When you're busy with other things, it is tempting to pop your baby into his crib and prop his bottle for a feeding. At night, it is even more tempting to just prop the bottle and go back to sleep. But propping bottles can harm your baby, both physically and emotionally. The dangers of bottle propping outweigh the few minutes of free time you get from this practice. If you can't hold your baby for feeding, hold the bottle and sit in front of the baby so you can interact with him.
When you prop your baby's bottle, the milk keeps flowing into his mouth, whether he is ready to swallow it or not. If he gets more milk than he can handle, he can choke and aspirate formula into his lungs. Milk enters the trachea rather than esophagus more easily when your baby lies down. If your baby aspirates a large quantity of formula, it could affect his ability to get air into his lungs and he could die.
Propping a bottle enables formula to pool in your baby's mouth, where it can rot his teeth. A child with bottle-mouth syndrome develops multiple cavities, because the sugar in the formula destroys the enamel that protects the tooth from decay. Teeth can turn black, break off and require extensive root canal repair, capping or fillings. Infection can spread to the gums, causing painful abscesses that need surgical drainage.
Bottle-fed babies have a higher risk of ear infections than do breastfed babies, because sucking creates negative pressure within the bottle, which can lead to excessive sucking that causes negative pressure within the ear. When your baby lies down to drink a bottle, the formula that pools in the back of the mouth can enter the ear through the Eustachian tubes, which are shorter, more horizontal and wider in children than adults are. This creates an ideal environment for ear infections. Being held upright makes it less likely that formula will enter the Eustachian tubes.
Propping a bottle requires the use of blankets, bottle holders or other soft material, and these pose a suffocation risk to young infants. Don't place any soft material into a baby's crib, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The material you use to prop the bottle could fall over the baby's face; he could also roll his face into the material. In either case, he could suffocate.
One of the major benefits of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding is that you can't take a breast off and prop it up in the crib. Apart from nutritional benefits, breastfeeding also promotes closeness during feedings. When you're not breastfeeding, the closeness he has felt from the feedings lets your baby know that you love and care for him -- feelings he won't get from a bottle propped in a crib.
Over or Underfeeding
Bottle propping poses two nutrition risks: overfeeding and underfeeding. If your baby is too young to push the bottle from his mouth, he has to drink all of it, whether he needs or wants it -- or not. If the bottle slips out of his mouth and he is too young to replace it, he won't get the calories he needs.
- Intermountain Primary Children's Medical Center: Let's Talk About. . . Bottle Propping
- HealthyChildren.org: Practical Bottle Feeding Tips
- Pediatrics: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment
- Medicine Online: Baby Bottle Mouth - Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
- Paediatrics and Child Health: Management of Acute Otitis Media
- Team Nutrition: How to Feed a Baby Using a Bottle
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images