fit in their Stokke Tripp Trapps. They are all different sizes, and all fit appropriately!
High Chairs Need to Fit Every Age!
Most high chairs aren’t really designed to fit every single age they're used for. They say they are made for kids 4-6 months through 3 years usually. But those kids are vastly different sizes! There’s no way, unless the chair is extremely adjustable like the Stokke Tripp Trapp is, that all kids of that age range will fit in those chairs appropriately. Something to keep in mind as you’re buying a high chair.
Most chairs are sized to fit toddlers more appropriately. So what are you supposed to do with a newly eating baby, who needs to feel stable just as much as a toddler does? High chairs really do need to adjust in all of the areas I talk about in order for your baby to be comfortable in them!
Most of this information isn’t actually talked about when parents are asking what the best high chairs for babies are, or before they go out and buy them. And if definitely isn’t talked about before parents put high chairs on their baby registries in most cases! So if you haven’t bought one already, do yourself a huge favor and just go straight for a high chair that meets the 90, 90, 90 requirements. That is what will truly live up to the best baby high chair name! I’ve got a list of high chairs I recommend at the bottom of this page.
What to Do If You’ve Already Bought One and Can’t Afford to Buy Another
All hope isn’t lost! You can modify many chairs to at least meet more of these requirements. You might not be able to fix every aspect of them, and unfortunately some chairs are just hopeless from a feeding standpoint. But you can give it your best shot and see if it improves things.
In general, think:
- If baby is leaning back beyond 90°, try propping towels behind them to provide support for upright sitting. This also works to try to scoot baby forward so their knees can be at the edge of the chair and be at 90°. Ensure that shoulder straps aren't too tight to allow them to lean slightly forward when taking a bite.
- If baby is too short for the tray or table (meaning it hits them above mid torso) try putting towels underneath them to prop them up some.
- Feet don't reach the footrest? Try small boxes like ziplocs, kleenex, or amazon boxes to tape to the top of the footrests using duct tape. Or even try cut pool noodles. You want them to be able to put some weight on their feet, so a firm surface will be best, but anything is better than nothing.
- No footrest at all? Try propping a chair under or behind them. Stack boxes in front or use a smaller stool in front of them.
A Note About Trays
You'll notice that I mention a few places the desire to have babies right at the table with us. Bringing your baby to the table is an important part of teaching them to eat, and I love to see it happening right from the first bite.
Having them at the table with you can be huge for modeling how to eat, what to do with plates and utensils, and how to act at the table. It also helps your baby to feel like they are part of the family, and eat just like any other member of the family without the need to be away from the table or with their own tray. You'd be amazed at what a simple switch like getting your child at the table with you can do!
Some chairs have trays that are not removable, meaning baby can't be right at the table with you. Others it is unsafe, especially for 6 month olds, to be in the chair without the tray. While I don't consider it quite as important as how your child is positioned at the table, I do find it to be a pretty important part of feeding, and something worth considering when buying a high chair.
Examples of Popular High Chairs
I put a call out to my Instagram followers to send me some pictures of their babies in high chairs to help illustrate my points. For each of the following pictures, I’ll talk about some specific ideas that might help to modify the chair. Keep in mind these are chairs from all over the world, but primarily here in the US. The principles will apply to all chairs regardless of brand though.
Hopefully seeing all the examples of how we don't want babies to sit to eat will help you figure out pretty quickly exactly what to look for when buying a new high chair, or trying to augment an old one. But keep in mind, no matter what high chair you buy, you'll need to keep adjusting it as your child grows.
Common High Chairs and How to Improve Them
Let's start with the good ones! (I'm including prices, which are approximate at the time of writing, to help give you an idea of where each type of high chair falls on the price spectrum)
Examples of Some of the More Popular Chairs That Will Need Some Modifying
Booster Chairs (Often the Best Bet for Countertop Height!)
High Chairs That Have Been Modified for Better Positioning
Stokke Tripp Trapp vs Others
Some Other Popular High Chairs
I am often asked what I think about certain high chairs. And while I can't go into every single high chair on the market, it's worth mentioning some of the pertinent aspects of these more popular chairs that I haven't already included.
- 4 Moms high chair ($300)- Doesn't put baby in appropriate upright position and would likely need to be modified with towels behind the back. Footrest not adjustable.
- Oxo tot sprout ($250)- Good upright positioning, however with a deep seat and a footrest that doesn't go high enough for most 6 months old to reach, you'll need to modify it some.
- Nomi ($379)- A great chair designed by the same person who designed the Stokke Tripp Trapp. Is fully adjustable and able to be brought up to the table. A higher price point than the Tripp Trapp, but another great option.
- Keekaroo Height Right ($207)- Comparable to the Abiie Beyond, it places baby in a good eating position. You might need to wait to remove the tray and pull up to the table if baby is not stable enough without it.
- Stokke Steps ($399)- Another option from Stokke with some great adjustable features. It will place your baby in a great feeding position, and is a great, if expensive, option.
- Svan Signet ($170)- This is a chair that can often be found second hand at a good price. It has a fully adjustable footrest that can be safely pulled up to the table. However, it has a very large and deep seat, so often needs to be modified with a towel behind baby's back. From personal experience with this one, it also has several screws right in the food drop zone. Once these screws get covered in food (which is inevitable) it is very hard to adjust.
So Which High Chairs Are the Best?
As I've stated many times, I love the Stokke Tripp Trapp for so many reasons, and it's what I use in my own home. It allows babies to be at the table with you, and meets all the requirements for feeding positioning. The Nomi falls into this same category.
The Abiie and Keekaroo chairs, while usually not able to safely have the baby at the table with you right from the beginning, would be my next best option here in the US. They provide proper positioning that will help baby to feel stable right from the start. But at only around $50 less than a Tripp Trapp, I'd recommend springing for the extra features of the Tripp Trapp.
And if you're really on a budget? Grab a booster chair that you can augment with another chair or stool for a foot rest, or buy the Ikea Antilop along with the inflatable cushion and 3rd party adjustable footrest. Neither of these will get you the same flexibility and positioning as the Tripp Trapp or Nomi, but they will be better than a lot of other options out there on the market.
At the End of the Day
All babies are different. Some babies will be much more affected by improper positioning than others. But I think we can all agree that as our babies and toddlers are learning how to eat and have a good relationship with food, we'd like to minimize all outside distractions. Being uncomfortable in their chair is a huge distraction! And even if there aren't immediate signs, they may still show up in the future.
So if you haven't bought your high chair yet, hopefully I've convinced you of the need to place proper positioning at the top of your list of requirements. And if you already have a chair that doesn't place your baby in the proper position, I'd highly recommend attempting to modify it for better positioning if need be. Or make the investment in another chair that will do the job without the need for modifications.