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How to Choose Baby Equipment

How to Choose a High Chair

A number of consumer safety standards exist for high chairs. Nonetheless, a large number of injuries still occur; these are, however, more often the result of careless use than of poor design.

High Chair Safety

Babies may stand up in and fall out of high chairs; this can be prevented if you use the restraining straps. Adults often think the feeding tray is sufficient for restraining the baby, but it's not. The tray and the baby can fall together; when this happens, injuries can occur if the baby hits the sharp edges of the overturned tray.

Your baby needs a secure seat to eat his meals, not the countertop.

Your baby needs a secure seat to eat
 his meals, not the countertop.

Other high chair accidents include finger and hand injuries from the collapse of a chair that folds with the baby in it, cuts to fingers from the pincers on some tray latches, and foot injuries that result from tripping over the chair's extended legs.

Old high chairs can be unsafe for a number of reasons. If the chair was made before 1976, it doesn't conform to the current high chair safety standards. Many of these older chairs are top-heavy and tip over easily. Some lack adequate straps to hold a baby in securely. Some of the hinged trays can come crashing down on a small hand or leg when hit by an active baby.

High chairs that meet the safety standards (which are voluntary) have a label saying they comply with the F404-4e1 Safety Standards for High Chairs as certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Chairs meeting safety standards incorporate these safety features:
  • A locking device prevents a folding chair from accidentally collapsing when in the sitting position.

  • The joints of the frame have no scissoring action that could cause injury when the chair is collapsed.

  • It has sturdy restraining straps.

  • The chair is stable and will not topple if a child climbs up by means of the footrest.

  • It can support up to 100 pounds on the seat and 50 pounds on the footrest.

  • Assembly and use instructions are easy to understand and follow.

  • It provides the following warning: "WARNING: The child should be secured in the high chair at all times by the restraining system. The tray is not designed to hold the child in the chair. It is recommended that the chair be used only by children capable of sitting upright unassisted."
Safety standards aren't enough. You must examine the chair to see if it seems durable, easy to use, easy to clean, and comfortable.

Look at the frame. The legs should be widely separated. You should jiggle the tray and tip the chair over from the rear and front to check for stability and collapsibility. (You'll find that folding models, which are easier to store, are not as sturdy.) The front or the rear legs, or both, should have a stabilizing crossbar. The chrome finish should have an even, glossy look and feel.

Pinch the vinyl in the seat padding between your thumb and index finger. If you can pull the vinyl up off the padding, chances are it's too thin and will eventually tear with use. The foam padding should be firm. Make sure heat-sealed edges on the upholstery aren't scratchy. Avoid chairs that have decorative welting, which traps food particles and makes cleaning difficult (it won't take you long to realize that food gets caught everywhere it can).

Look for trays that have spill-resistant rims rather than trays without rims or trays with chromed railings and decorative plastic beads. A large wraparound tray that gives support to the child's elbows is best. Remove the tray and put it back on several times to see if it's easy to use. Test its fastening strength by first locking the tray and then trying to remove it from a number of positions while it's locked. If the tray latches by means of wide coils, they should be covered, so small fingers can't possibly get caught in them.

Avoid chairs with trays that require you to bend over to place the tray correctly on its railing. Check the underside of the tray for sharp edges, pinching latches, or vinyl parts that may tear where they are bolted to the tray. Look for small pieces that could break off the tray if it should fall. And choose a tray that is dishwasher-safe, immersible, and resistant to scratches. A vinyl tray creates a quieter surface for a beginning drummer than a metal one does.

The chair should have both waist and crotch belts -- preferably a pair in which the waist belt threads through the crotch belt. These prevent dangerous falls and entrapment of a baby between the seat base and the tray, which can be fatal. Try the belting system. It should fit over the baby's abdomen, not the legs; it should be easy to thread; and the belt latch should hold securely when you push it up or down or pull it outward, as a baby will.

You can also purchase a fabric "safe chair" in a well-stocked baby shop. You can use it in high chairs in restaurants, which often have no straps, or you can use it to convert an ordinary chair into a high chair.

The high chair's footrest should be adjustable so a six month old as well as a two year old can use it comfortably. Wire footrests are more durable than flexible vinyl ones, which tend to tear when weight is placed on them. Check the finishing on the wire edges and avoid those with sharp undersides. The footrest should be removable or should flip out of the way under the chair to accommodate an older child; however, it should not be so easy to remove that it can't be trusted to hold the weight and movement of a climbing tot.

A few other considerations: If caps protect sharp edges or points, make sure they're difficult to remove. Evaluate the chair without the tray, too, since you'll probably want to use it at the table before your toddler graduates to a regular chair.

Although wooden chairs are superior in stability and durability, they are plagued with problems. They
tend to be difficult to clean, and their latches frequently break. The seat measurements on wooden chairs tend to make them uncomfortable for one and two year olds, and they often have nonadjustable footrests that are far too low on the chair to service babies.

They seldom have adequate crotch belts and tend to rely on snap-on leather straps to connect the tray and seat. Wooden chairs with padded seats tend to have staples that fasten vinyl skirts to the seat. Unless you're willing to add extra padding for comfort and a harness or other restraining device, we don't recommend wooden high chairs.

You may want to use a feeding table instead of a high chair. They are closer to the ground, so there's less distance should a fall occur; and since the child is propped in the middle of the square table, the chance of his falling in the first place is reduced.

One disadvantage is that you can't pull it up to the table when you want the baby to join the rest of the family for dinner. In addition, feeding tables are much larger than high chairs, and they can be awkward to have in small kitchens, even those that store under the kitchen table when not in use. Bending over to feed a baby at a feeding table can be hard on the back, and getting a baby in and out of one is more difficult than with a high chair.

As you can see, most baby equipment is designed to keep your child safe during some basic, daily activities. A playpen is a tool that's used to stop your child from getting into trouble while he is playing with his toys. We'll learn more about playpens in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.