Doc Smo here. Thanks for joining me today for a lively discussion about children, food, and mealtime. Let’s face it, parents with young children are expected to buy a lot of equipment. Here is just a short list: strollers, cribs, pack and plays, stair gates, changing tables, and maybe, just maybe, a high chair? This is just the tip of the iceberg of equipment that is marketed to young families. I’ve done a previous pedcast about rolling baby walkers in which I came down hard on these devices. I think you can save the $40 you would spend on a walker and instead, put it his or her college fund. But what about high chairs? You know those sit on the floor, free standing chairs with trays, and straps, and a wide base? Generally, pediatricians get involved with high chairs for two reasons; when a toddler or older child falls out of their high chair or when a child has poor food intake because of a feeding problem. Like the child I saw recently who had such poor caloric intake that he was falling off the growth curve at his 15 month checkup. (a condition that pediatricians call failure to thrive). Poor oral intake of food is only one cause of failure to thrive but in this child, it was the big one. When I asked the mother of this child how meals were served in her house, she told me that little Johnny, sat at his little table and chair, separate from the family and ate. She tried to feed him down there but admitted that he wouldn’t sit still for more than a minute or two before he gots up and ran around the house. He also was not interested in eating at mealtime, instead, snacking all day, mostly on crackers and milk. Most of the time, he ate by himself, not with the family and he didn’t feed himself anything. I thought everything about his eating indicated trouble so I thought it might be useful to discuss, in today’s pedcast entitled “Are High Chairs Needed for Today’s Kids”, two questions: are high chairs needed today and are high chairs safe? Stay tuned and find out. Today’s pedcast is being sponsored by one of my favorite blogs, The ChildrensTable.com. There, you will hear a lot about the and savvy and sophisticated feeding of children. The site has been a featured link on my website for years. I love it. If you haven’t heard about this wonderful blog, please… take a moment and check it out. Always worldly, fascinating, well written, and informative. That’s thechildrenstable.com.
Reasons to use high chair
Let’s start this discussion with a list of the reasons you should consider feeding your little ones in a high chair:
The Convenience – Having a safe place to feed your older infants, toddlers and young preschoolers is fantastic. Pop them in and mealtime is on. No struggling to keep them still, no trying to hold them down in anyway!
Parent Freedom- Having junior safely ensconced in the high chair allows the feeding parent a little freedom to organize, multitask, and serve the food.
Supports Younger Feeders– Allows younger eaters to sit up since there is some support from the chair. This is useful for children from about 7months to 9 months of age.
Puts Parent and Child Eye to Eye-I think this is a big one. High chair feeding gets a child at the right height to feed and communicate with them. This is very important since we now know that parent’s transmit attitudes about food to infants by their body language. Parent and child being face to face allows this communication to happen. And while we are talking about it, having mom or dad eating the same food that baby is consuming also transmits the message that the food is good!
Safety-This is one of the most obvious reasons to pull out the high chair-stability and safety, as long as child not left alone and is properly restrained. More on that in a moment.
Reduces Chance of Choking-I don’t have stats or studies to prove this but my intuition tells me that having a young, newly minted eater sitting still and upright reduces their chances of aspiration of food during the feeding process.
Enforces Meal Time– In the era of ever more permissive parenting, the high chair sends a very strong message to your young children that it is mealtime and they are expected to sit still and eat at set times of the day. For me, I think that is a good thing. Structure, predictability, and routine is good for young children in my opinion.
Encourages Self Feeding– And here is another big reason to consider a high chair for your young eaters- it is easier for a child to manipulate his or her food when it is on a confined tray well within their easy reach. In the era of baby led weaning and self feeding, this factor is particularly important. Not familiar with Baby Led Weaning, check out this post I did on the subject.
Easier Cleanup- And finally, high chairs are made for easy cleanup after meal time. The trays usually detach and the surfaces are easily cleaned.
Overall, I’m a fan of high chairs.
So what are the dark sides of using a high chair?
So what are the dark sides of high chair use? Why would a parent not want to incorporate high chairs into their home? Here are the reasons I hear from parents in that regard:
Expense-High chairs, like all baby equipment, aren’t free. They aren’t delivered by the high chair fairy…they need to be purchased with real cash. I found the Amazon price range for sit on the floor type high chairs between $49-$141. Expensive enough to give a young parent pause.
Then there is the Travel hassle factor. If you get your children used to being fed in a high chair, and then you travel, you might have to take the chair along. And they are not small and all are not collapsable. Taking up a lot of room in your precious cargo area of your car during trips may not be something you want or can do.
Falls– And finally we get to the most important reason to hesitate with high chairs… accidental injury to your child. Amazingly, 24 children a day visit the ED in the U.S. for injuries they have sustained from falling out of or over in a high chair or booster seat. These children most often sustain head and neck injuries and some can be serious. Why are they falling you be wondering…parents often are not using the restraints that come with chair and they, at times, leave their children unattended in them. Two big no nos. This is very important, if you use any kind of child furniture, don’t forget to use the restraints that come with most of them and don’t ever leave your child unattended! “Many childhood accidents aren’t accidents at all, but rather predictable outcomes from lack of supervision or improper use of equipment.”
And the final reason parents often don’t like to purchase and use a high chair–they take up a lot of space in a kitchen. They are often big and clunky devices and seem to always be in the way.
Should Parents with young children invest in a high chair or is this just old fashion grandma stuff?
So now back to the big question, should parents of young children invest in a high chair or this equipment just old fashion stuff left over from grandma’s time? And my answer to this question… I think they are still very relevant. I’m a fan of the sit on the floor type high chairs that are very stable, have removable trays, and have good belts or harnesses to keep a toddler from standing up in the chair. I think this type of chair is more stable than the portable, strap to the chair or table type. The small seats may be useful for traveling or eating out at a restaurant but I think for everyday use at home, grandma’s high chair is probably best.
So let’s sum up what we have learned. Used properly, a good high chair will make meal time with younger a better experience in the following ways:
#1-Using a high chair is an easy and convenient way to get meal time started.
#2-The child is likely to pay more attention to eating and is more likely to learn to self feed. The chair enforces the message, it’s meal time junior.
#3-The high chair gives the parent who is feeding a young child a little more freedom to attend to other things simultaneously like preparing food.
#4-The high chair puts the parent and child face to face, thereby improving their interaction and communication.
#5-Feeding in a high chair gives young eaters are supported upright eating position that is preferable to being moving or semi-reclined
#6-Using a high chair makes cleanup easier
#7-High chairs use encourages a child to learn to feed themselves.
#8-I believe the chair reduces the risk of a serious choking event by ensuring that the child who is eating is upright and still while eating.
#9-And finally, assuming the child is properly restrained with a parent nearby, a high chair is a safer place for a young child to eat.
You can see that high chairs are still relevant and needed by today’s parents and if used properly, are safe.
As always, thanks for joining me today. If you enjoy exploring pediatric topics with pedcasts, consider rating my podcast on iTunes or writing a short review on my Facebook page. If you have questions or comments about today’s pedcast, send me a comment on my website at www.docsmo.com. This is Doc Smo, in studio 1E, exploring why you should care, if your child eats in a high chair. Until next time.
I want to thank Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their assistance in the preparation of this pedcast.