Is Bottle Propping Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 09, 2021
3 min read

Busy parents may look at bottle propping as a convenient way to feed their baby. But it can carry risks that aren’t worth the few minutes you save. Even devices or toys marketed as safe bottle-proppers can be dangerous.

Bottle propping is when you lean a baby’s bottle on a pillow or other support to feed your baby hands-free rather than holding both them and the bottle.

Bottle propping makes it easy to focus on something besides your baby. It may lead to milk or formula pooling in their mouth, which can be dangerous. You also lose quality time with your baby.

Bottle propping leads to a higher risk of choking. You may not notice that your baby is struggling with milk or formula if you walk away while they’re eating from a propped bottle.

Most babies have certain things they do to signal that they’re full. Feeding your baby with a propped bottle raises the chance that you’ll miss these signals.

Propping your baby’s bottle usually causes milk or formula to pool in their mouth. The liquid will coat their teeth with germs and sugar from the milk that lead to tooth decay.

This type of tooth decay has many names, including early childhood caries, nursing caries, or baby bottle tooth decay. Good dental hygiene will prevent rotting baby teeth and complications with their permanent teeth.

When teeth start to rot, you may notice brown or white spots. Rotting teeth can be painful for a baby, so they will need to see a dentist for treatment.

Bottle propping can also raise your baby’s risk of ear infections. This is because of connecting tubes between the back of their throat and their ears called the eustachian tubes.

Everyone has eustachian tubes. They keep the pressure in your middle ear when swallowing or yawning. They also drain mucus from your ear.

Young children are more likely to have eustachian tube complications. Their tubes are shorter, very narrow, and horizontal instead of sloped. This is why children get more infections when they’re younger.

Milk pooling in a baby’s mouth may lead to milk or bacteria entering their ear through the eustachian tubes, causing ear infections. Prolonged or repeated ear infections can lead to hearing and speech problems.

Time spent feeding your baby is a way to bond with them. It protects them from unneeded risks. You also get to cuddle, talk, and share a warm moment. Bottle propping removes some vital bonding time.

Bottle feeding takes more than a bottle full of milk. The right techniques will prevent complications and keep your baby safe.

Nipple hole size. A bottle nipple that is too large can lead your baby to drink milk too quickly. This raises the risk of choking, overeating, and tooth decay. One that is too small can make your baby have to work too hard to eat.

Head angle. Feed your baby while they sit upright. Feeding them while they lie horizontally can lead to choking and ear infections. Cradle them with their head supported if they can’t sit upright.

Watch for signals. Babies know when they’re full or hungry. They may take in more or less milk each feeding. Get familiar with their signals so you can feed them the proper amount.

No bottle in bed. Don’t let your baby sleep with a bottle. It can cause choking, tooth decay, and overeating just like bottle propping. Give them a pacifier instead.

Don’t overfeed. Don’t force your baby to finish a bottle. Overeating can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, spitting up, or loose stool. Watch for their eating signals to make sure they don’t overeat.

Frequent burping. Stop and burp your baby every 3 to 5 minutes when bottle feeding. This will prevent gas buildup, discomfort, and spitting up.

Bottle quality. It’s important to sanitize the bottle and nipple often. But it can also lead to changes in the nipple openings. Test to make sure that the nipple hole is big enough and gives the right amount of milk.