Feeding baby her bottle is a wonderful bonding experience. But let’s be honest, it would be nice to have your hands free at some point. While it’s ultimately up to baby to decide when she’s ready to serve herself, there are a few things you can do to help her get ready. After all, baby holding a bottle is an important milestone. It’s a sign her brain and muscle development is right on track—and a tiny reminder for mom that taking care of baby does get easier. So when do babies hold their own bottles, and how can you help them along? Read on for answers.
When Do Babies Hold Their Own Bottles?
“Most babies will start holding their own bottles between 6 to 10 months, as their fine-motor skills develop,” says Sandeepa Rajadhyaksha, MD, associate medical director of the Children’s Health Pediatric Group in Dallas.
But as is the case with many things, every baby is different, and the typical window for baby holding a bottle can be pretty wide. Some learn to hold the bottle pretty early on, others take their time, and both are okay. “Be patient,” Rajadhyaksha says.
Signs baby is ready to hold the bottle
Eager to see baby holding a bottle but not sure she’s ready? If you watch carefully, baby will give you clues she’s ready to get more involved at mealtimes. Here, some signs to look out for:
• Baby can sit up for 10 minutes by himself. Holding a bottle is a fine-motor skill, and as with all fine-motor skills, it requires that baby is able to stabilize himself, says Melanie Potock, a Denver-based pediatric feeding expert and coauthor of Baby Self-Feeding.
• Baby can grab a toy and gnaw on it while she’s sitting. She’s multitasking! Which is what holding a bottle while drinking from it requires.
• Baby reaches for the bottle when you feed him. This shows interest and cognitive development, and that baby is starting to associate the bottle with food.
How to Get Baby to Hold a Bottle
So how can you help baby hold a bottle? In a word: practice. You wouldn’t give a one-year-old a big fat crayon and expect her to draw, so you shouldn’t give baby a bottle and expect her to know how to use it correctly. “Holding a bottle doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in stages,” Potock says. Here’s what you can do to encourage baby holding a bottle:
• Bring safe toys and teethers to his mouth while he’s sitting. “This helps baby use the same neck and facial muscles he’ll need to hold and drink from the bottle.”
• Do lots of tummy time. This enhances core strength. “Babies need to develop trunk support in the first six months of life in order to hold objects relatively still in front of their mouths with both hands,” Potock says. “Add coordinated sucking, swallowing and breathing to the task of holding a bottle independently, and it’s not that easy!”
• Guide her hands when you’re feeding. Start by positioning her in your arms as if you’re going to feed her (baby should never be flat when feeding), then guide her hands around the bottle. “Once she has mastered the skill of holding the bottle, watch to see if she puts it to her mouth,” Rajadhyaksha says. “If not, you can help guide it there.”
• Choose the right feeding gear. Using a cylindrically shaped nipple (as opposed to “breast-shaped” or “orthodontic”) can help with correct tongue positioning, Potock says. “You can also add a BPA-free silicone bottle band to help baby know where to grasp and to reduce slipping,” she says.
Why You Should Avoid Bottle Propping
Sometimes it’s tempting to prop the bottle up, say, with cushions and have your baby “sit” in the corner of the couch and sip away. Don’t. If you find that you need to prop the bottle—which essentially also means you need to prop the baby—then baby isn’t ready to hold his own bottle. What’s more, “it’s dangerous,” Potock says, since baby can roll and fall.
Bottle propping can also contribute to overeating and possibly choking, because babies can’t regulate how much to take in when the milk is free-flowing fast, Rajadhyaksha says. “There’s also a risk for ear infections and tooth decay if the child falls asleep with the bottle in her mouth or continues to suck on it.”
As Potock explains, you’d never give a child who’s starting on solids a plate full of food and walk away. The same goes for a bottle of milk.
Besides, Rajadhyaksha says, “children feel a sense of warmth and security when they’re held during feedings. Even when your infant can drink independently, you should hold and cuddle baby so you can bond with him.”
Published August 2017