Starting solids is a huge milestone in your child’s life, and it’s completely normal to have questions. From deciding when it’s time to begin to choosing between homemade or pre-made baby food (hint: both are OK)─it all feels like a lot. Current recommendations state that parents should wait until the age of 6 months to introduce solids to give time for a baby’s digestive tract to mature, but also so they can sit upright in the correct position for meals.
While these are natural milestones every child will reach at their own pace, the 90-90-90 rule takes feeding time recommendations one step further. Used by pediatric feeding specialists, this rule promotes the best and safest posture for littles when starting solids─and using the right highchair can make it easier to get it right. Here’s what you need to know.
Related: 7 simple habits that create a lifetime of healthy eating
What is the 90-90-90 rule?
The 90-90-90 rule for eating refers to the ideal posture for a child sitting at a table. This means their hips are flexed at a 90-degree angle, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, and feet flat on a surface with the spine upright.
Ideal positioning isn’t just about being able to sit upright (although this is super important) but also about how the body is supported. We may think of feeding as only involving input from the mouth, but your child takes sensory information all over the body through proprioception. Proprioception is body awareness, or how the body senses and controls movement in space. As pediatric occupational therapist Marielle Marquez explains, “The 90-90-90 rule provides good proprioceptive feedback to the child’s joints, which promotes body awareness and focus.”
While it may not seem like a big deal if your child’s feet aren’t supported or if they aren’t quite sitting up straight, children are at a much higher risk of choking due to immature motor skills. Plus, the 90-90-90 rule promotes focus and concentration to reduce distractions. “When children have their feet planted flat on the floor, it helps them to feel grounded and promotes stability in the rest of their body,” Marquez explains, which promotes safe swallowing to reduce the chance of choking.
Big kids can benefit from optimal posture while sitting, too
It isn’t just your little ones who can benefit from practicing the 90-90-90 rule while eating. The same principles apply well beyond the first few years. Anyone with a child (of any age) has experienced the wiggles, but according to Marquez, the same proprioceptive input can help older children focus and remain engaged.
“90-90-90 provides the postural stability needed to write clearly and to stay alert and engaged,” she says, further explaining that the right set-up at school and home can help your child succeed in any activities that require focusing or fine motor skills.
Here’s how to implement the 90-90-90 rule for feeding at home
The right highchair or booster seat can help you naturally implement the 90-90-90 rule at home. Marquez recommends keeping your eye on how your child’s feet land on the footrest. “One of the most common challenges I find with highchairs is that there is either no footrest or it is too low for the child to actually position their feet flat on,” she says. “Some highchairs also are in a permanently reclined position, and the child can never sit fully upright at 90 degrees.”
Luckily, a few highchair brands have caught on to these professional recommendations. “The Stokke Tripp Trapp and Abiie Beyond highchairs are some of my favorites because they are so adaptable to the child’s individual body,” shares Marquez. These highchairs offer adjustable footrests, seat depth, and height to fit your child perfectly.
Motherly editors also love the new Mockingbird highchair with its 4-position options for the footrest that allows you to adjust to your child’s size (and can last well beyond the first few meals).
Related: 7 ways to help your kids form a healthy relationship with food
These highchairs make it super easy to incorporate the 90-90-90 rule into your child’s daily routine. And just like promoting healthy eating habits, starting early helps your child develop good posture and core strength, setting them up for healthy habits in the long run.
Marielle Marquez is a wife, mom of two, and a pediatric occupational therapist with a specialty in feeding and swallowing. Find her online at https://thrivelittle.com/.
Borowitz SM. First Bites-Why, When, and What Solid Foods to Feed Infants. Front Pediatr. 2021;9:654171. Published 2021 Mar 26. doi:10.3389/fped.2021.65417