Sitting in a highchair: What you need to know

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Selecting a highchair for your baby is a rite of passage. As parents we usually consider affordability, size, style and practicality when making our choice. But do we consider how it may help our babies eating?

 Eating requires a number of finely tuned movements known as oral motor skills and they develop both with time - as our babies get older and with experience and practice with eating. The oral motor movements for eating are finely graded movements. They are aided by core or central stability from the rest of the body. This means the more supported your baby's body is, the better able they are to use the muscles of the mouth for eating.

 Imagine eating a sandwich while standing on tiptoes on one foot. You will be poorly balanced and more likely to either drop the sandwich or struggle to eat it. It is the same idea for babies who are using their hands and mouths to eat.

 This blog explores the key elements to sitting in a highchair which will best support your baby and their eating.

Body supported

The highchair should have a full back, as opposed to some booster seats which only come half way up. If your baby is able to sit on their own the back of the chair should be in an upright position. For a baby who is weaning before they are sitting up unsupported e.g. a preterm infant then a highchair which leans back slightly would be preferable.

It is important that your baby doesn’t slump down in the highchair during the meal as this will make it harder for them to use their hands and mouth for eating. Newly sitting infants in particular can be prone to slipping down. You can purchase a padded highchair insert to cushion the space between them and the chair or you can pad them out yourself using rolled up towels.

Know your angles

For the best sitting position your baby should be sitting with a 90-degree angle at the hips. If the angle is too big then your baby will be leaning backwards away from the chair and then will quickly end up sliding down in the chair. If the angle is too small your baby will fall forwards towards the table or tray. If the highchair you have doesn’t support this seating position then use rolled up towels around their body to help facilitate it. The other important angle is 90 degrees at the knees which brings me nicely to my next point.

Footrest

Feet need a base of support. Let me ask you… Do you prefer eating dinner on a barstool at a bar in a restaurant or would you opt for a chair at a table if given the choice? Likely the chair. This will be in part because it allows you to have both feet on the ground. This applies to your baby too. If your baby is eating with their feet dangling in the air then it will be that little bit harder for them to stay upright, they will fatigue more and those motor skills needed for eating could be impacted.

Your baby’s feed should be placed on a foot rest. This will help support the rest of their body

Your baby’s feed should be placed on a foot rest. This will help support the rest of their body

Many highchairs come with foot rests for this reason, but often newly weaning infants’ little legs can’t quite reach them. My tip is to put a shoe box face down on the top to raise the height up, as your baby’s legs get longer you can cut the shoe box sides shorter and shorter until your baby’s feet reach the footplate on their own. An alternative option is to buy a highchair which has an adjustable footrest.

Body close to the tray or table

I would always recommend that your baby’s highchair has a tray or that it can be pushed right up to the table. The tray or table should be at such a height that their elbows are able to rest without the baby slumping forward or pushing backwards. In order to achieve this the tray or table top should also be close in to the baby’s rib cage. If your baby can rest its elbows on the tray or table, not only will they be better supported in general, but they will find it easier to use their hands for finger feeding or picking up a loaded spoon.

The elbows rest on the tray making it easier to pick up pieces of food

The elbows rest on the tray making it easier to pick up pieces of food

The table is too high, this will make it much harder for the baby grab food and bring it to its mouth

The table is too high, this will make it much harder for the baby grab food and bring it to its mouth

There are many highchairs on the market and lots of things to consider when choosing the right one for you and your baby. You may need to compromise on one aspect in order to achieve something else. If you would like any support around choosing a highchair or any other aspects of weaning then get in touch.