The importance of Picking the Right High Chair
When I walk into a family’s home for a feeding assessment, the first thing I examine is the child’s positioning in their high chair. Most often, this is also the first change I suggest. The chair is so critical to feeding success because if your baby is not in the correct position, they will want to get out of the high chair quickly, start to have high chair aversion, and won’t eat as much food.
When picking the right chair for your baby, there are a few rules of thumb. The first thing to examine is the hips. Fine motor skills (i.e. eating) are dependent on gross motor stability (i.e. sitting). Look above the hips to your baby’s trunk. Your baby should be in neutral flexion, which means that they are not hyperextending their head, neck, back, feet, or legs while in the chair. If your baby is slouching and leaning back, their whole body is out of alignment. Make sure your baby is in an anterior tilt. This placement puts the torso upright with shoulders over the hips. Then look below the hips to examine the foot support. Your baby’s feet should rest comfortable on a foot rest with knees bent. Last, look at their arms. The tray should be positioned so that it rests at the bottom of your baby’s breastbone so that your child can rest their elbows on the tray (not too high that they can’t reach the food on the tray).
Proper positioning is important for your child’s endurance in the chair. It is also important for proper muscle functioning. When your baby is not properly positioned, they are using compensatory muscles to hold themselves upright in the chair. Most often, the muscles they are using are the core muscles. When the core muscles are flexed, your baby will get tired easily and will be unable to eat as much food as they normally would. I always advise parents to use a splash mat under the high chair so that you can upcycle the food they throw onto the floor or drop. To get the most bang for your buck, I suggest buying a chair that grows with your child such as the Stokkie Tripp Trapp shown above. As your child gets older, it will become very important for them to sit at the table with you for family meals. Buying a chair that has a removable tray is important because you can push your child right up to the family dinner table without buying a booster or additional chair when they grow.
Trouble Shooting Tips:
My baby is leaning or slouching while in the chair. If your baby is leaning to one side, you can purchase a high chair seat cushion for added support. You can also roll up burping cloths or towels and insert them around your baby to achieve better positioning. If your baby is slouching, you can wedge a pillow behind them to put them in an anterior tilt. This placement puts the torso upright with shoulders over the hips. This allows your baby to be in proper positioning for feeding. You can also add a rolled-up blanket or towel under your baby’s knees to keep their back against the chair.
My baby is crossing their feet or pushing their feet into my legs. This is an indication that your baby doesn’t have adequate foot support. If your high chair has a foot rest, try raising it. If the foot rest is not movable, you can wrap burping cloths or towels it to build it higher. You can also cut a pool noodle to the size of the foot rest and cut a slit down the middle so it fits around the foot rest. Finally, you can tape a box to the top of the foot rest to reach the appropriate height. If there is no foot rest, build your own by duct taping large heavy books together to build a tall foot rest
My baby’s knees are resting on the seat and not bending at a 90 degree angle. You can insert a pillow behind your baby’s back to move them further up in the chair and closer to the tray. This will allow them to be in proper position to bend their legs. For really small babies, you can pull the foot rest up so that their legs are straight out, but supported by the foot rest in the high position.
My baby’s arms cannot reach the tray. Place a towel or burping cloth under your child’s bottom to raise them higher so they can rest their elbows on the tray. If they are too far back, use the same strategy above and put a pillow behind their back to move them closer to the tray. You can also purchase a wedge cushion to prop them up and forward.