Each year, thousands of children are injured in high chair-related accidents.
To prevent this, it’s important to take certain safety precautions when using a high chair or booster seat.
We’ve gathered everything you need to know to keep your child safe in their high chair.
High Chair Injury Statistics
High chair injuries are on the rise. A 2013 study indicated that every hour, one child is treated in a U.S. Emergency Room for such injuries (1). That’s 24 children every day, and a whopping 9,400 children each year.
Common High Chair Injuries
The biggest risk of injury when using a high chair is a fall. Over 90 percent of all high chair-related injuries are due to falling (2).
If a child were to fall from a high chair, they could suffer a number of injuries, including:
- Head injury.
- Neck injury.
- Broken Bones.
- Mouth injuries.
- Broken teeth.
However, falls aren’t the only injuries associated with high chairs.
Children can also be injured by:
- Choking on an item left within reach.
- Burning themselves on hot food or beverages close to them.
- Cutting themselves with sharp objects left within reach.
- Toppling the high chair by pushing on the table with their feet.
- Pinched fingers in latches or high chair joints.
What Are My High Chair Choices?
There are several different models available. While it’s tempting to skip straight to a booster seat to save space or money, it’s wise to choose an age-appropriate high chair for your child. This ensures it will meet their unique physical and developmental needs. Here are your choices.
- Traditional High Chair – These chairs are standalone units with long legs, bringing your baby up to the level of your dining table. They typically have a plastic seat, harness, and a removable tray. Usually, they recline to prop up babies who are not quite ready to sit completely upright.
- Space-Saving High Chair – These high chairs sit atop a regular chair and have buckles attaching around the chair to secure it. They differ from a booster seat because they have an adjustable reclining back (for extra support) and a removable tray. They can often later be converted to a booster seat when your baby is older.
- Hook-On High Chair – These petite and portable high chairs hook directly onto your dining table. They neither have a tray nor recline, but most have a buckle or harness system. They should only be used once your baby has a stable head, neck, and core control and can sit upright.
- Booster Seat High Chair – Backless, trayless seats designed to enable toddlers and older babies sit on regular chairs at the table. A booster seat raises their height, so the table is at the appropriate height for them. These do not have a five-point harness system and so, are not appropriate for younger babies.
- Heirloom or Antique High Chair – Your parents or grandparents used these high chairs. They are sentimental, and probably look unique, too. However, safety standards change rapidly, and older high chairs don’t have the same safety features required on current chairs, so it may be a good idea to buy a new one.
Important Safety Features
When purchasing a high chair, look out for these safety features.
- Five-Point Harness – Just as in car seats, you’ll also find five-point harness options in high chairs. The shoulder straps keep your baby’s torso from falling forward and also prevent your little one from wiggling out (as they may be able to in a waist-belt-only restraint system).
- Wide Base – High chairs can become top-heavy due to your child’s weight as they sit in it. To combat this, choose one with a wider base and a larger footprint. It may take up a little more space in your house, but it is much safer.
- Locking Wheels – If your high chair comes with wheels, make sure it has a secure lock to keep it from moving around during meal times.
- Metal Joint Construction – Some plastics may crack after use. Many high chairs have been recalled primarily due to plastic joints cracking (3). Find one with metal joint construction as it tends to be stronger than plastic.
Staying Safe In A High Chair
1. Look For A Wide Base
Choose a chair with a low center of gravity so it does not tip easily. The wider the legs at the bottom, the more stable the chair will be.
2. Secure Your High Chair
Before you place your baby in, make sure your high chair will not move. If it has wheels, lock them before using it. For a space-saving high chair or booster seat, check to ensure it is strapped securely to the chair.
3. Strap In
To be as safe as possible, choose a high chair with a five-point harness (not a three-point harness or a simple lap belt). For each use, always strap them in and tighten the straps so they cannot wiggle free.
4. No Standing in the Chair
Many falls happen when the baby stands in the high chair. Do not let your kids be in positions other than sitting in the high chair.
5. No High Chair Playtime
Do not let the child sit or be near the chair besides mealtime. Kids can topple the chair and injure themselves during the playtime if they push or climb the high chair. Store the high chair out of the kid’s reach when not in use.
6. Position The Chair Out Of Reach
While you want your baby to participate in mealtimes, be mindful of the potential hazards if they are positioned too close. Make sure the high chair is far enough away so their legs cannot reach to kick the table and topple the high chair.
7. Be Extra Careful with the Hook-On High Chair
Make sure the hooks can latch and lock securely onto the table when you buy a hook-on chair. If you use a hook-on chair for travel, always make sure the table is heavy and stable enough to support your baby without tipping in the hook-on chair.
8. Look Out For Potential Hazards
Check for anything possibly within your child’s reach on the table and either remove it or move your high chair further away. Examples include choking hazards, sharp objects, hot foods, or even a tablecloth that may be pulled off.
9. Always Supervise Your Baby
While they seem secure, never leave your baby unattended in a high chair. Choking is a silent accident and is quite common as children are still learning to eat. Always put the baby into the chair or pull the baby out yourself. Never let the kids try to climb in or out of the high chair by themselves.
10. Clean the High Chair Regularly
Food spills and saliva from the baby makes the perfect environment for bacterial and fungal growths. Make sure you clean and disinfect the high chair regularly to prevent your little one from getting sick.
11. Check Periodically For Recalls
Baby items are recalled regularly for product failure or repeated accidents. Periodically, check to make sure your high chair has not been recalled by checking the government website at Recalls.gov.
The Bottom Line
Every year, nearly 10,000 children are injured in accidents involving high chairs, most of them due to falls. Keep your child safe by choosing an age-appropriate one for your child with plenty of safety features. Don’t forget to supervise them at all times during use.
There are new safety standards for high chairs from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission coming on June 19, 2019. They include (4):
- More rearward stability.
- A visible warning label.
- A permanent passive crotch restraint.
Editor's Note:Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS