Most newborns and young infants need to eat about every 2 to 3 hours, or about 8 to 12 times per day. Feedings can take a good chunk of your day, yet the opportunity to sit and bond with your baby is an amazing experience.
As much as you adore these bonding sessions, though, your baby might get hungry at inopportune times. And if so, you might be tempted to prop a bottle in their mouth instead of holding it yourself during bottle feedings.
This is convenient for you, but is it safe for your baby?
In a word, no. Here’s why.
Bottle propping is an alternative to holding a bottle for your baby. It involves sitting baby in a bouncer seat, laying them flat in their crib, or otherwise positioning them — and then propping a bottle with a blanket or other object so they can eat hands-free.
This practice is generally done before babies can hold their own bottle, and it can be dangerous — even if your intention is just to run to answer the door or take a phone call.
Truthfully, your baby might be unfazed by bottle propping; as long as they’re eating, they’re usually happy. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that it’s OK or safe. Common dangers and risks associated with bottle propping include the following:
Choking is one risk linked to propping a baby’s bottle. At first, your baby might feed with no issue. The problem, though, is that bottle propping can lead to a steady flow of milk from the bottle’s nipple. And the milk might continue to flow even after your baby stops sucking.
If your baby stops feeding or falls asleep with the bottle in their mouth, they can accidentally breathe in the milk instead of swallowing it.
You might not think of milk causing tooth decay in your baby, but it can happen. This is more likely when your baby lays flat with a propped bottle.
Milk can collect or pool in the back of their mouth instead of flowing down their throat. The longer the milk stays in their mouth, the greater the risk of tooth decay as their teeth grow in. This can happen when your baby falls asleep with the bottle in their mouth.
Bottle propping can also contribute to ear infections in babies. This is another complication of milk pooling in the back of their mouth.
Laying a baby flat can cause milk to collect near the opening of the eustachian tube. And if the tube cannot drain well during a cold, this can trigger a painful ear infection. Signs of an ear infection include:
- inconsolable crying
- fever during or after a cold
- pulling or tugging at the ear
Interrupted bonding time
Bottle propping also takes away bonding time with your baby. Being held during feedings is how a baby bonds with its parents and caretakers. If you transition from holding your baby during feedings to bottle propping, you could potentially weaken your bond.
Bottle propping might feel like the only option if your baby becomes hungry when you’re not in a position to feed them. It can also seem like the perfect way to multitask if you have other children.
As tempting as it is, though, the risks associated with bottle propping outweigh any temporary convenience.
Getting your baby on a regular feeding schedule can help. It’ll then become easier to predict and plan your schedule around their feeding times.
Additionally, if you have older children who are responsible and interested in helping, teach them how to properly hold their younger sibling and the bottle, and then monitor them from a distance. This can be a safer alternative to bottle propping, and it allows older children to bond with the baby.
When holding your baby during feedings, make sure you know the correct way to bottle-feed:
- Keep your baby’s head in a semi-upright position. Don’t lay your baby flat in your arms, as this causes milk to pool in the back of their mouth. Your baby’s head should always remain higher than their feet.
- Pay attention to your baby during feedings, so you’ll know when they’ve finished eating or fallen asleep. Remove the bottle to prevent choking.
- Don’t forget to burp your baby every 5 minutes or so during feedings, or approximately after every 3-ounce portion they drink. This can help prevent gas and spitting up, though not all babies will burp this often.
- If your baby is new to bottle-feeding, consider starting with a slow flow nipple to prevent gagging.
Bottle propping might seem like a safe, convenient way to feed your baby, but it’s risky. The correct way to feed your baby is by holding them with their head upright.
This not only protects your baby from choking and developing ear infections but also provides a wonderful opportunity to bond.