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When Can Baby Sit In a High Chair? When & How to Start Using a High Chair Properly

When Can Baby Sit In a High Chair? When & How to Start Using a High Chair Properly

When can babies sit in a high chair?

Babies can sit in a high chair as soon as they are able to sit independently. This usually occurs at around six months of age. However, some babies are able to sit independently as early as four months old, and some may be a little later than six months.

When the time comes, and your baby is ready to start using a high chair, it’s extremely important to make sure you set up their high chair correctly. That includes knowing how to tell if the high chair is too big for your baby and making appropriate changes to compensate for that.

What Happens When Your Baby Sits In a High Chair That’s Too Big or Not Set Up Properly

When a baby is placed in a high chair that’s too big or not adjusted correctly, it takes a lot of effort and energy for them to sit upright. This is because an incorrectly adjusted high chair doesn’t provide the postural support they need to sit upright for extended periods of time.

All of that extra effort required just to maintain that sitting position will cause your baby to tire quickly.

And when they’re tired/fatigued from all of this extra exertion, they’re going to become fussy and unfocused very quickly.

In addition to that, they are also less likely to touch and interact with food, which is extremely important when they’re learning to eat.

This is because without enough postural support, they have to use their arms to prop themselves up. Usually by:

  • Holding themselves upright by holding onto the tray of the high chair
  • Wedging their arms into or hooking their arms around the side of the seat

In addition to this, if the tray is too high, your baby won’t be able to see their food well.

Combine the fact that they need to use their arms to support themselves with them being unable to see their food properly, and it significantly reduces their ability to touch and interact with their food.

Because touch and interaction are such a big part of learning to eat solid foods, this is going to make the process of introducing solids and teaching independent eating much more difficult than it needs to be.

How To Tell If The High Chair Is Too Big For Your Child

You can see if a high chair is too big just by watching your baby sit in it.

Your baby should be able to sit upright in the centre of the chair, and not slump to either side of the seat like this example:

The tray should also be at the right height and not sitting halfway up their chest like this example:

baby sitting in chair with removable tray too high for them

And they should not be leaning back in the chair in a reclined position because the backrest is too far away, like in this example:

baby in a reclined position in chair with removable tray also too high

All of these are clear indicators that the chair isn’t the correct size.

But don’t worry, you don’t need to rush out and buy a new high chair! Keep reading to learn how to adjust your high chair when your baby is ready using items commonly found around the house.

How to Correctly Adjust a High Chair

Follow these steps to give your baby the postural support they need when sitting in a high chair.

Step 1: Check And Adjust The Overall Seat Height

Start by placing your baby in the chair. Now, check where their arms are positioned while sitting in an upright position.

Most high chairs are actually too big when children first start using them. That means it’s likely you’ll notice their arms will be up near their shoulders at this point.

If their arms are up near their shoulders or their elbows are at less than a ninety-degree angle when resting on the tray or table, it means the seat height of the high chair is too low and needs to be raised.

Check to see if your chair has an adjustable seat height

To raise the seat, start by checking to see if your chair allows you to adjust the seat height like the Stokke Tripp Trapp does, for example.

If the seat height is adjustable, simply raise the seat height by following the instructions for your particular high chair.

If the seat height is not adjustable

If your high chair doesn’t have an adjustable seat, you can use a towel to raise your baby’s sitting position.

First, remove the seat cover if it has one. Then take a towel and fold it into a small flat square that is the same size as the seat. Place the folded towel on the seat, and repeat this until you have as many folded towels as needed to reach the appropriate height.

The appropriate height is when your baby is sitting in the high chair, and their arms are resting on the tray or dining table with their elbows at a ninety-degree angle (right angle).

baby in high chair with arms at right angle

Step 2: Ensure Your Baby Has Appropriate Back Support

When your baby is sitting in a high chair, we want them to be sitting upright or just slightly off completely upright. Some high chairs are actually marketed as reclining high chairs. However, we don’t want them to be reclined at all because that makes it difficult for them to eat.

We also don’t want them to be pulling themselves forward by holding onto the tray.

If they are reclined at all, or they’re pulling themselves forward, you need to provide some extra back support. Here’s how:

Check to see if your high chair has an adjustable back

First, check to see whether or not your highchair has the ability to adjust the back or to change that level of recline. Often this is done using a lever at the back of the backrest.

Adding additional back support if the chair doesn’t have an adjustable back:

Start by making sure the cover is removed from the high chair.

Next, grab another towel. This time you’ll need to fold it into a square and place it behind their back, between their back and the backrest. This will bring the back support forward and ensure your baby makes good contact and is no longer in that reclined position.

Step 3: Ensure Your Baby Has Trunk Support

One of the main problems with high chairs that are too big or not correctly adjusted is that babies will often fall to the side. The lack of side support makes it really difficult for them to maintain an upright position.

