Babies develop at their own pace, and the average milestone age of being able to hold a bottle while feeding can be anywhere from about 6 to 10 months, depending on various growth and development circumstances.
Babies reach milestones at different times, and developing the skills to use their hands to hold items varies significantly on the milestone timeline.
The clumsy way your little one tried to hold their own bottle can be so cute, especially when your baby holds the bottle with two clenched fists.
At times your baby will get it right to hold their bottle normally, but a full bottle can be too heavy to maneuver, and an almost empty bottle will be less challenging for your baby.
It is the small things that many parents overlook which make a big difference to their little one’s skill level as far as reaching milestones is concerned.
Let’s take a closer look at when babies should be able to hold their own bottles and feed themselves.
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Transition to bottle-feeding
Breastfeeding for most mothers is essential, and mothers usually try and breastfeed for as long as possible over the first year, but working moms don’t have this luxury.
The transition from breast to bottle is seamless most of the time but only with the right teat the first time around.
Bottle feeding has become a necessity in our modern world and offers feeding convenience but requires moms to initially hold the bottle for their little ones.
Many mothers will confess to bottle propping to free their hands, but this creates its own set of risks that should never be taken lightly. Soothing your baby by letting them fall asleep while drinking from a bottle can be dangerous.
It’s important to realize that a baby bottle is a feeding device with a shelf-life, and weaning your baby off the bottle will be more difficult the more your baby becomes attached to the bottle.
In a way, bottles are very similar to pacifiers, and most moms can testify to the difficulty of weaning their little off pacifiers.
Babies that transition later to bottles may not show much interest in holding the bottle even if they are strong enough and have the coordination to do so.
This statement presents an essential lesson for mothers and caregivers; remain in control of bottle feeding as this makes the weaning process so much easier.
Signs that your baby is ready to hold a bottle on their own
Appreciate your baby’s efforts in everything they do; if your little one is not on par with milestone timelines, don’t fuss.
Every baby is different and will, in time, master the skill of holding their bottle.
Here are some helpful pointers:
- Your baby can sit unsupported on their own
- Your baby has a good sense of balance while sitting and playing with toys
- Your baby can reach for objects and get them while sitting without falling over
- Your baby can take a snack (age-appropriate) from your hand and put it into their mouth
- Your baby helps to hold the bottle with one or both hands during feeding
These signs should be noticeable from about 6 months old, but some babies may show signs earlier.
At about 10 months, your little one should be able to hold their bottle on their own while feeding, but some may still need help with coordination.
Once again, do not stress about timelines.
Instead, focus on what you are doing to help your little one with these vital physical skills. Everything will fall into place for every baby in their own time.
Encouraging your baby to hold a bottle
Babies love encouragement and praise for the things they do. Helping your little one master life skills is rewarding for both mom and baby.
An important lesson for your baby is to successfully cross the midline, and handling their own bottle teaches them this skill.
Crossing the midline is the ability to reach from one side of the body to the other with an arm or leg. Reaching for a bottle or toy is a good exercise to master this skill.
Consider the few guidelines below as a means to encourage your little one to hold their bottle and use it independently.
- Practical hand-to-mouth demonstrations like using a baby feeding spoon off a plate or a teether and bringing it up to your baby’s mouth.
- Investing in non-slip easy-grasp bottles or sippy cups with handles. It’s best to start with small cups that have two handles.
- For bottles, you can place your little one’s hands on the bottle, place your hands over them, and guide the bottle to their mouth. Your little one will quickly catch on and begin trying this independently.
- Invest in added tummy time to help your baby develop muscle strength. Remember when you try other play activities and even when purchasing toys. Think about what the toy will do for your baby’s development.
As mentioned earlier, your little one must at least be able to sit unsupported on their own.
Drinking from a bottle should be done in an almost upright position, so the importance of body strength cannot be emphasized enough.
You can still maintain control of bottle feeding and be a bit more relaxed on using sippy cups as this teaches your little one the right skills to hold a cup.
Your little one will wean themself off sippy cups and gravitate toward using adult cups in their own time.
Mothers usually wean their little ones off the bottle at about a year old, but until then, you should always closely monitor bottle feeding and avoid bottle propping at all costs.
Bottle propping dangers
Bottle propping may seem like an innocent solution for a tired mom, but the practice is unsafe for your little one.
Unlike a mom’s nipple, which requires suction to extract breastmilk, the teat on a bottle can be squeezed in your baby’s mouth, allowing a continuous flow of milk that, if unsupervised, can result in choking.
Babies do not have the head control to pull away if they start choking. Moms can simply regulate the flow of milk from a bottle by changing the bottle’s angle and removing it when their baby has stopped feeding.
Propping may result in overfeeding, and the constant drip of milk into your baby’s mouth could lead to risks of pneumonia or death by choking.
Milk pooling in your baby’s mouth promotes tooth decay and increases the chance of ear infections.
Ear infections from milk pooling in your baby’s mouth can be serious and may lead to hearing issues, surgery, and an overuse of antibiotics.
Bottle propping is never safe, no matter how old or physically strong your baby is. If your little one cannot hold their own bottle while feeding and remove it at will, then an adult must feed your baby.
No independent feeding devices are safe for babies, and like bottle propping, the free flow of milk remains the primary concern.
When can a baby safely feed on a bottle?
The age varies from child to child, depending on their development maturity. This article outlines some important cues that suggest when your baby is ready to learn how to independently drink from their bottle.
You will still have to monitor your baby, but the older and more proficient your little one becomes, the more you will be able to still be in their presence with free hands to do other things.
As long as your baby is in the upright feeding position, the bottle can freely fall out of their mouth if they do fall asleep, but you should always be present to supervise bottle feeding.
Should I really allow my baby to hold his own bottle?
Yes, holding the bottle helps with your baby’s dexterity skills. Every small skill your baby learns is transferred to better proficiency in later challenges, so nothing your baby learns is in vain.
This article mentioned the importance of your baby learning to cross the midline through bottle reaching and holding training.
Is bottle propping fine if I am right next to my baby?
No. bottle propping is never fine.
Even if you are right next to your little one, there might not be enough light to properly observe your baby drinking, and distractions may cause you to not notice when your baby is in distress.
Besides, bottle propping is usually done when your baby is lying down, which is not a recommended feeding position.
Avoid bottle propping at all costs.
Babies grow up so fast, and parents often reminisce about their fondest baby memories, including feeding events.
Many of us recall the anxiety we felt when our little one did not reach a particular milestone on time, and only in hindsight do we understand that our bundle of love was and always be an individual capable of doing most things on their own time.
Holding and independently drinking from a baby bottle is a significant achievement for a baby, but each baby learns this skill in their own time.
Most babies like to be fed; they want their mom’s secure embrace and loving touch and will instinctively hold their bottle, much like they clutch onto their mom’s breast when feeding.
Don’t rush bottle holding, independent feeding, or any other chalked-up milestone. Rather love, appreciate and help to teach your little one life skills in a fun-loving way.
Accept that your little one is an individual and will learn these things with a bit of help from you but in their own time.