The beginner's guide to choosing a highchair

Your child is sitting up - the bouncing baby chair you've been feeding them in isn't working anymore - it's time to go shopping for some baby dining furniture. Buying your first highchair is a big milestone and can be quite daunting. Up until now, you've accumulated baby stuff, but nothing becomes quite such a permanent fixture in your kitchen/dining room as a highchair. So it's worth taking a few minutes to work out what's important to you and to your child before you go shopping - you're going to be living with this thing for quite some time. Also bear in mind that the highchair will have to withstand at least two or three years of daily use, so it had better be durable.

Types of highchair:

Portable - clip on
Some people seem to be able to get by with just a clip on seat that attaches to the family table. This option takes up a lot less space, is easily stored away, lets the child feel part of the adult table and costs a lot less than most regular highchairs. On the downside they aren't very comfy, particularly for younger babies, many aren't washable so can get a bit stinky and they don't fit on every table so it's worth a check first. Even if you don't use this option full-time it's worth thinking about investing in one if you travel around a lot. Cube highchairs
These seem like a good idea, because when the child has stopped using it as a highchair the cube separates out into two pieces - a child's chair and a little table. Many of these are wooden and look more attractive than gaudy plastic, but look out for comfort and safety factors for the child. There are often sharp, hard edges which are a pain for young babies and wood is often harder to keep clean than plastic.

Highchairs without trays
Another interesting take on high chair design. Popular in trendy restaurants, they are often made of wood and so again often more aesthetically pleasing. They are also usually height adjustable so they can adapt to different table heights. Most children like to be near the action so it can be good to be able to push them right up to the table. Also some of them convert into chairs for much older children - even adults - so the large initial layout may be worth it in the longrun. On the downside they're not very padded or comfortable particularly for younger babies, and the lack of a tray may be inhibiting if you want your child to get on with colouring/baking/playdough - without trashing the table. Watch out for safety too - you may need to invest in an extra harness and be scrupulous about fitting it, especially as there's no tray in front of the child to keep them contained.

Freestanding highchair with tray
The general advantages of this traditional option include being able to sit directly in front of your child while feeding and having a safe, easy to clean space where your child can experiment with feeding themselves. Many of these highchairs are adjustable, portable and easy to fold away and some work hard at accommodating all the child's comfort needs from a not-quite-sitting-up-baby to a sturdy toddler. The downsides are that many of them are not particularly pleasing on the eye and your lovely colour coordinated kitchen/dining room may lose some of its aesthetic appeal. Whilst at 4 months a high chair that reclines is terrific, by 6 months you'll rarely need it to do so, so think hard about whether this is worth the extra money, or whether you and your baby can cope with 2 months of slight discomfort. They also take up floor space. You can always kid yourself that you'll put it away after 'tea' - but if you're anything like us that will never happen.

Booster seats
The next stage on from a highchair - these start to be useful around age 2 (although some members used them from about 8 months). Usually light and portable, they get toddlers used to eating at the table and are great if the next child needs the highchair. Like the clip on seats, watch out for safety, especially if the toddler's a restless eater - the seat needs to be well attached to the chair and the child to the seat.

Whichever style of highchair you go for there are a few other key things to be aware of when making your decision. Most of these are covered in the extras or nutshell section of the mumsnet survey.

Is it comfortable?
Look for seat padding, sharp edges, a footrest, plenty of room for growth.

Is it adjustable?
Does it have reclining seats, movable and removable trays that adjust easily and allow easy access even when a toddler's legs go rigid? Different seat heights may also be important if you want to be able to sit comfortably to feed your child, or have it at the same height as your table.
Is it easy to clean?

A very crucial question given the mess they all make. This isn't just a wood versus plastic question, but look out for hidden crevices and again does the whole tray come out easily, can you remove the seat cover and is it pvc/wipe clean?
Is it portable?

This may not seem that important to you at first, but if like us you end up using the highchair as a safe play area while you cook/have a shower/go to the loo - you might want to consider how easy it is to lug it from one room to the next - with or without a child inside it. Some even have wheels, but most can be dragged.

Does it fold flat for storage?
Again if space is not at a premium this may not seem that important to you, but there may be the odd time you will want to get it out of the way, you may just want to be able to store it away for the next child or you might want to sling it in the boot and take it to Grandmas - so worth checking.
Is it safe?

Last but not least - look out for a sturdy wide base and proper harness (or the possibility of attaching one) that secures your child firmly across the hips and between the legs; this way your child can't stand up or slip out from under the tray. Also, the straps should be adjustable to accommodate a growing child. If the highchair has heels, be sure they lock to prevent accidental roll-aways.

What the mumsnet members said - a sprinkling of the more pertinent comments about choosing a highchair from some of our members.

"Don't get too hung up about the awful gaudy plastic and yukky patterns. You don't realise it when you buy the highchair, but your kitchen will soon be overtaken by sit and ride vehicles, doll's houses, kitchens etc. - this is just the tip of the iceberg - and all that adjustability and portability is worth the ugliness."
(conversely) "We spent a fortune doing up our kitchen/ diner, which is now sullied by a hideous pink and yellow monstrosity of a high chair. We thought we'd fold it away after each use, but we don't. I wish I'd gone for a wooden one."
There's definitely something to be said for buying a premium quality bouncing seat then moving your baby straight from that to a cheap, adaptable and portable booster seat".
"Because a high is used every day for about 2 years this is one of the most crucial pieces of equipment you'll buy for your child, so it's really worth investing in one that will make your life easier."
"Everyone seemed obsessed with foldability when I was buying mine and I don't think I've ever in 19 months of use folded mine away. If you've got the floor space don't worry about it."