The beginner's guide to buying a highchair

Your child is sitting up, the bouncing baby chair you've been feeding them in isn't working anymore - it's time to go shopping for some baby dining furniture. Up until now you've accumulated baby stuff, but nothing becomes quite such a permanent fixture in your kitchen/dining room as a highchair, so it's worth taking a bit of time to work out what's important to you and your child before you go shopping - you're going to be living with this thing for quite some time. 

Cube highchairs

The idea of these is that when your child has stopped using it as a highchair the cube separates out into two pieces - a child's chair and a little table. Nice idea, huh? Many of these are wooden and look more attractive than gaudy plastic, but bear in mind that there are often sharp, hard edges which can be a pain for young babies and wood can be harder to keep clean than plastic. 

Highchairs without trays

These too are often made of wood so may be more to your taste. They are also usually height adjustable so they can adapt to different table heights. They allow children to sit at table with adults and some of them convert into chairs for much older children - even adults - so the relatively large initial layout may be worth it in the long run. If you like the idea but don't care about adjustability (or do care about your budget) then the low cost versions (try Ikea or Argos) are worth looking at. On the downside none of these are very padded or comfortable - particularly for younger babies - and the lack of a tray may be inhibiting if you want your child to get on with colouring/baking/playdough - without trashing the table. Watch out for safety too - you may need to invest in an extra harness and be scrupulous about fitting it, especially as there's no tray in front of the child to trap them in! 

Freestanding highchair with tray

A traditional option which certainly has its advantages - you can sit directly in front of your child while feeding, plus it's a safe, easy to clean space where your child can experiment with feeding themselves. Some of these highchairs are highly adjustable, portable and easy to fold away and some work hard at accommodating all the child's comfort needs from a not-quite-sitting-up-baby to a sturdy toddler. However, while at four months a high chair that reclines is terrific, by six months you'll rarely need it to do so, so think hard about whether this is worth the extra money for the two months of luxury.

Bear in mind that some of the larger ones also take up a significant amount of floor space. You can always kid yourself that you'll put it away after 'tea' - but if you're anything like us that will never happen! And lookswise they often aren't as natty as the more modern varieties. But then again, as one mum put it: "Don't get too hung up about the awful gaudy plastic and yucky patterns. You don't realise it when you buy the highchair, but your kitchen will soon be overtaken by sit and ride vehicles, doll's houses, kitchens etc. - this is just the tip of the iceberg - and all that adjustability and portability is worth the ugliness."

Whichever style of highchair you go for here's a checklist of key things to bear in mind when making your decision. Where you rank these in importance is, of course, up to you. 

Is it comfortable?

Look for seat padding, sharp edges, a footrest and plenty of room for growth. 

Is it adjustable?

Does it have reclining seats? Does it have a removable tray that adjusts easily to allow easy access even when a toddler's legs go rigid? Different seat heights may also be important if you want to be able to sit comfortably to feed your child, or have it at the same height as your table. 

Is it easy to clean?

More crucial than you might think, unless of course someone else is going to be doing the cleaning. This isn't just a wood versus plastic question, but look out for hidden crevices and whether the whole tray comes out easily. (We counted 64 places for food to get trapped on one model - suffice to say it got taken back to the store.) Can you remove the seat cover and is it pvc/wipe clean/machine washable? 

Is it portable?

This may not seem that important at first, but if, like a lot of folks, you end up using the highchair as a safe play area while you cook/have a shower/go to the loo, you might want to consider how easy it is to lug it from one room to the next - with or without a child inside it. Some even have lockable wheels, most can be dragged. 

Does it fold flat for storage?

Again if space is not at a premium this may not be that important to you, but there may be the odd time you will want to get it out of the way, you may just want to be able to store it away for the next child or you might want to sling it in the boot and take it to Grandmas. 

Is it safe?

Look out for a sturdy wide base and proper harness (or the possibility of attaching one) that secures your child firmly across the hips and between the legs; this way your child can't stand up or slip out from under the tray. Also, the straps should be adjustable to accommodate a growing child. If the highchair has wheels, be sure they lock to prevent accidental roll-aways. 

What does it look like?

This may not matter to you at all, but if you think it might, bear in mind you will be living with this decision for at least two years. As one forlorn user commented: "We spent a fortune doing up our kitchen/ diner, which is now sullied by a hideous pink and yellow monstrosity of a high chair. We thought we'd fold it away after each use, but we don't. I wish we'd gone for a wooden one."

Last updated: almost 2 years ago