When we think of the most important baby milestones, we often think of the big ones that everyone asks about — crawling, sleeping through the night (hallelujah), walking, clapping, saying a first word.
But sometimes it’s the little things.
Case in point: The first time your baby holds their own bottle (or any other object — like a teether — that you used to need to hold for them), you realize how much you’ve missed having that extra hand to get things done.
It can be a game changer, really. But it’s also not a milestone every baby will reach along the way to other milestones (like holding a cup as a toddler), and that’s OK, too.
Some babies can hold their own bottle around 6 months of age. That’s not to say it won’t happen sooner or later — there’s a wide range of normal.
The average may be closer to 8 or 9 months, when babies have the strength and fine motor skills to hold objects (even one in each hand!) and guide them where they want them to go (like to their mouths).
So a range of 6 to 10 months is totally normal.
Babies who have only recently transitioned to the bottle may not yet have an interest in holding it, even if their strength and coordination would technically allow it.
Likewise, babies with more interest in food — which is also perfectly normal, by the way — may grab for the bottle earlier. Where there’s a will there’s a way, as the saying goes.
But keep in mind that this milestone also isn’t necessary — or even always beneficial.
By about age 1, you’ll want to be weaning your baby off the bottle. So you might not want your little one to get too attached to the idea that the bottle is theirs, only to have you trying to take it away a couple months later.
Bottom line: You’ll still want to be in control of bottle-feeding, even after they can hold it.
If your baby’s not there yet, don’t worry — there’s likely nothing wrong with their coordination. Every baby is different. But if you observe these signs, get ready to clap your free hands with glee, because independent bottle-holding (or drinking from a cup, which you might want to start encouraging instead) is on its way.
- your little one can sit on their own
- while sitting, your little one can stay balanced while playing with a toy in hand
- your baby reaches for objects and picks them up while sitting
- your baby reaches for (age-appropriate) food you hand them and brings it to their mouth
- your little one puts a hand or both hands on the bottle or cup when you feed them
As most parents know, baby does what baby wants when and where baby wants to.
But if you’re looking to gently encourage your little one to give mama a hand (literally), you can try:
- demonstrating the hand-to-mouth motion by taking baby-safe items (like teethers) and bringing them from floor level to baby’s mouth
- purchasing easy-grasp bottles or sippy cups with handles (baby will need to use two hands to hold the bottle, at least initially)
- putting their hands on the bottle and placing yours on top — and then guiding the bottle to their mouth
- spending lots of time building baby’s strength, such as through tummy time
Your baby should be sitting on their own before feeding themselves, as it’s something that should be done in a more upright position. Tummy time will also help them gain the core strength for this skill, and you can also encourage them to get there by sitting them up in your lap.
But also, carefully consider whether you want baby holding their own bottle, for reasons we’ve already stated.
Focusing more on letting your baby feed themselves and teaching them how to hold and drink from their cup (sippy or regular) in the high chair, while continuing to be the one to give the bottle, is another way to encourage independence and teach them skills.
It’s no doubt a glorious moment when your baby can feed themselves. But they’re still not old enough and wise enough to always make the best choices, so you shouldn’t leave them to their own devices.
Three precautions to keep in mind:
Remember that the bottle is for feeding, not for comfort or falling asleep. Giving your baby a milk bottle (or even milk in a sippy cup) to hold and then going on to do other things may not be a healthy practice.
Avoid leaving your little one in their crib with a bottle. While they may be more than happy to drink themselves to sleep, traveling off to dreamland with a bottle in the mouth isn’t a good idea. Milk can collect in around their teeth and encourage tooth decay in the long term and choking in the short term.
Instead, feed your baby shortly before putting them to bed (or let them do it with your watchful eye on them) and then gently wipe their gums and teeth free of milk. If the struggle to get them to fall asleep without a nipple in their mouth is real, pop in a pacifier.
If your baby can’t yet hold their own bottle, resist the temptation to use anything to prop the bottle in their mouth. We know how valuable it is to have two hands, but it’s never a good idea to do this and leave baby unsupervised. In addition to choking, it puts them at greater risk for overeating.
Leaving your baby in their crib with a bottle and propping a bottle may also increase the risk of ear infections, especially if your baby’s lying down.
When your baby holds their own bottle, they demonstrate important skills — including “crossing the midline,” or reaching from one side of the body to the other with a hand or foot.
But some babies — particularly breastfed babies — never do this via bottle-holding, and that’s OK. There are other ways to develop and practice this skill.
A breastfed baby, for example, might jump straight from breastfeeding to drinking from a cup on their own, which uses the same skill, around the age of 1.
This doesn’t mean they didn’t have this skill earlier. Other tasks involve crossing the midline, like using the dominant hand to pick up an item on the nondominant side of the body or bringing a toy up to the mouth.
Raise both hands in the air like you just don’t care — your little one’s becoming an independent eater! Of course, you likely still want to feed your baby most of time — for the bonding, the cuddles, and the safety.
And independent eating is a skill in and of itself that is much more important than holding a bottle specifically — especially since the bottle’s days are numbered if your child is nearing a year old.
But if your baby demonstrates this skill — sometime between 6 and 10 months of age — feel free to hand them their bottle every once in a while.
And if your baby isn’t showing signs of the crossing-the-midline skill by 1 year, talk to your pediatrician. They’ll be able to answer your questions and address your concerns.