Leaning to one side or the other also makes it more difficult to swallow food once it’s in their mouth as well. It’s one of the most common reasons babies struggle to use a high chair when they’re getting started.

Remove the cover from your high chair

To add extra side support to your high chair, start once again by removing the cover if it has one.

Roll up some small towels

Next, take some small towels, like tea towels, for example, and roll them up. Once you’ve rolled up each towel, place it down by your baby’s side, between them and the side of the chair.

Place the towels at the correct height

The key is to make sure that the towels aren’t too high. They should only come up to their ribs, not all the way up under their armpits.

If you place the towels too high, it will push your baby’s arms out to the sides, making it difficult for them to reach their food.

Another way to measure this is to make sure the towels are no higher than the level of your baby’s elbow.

Next, make sure you do the same for both sides so they have an equal level of support on each side and are nice and centred in the high chair.

If your baby tends to lean to one side more than the other, you might want to pull the towel up a bit on that side of the high chair or add another towel to prop them up a little more.

Replace The cover

Once you’ve completed the third step and added trunk support to the high chair, you can replace the cover. This will help hold the towels in place and also help keep them clean.

If you don’t have a cover for your high chair, one idea is to place the rolled-up towels in something that you can wash. For example, in a pillowcase.

Step 4: Ensure Your Baby Has Appropriate Foot Support When Sitting in The High Chair

The fourth step of adjusting the high chair is ensuring your baby actually has some foot support. Foot support is extremely important when using high chairs because it gives them a lot more postural stability and makes sitting upright much easier for your little one.

To understand this, imagine sitting on a bar stool with no foot support at all. After a short period of time, you’re going find it really, really difficult to maintain a comfortable posture, and you’re going to tire of this position really quickly.

The same happens when babies who are only just ready to sit don’t have foot support.

That means your little one is likely to start crying and becoming upset at meal times, and it’s feeding them will be much more difficult. For this reason, high chairs with foot support are definitely a must.

The Stokke Tripp Trapp (my personal favorite high chair) has adjustable foot support. If your high chair has a fully adjustable footrest, you can simply move it up or down to the correct position (more on that below).

However, often high chairs claim that they have semi-adjustable footrests or they have fixed, non-adjust footrests on the high chair itself. Quite often, when you put your baby in these high chairs, you’ll notice that their feet are not making any contact with the footrest at all.

In that case, we need to provide them with a temporary footrest.

One way to increase the footrest height is by using high-density foam. You can cut this to size and sit it on the footrest to raise the height for your baby.

If you don’t have access to high-density foam, you can even use things like an old diaper dispenser box or a shoe box. If you’re still putting your baby in and out of the high chair, and they aren’t climbing in and out themselves, then the temporary items you use don’t need to be strong enough to bear the child’s entire weight.

To get the right height when using these temporary supports

  • Sit your baby in the high chair, so their feet are resting on the footrest
  • Use your temporary booster to raise the footrest height to where their feet are resting flat on it, and their knees are bent at ninety-degrees, and their ankles are also bent at ninety-degrees

Once you’ve found the right height, I suggest taping the temporary foot support on with tape to ensure it doesn’t move.

As your baby grows, you’ll need to progressively lower the footrest, so make sure it’s not too permanent.

Step 5: Set The Harness or Safety Straps to The Correct Height

Harnesses or safety straps are always recommended with high chairs, particularly for babies. A 3-point or a 5-point harness is the ideal option.

But you need to make sure they’re set to the correct height.

To do this, make sure the harness is level with the top of the shoulders. If your high chair doesn’t allow you to set it right at the top, it’s ok to be very slightly above or below depending on where the slots are in the back of your chair.

Example of a harness set at the right height, just above shoulder level:

baby in chair with harness adjusted correctly

The important thing is that the harness isn’t too high because it will cause tension around the neck. It may rub and cause discomfort and/or sores to develop in some cases. It’s also not very safe to have it rubbing against the neck.

Here’s an example of a chair with the safety harness too far above the top of the shoulders:

baby sitting in a high chair with the safety harness straps 10cm above the top of their shoulders.

Most high chairs will allow you to get it very close, which is great.

Once you’ve followed each of these steps, you’ll have a properly set up high chair that’s going to provide all the support your child needs. This will make feeding, particularly as you introduce solid foods, MUCH easier and more pleasant for everyone.

Up Next

If you’re starting to sit your baby in a highchair, it means you’re probably going to be introducing solids very soon as well, if you haven’t already. Click here to check out this post, where you’ll learn the 6 most common mistakes parents make when introducing solids and how to avoid them.

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Newcastle. Emma is the founder of Brightest Beginning & writes about all things child development, sleep, feeding, toilet training and more.

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