Sitting pretty ... Portable high chairs and booster seats can get your child closer to the action at the table, but they need to be secure to ensure their safety.

Sitting pretty ... Portable high chairs and booster seats can get your child closer to the action at the table, but they need to be secure to ensure their safety.

Are baby hammocks safe to use?
CHOICE hasn’t tested baby hammocks and there is no Australian standard for these.  

There were two deaths reported in the USA associated with baby hammocks in 2009, as well as several hospitalisations of babies following falls from a baby hammock, so there are a definitely a few things you might want to consider before using one with your baby.

Firstly, is the material likely to cover the baby’s face at all – especially if they would be able to roll over or turn their face towards it? That would clearly be a suffocation risk. The fabric should be breathable (mesh or fine cotton, for instance) to reduce this risk.

There are many pictures online of babies in these hammocks with lots of soft bedding around them. This isn’t recommended for safe sleeping, again due to suffocation and SIDS risks.

Secondly, is the hammock securely fastened to the frame (or ceiling)? You would have to be really certain of that. Look for a weight rating so you have some assurance the entire apparatus has been tested under heavy load; you don’t want it coming down when a curious sibling pulls on it, or tries it out as a swing!

And is there any chance of the baby falling out? In a hammock, the baby is suspended above a floor and not contained in the same way as in a regular cot, so the result of them exiting the hammock could be severe.

Overall, CHOICE would advise against leaving a baby unsupervised in a baby hammock.  It may be great for soothing babies to sleep, or settling babies with colic or reflux, but it’s best to keep an eye on them while they’re in it. Treat the hammock as a soothing device, rather than a sleeping area.

How can I tell if my child is ready for a high chair, and what are the safety items to look for when buying one?
Kids are ready for a high chair when their neck muscles have developed enough to support their head and they’re able to sit up by themselves. This is generally from about six months of age.

Some high chairs, however, can recline fully so they’re useable for newborns; these can be changed to an upright position once the child is able to sit up.

CHOICE high chair tests check for safety, stability, strength of construction and ease of use – and after requests by members, ease of cleaning will also be considered in future tests. The latest results are available online for members, or you can buy the report as a one-off purchase, currently priced at $10.

How safe are portable high chairs and booster seats?
Portable high chairs can be safe alternatives to a standard high chair, though they are more dependent on being installed correctly. Clip-on models must be attached to a solid, stable table or benchtop that won’t topple when the child is in the chair.

Booster seats – which attach to adult dining chairs – must anchor securely to the chair and not move about.

After setting up either a portable high chair or a booster seat, give it a firm tug up, down, sideways, and back and forth to make sure it’s secure.

Another option is a harness which attaches to a dining chair. These don’t elevate the child to table height, but are very compact and portable.

The 2011 CHOICE test of portable high chairs, including booster seats, clip-on seats and harnesses found that many of the booster seats had inadequate side support, so a child would be at more risk of slipping or falling sideways. In addition, many of them didn’t anchor securely enough to the chair.

Most of the clip-on or hook-on models were good enough to be recommended; so was one of the harnesses. The 2011 report is available online for CHOICE members, or you can buy the report as a one-off purchase, currently priced at $5. 

When is it time to move from a high chair to a booster seat?
Booster seats are usually intended as alternatives to a standard high chair, rather than something to “move up” to, so if the child is able to sit in a high chair, they can usually sit in a booster seat.

If you intend the child to be unharnessed (so the booster seat is just used to elevate them to table height), they need to be able to sit safely and well-balanced without a harness. For most kids this would be from about the age of three and up (depending on how inclined they are to wriggle around!).

For more information on baby products, including full reports on a range of brands and items, visit the CHOICE website.