As new parents, we get really good at multi-tasking and doing two-handed tasks with one hand while holding a baby. Or no hands at all! I know I'm not the only one who picks up dirty laundry and toys with my toes!
But sometimes you just really need to put that kiddo DOWN for a minute to wash your face or open the bag of rice to prep dinner (preferably without the miserable sound of rice scattering all over your kitchen floor). When your baby is too old for a bouncy seat or an infant swing but too young to sit unsupported, you may find yourself in the market for a baby seat.
While baby seats are definitely not a necessary piece of equipment and don't truly help your baby learn to sit up, they can be helpful and convenient for parents - and fun for babies. Here are three factors to consider when purchasing a baby seat, recommended seats and alternatives to baby seats plus some tips for using them in moderation.
The Sitting Surface
Some chairs for babies put little bodies in unnatural and unhelpful sitting positions. The traditional foam Bumbo is the most popular of this sort. It has a scooped out “bucket seat” that allows people to put babies in them before baby is developmentally ready for sitting in a seat.
But poor positioning of the pelvis affects the posture of baby’s whole body and leads most often to a rounded back and some squishing of the back of the neck (nerdy therapist term: neck hyperextension).
I enlisted the help of my toddler to show what this tipped back position of the pelvis (nerdy therapist term: posterior pelvic tilt) does for posture as a whole. The line at the bottom highlights the tipped back position of his pelvis. You can see that to stay upright, he has to round his back and then to compensate for that rounding, he has to compress the back of his neck to keep his head level.
This positioning makes it harder for baby to coordinate and use muscles of the arms, hands and mouth. This is one of the major reasons I strongly discourage parents from using a Bumbo or similar seat as a feeding seat for baby.
BUYING TIP: Choose a baby seat that has a flat sitting surface where baby’s bottom will be, like the Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat. Wait until baby is showing signs of readiness before using a baby seat.
Leg Position & Support
Since babies learn to sit by using their legs and feet as sitting surfaces (not just their bums), the best baby seats are those that allow baby’s entire legs and feet to be in contact with the sitting surface. This gives them a bigger sitting surface (nerdy therapist term: base of support) and more of their body to use to balance.
Also look for a seat that allows baby's legs to move a bit instead of being completely immobilized (as with the traditional foam Bumbo).
BUYING TIP: Choose a seat that supports under baby's legs and allows them to move, like the Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat.
Since babies just learning to sit are hardwired to wobble, the best baby seats are those that allow for some of that wobbling to occur. In order for a baby seat to safely allow wobbling, it needs to allow baby to use her arms to help correct wobbles (and avoid slumping and slouching).
The positioning and arm use won’t be the same as practicing prop sitting or independent sitting on the floor with your help or supervision (what I like to call "real sitting practice"), but having a support surface for baby’s arms most closely resembles the developmental work she’s ready to do.
BUYING TIP: Look for a seat with steady and substantial chest-level tray or support, like the Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat.
My Favorite Baby Seats and Alternatives
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My husband rolled his eyes every time another new Amazon box arrived. "Another baby chair?" he'd ask. But I was determined to try as many seats as possible to find my favorite one. So here are my two favorites based on the considerations we've talked about (none of them are 'perfect' but stood out among the rest):
Fisher Price Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat - You've probably guess by now that this is my favorite choice for a floor seat for babies.
Summer Infant 3 Stage Super Seat - look for the models that come with a play tray for arm support.
Edited to add an even BETTER seat option:
Thanks to a reader's comment, after writing this post I tried out a product I'd never seen before and I LOVE it. The Galt Playnest is an inflatable ring with a zip-on fabric cover that has some cute little things for baby to play and look at. Think of it like a fabric covered inflatable pool ring.
Because baby is sitting on the floor, the Playnest offers a flat sitting surface and freedom to move the legs. It gives baby plenty of opportunity to wobble and allow baby to use hands on the floor or on the inflated nest. I planned on returning this product after I took a look at it but I loved it so much that I'm keeping it!
Alternatives to a baby seat:
If you're a regular reader here at CanDo Kiddo, you know I'm a baby gear minimalist and love finding things around my house to use with my baby instead of making new purchases. Whether you're striving to do more with less, trying to stay within your budget or just don't have room for all this stuff, there are several household items that work great for supporting a wobbly sitter. I shared several of the alternatives I used in this guest post for Mama OT.
I also have thoroughly enjoyed our Tipsy Baby Sitting Mat with my second born for letting her practice sitting unsupported but sparing her from head bonks when she wobbles a bit too far.
Using Baby Seats Wisely
My biggest tips for wise use of baby seats are:
- WAIT UNTIL BABY IS READY FOR A SEAT (learn the signs here)
- BE SURE TO PROVIDE PLENTY OF DAILY "REAL SITTING PRACTICE" (get tips here)
- AIM FOR 30 MINUTES OR LESS DAILY USE
I love a tip from a reader on the CanDo Kiddo Facebook page who said she used her baby seat by the back door to give baby a safe spot while older siblings got shoes and coats on to get out the door! Baby seats aren't BAD when used in moderation. Some are definitely better than others but a few minutes in one a day won't ruin your baby's development. My hope is that you would make informed baby gear decisions that work for your family!
You can learn more about knowing when baby is ready for a seat and how to offer "real sitting practice" in this recent article: 3 Things You Might Not Realize Help Baby Learn To Sit Up.