Breastfeeding is time consuming, but so is bottle feeding your baby. Actually, anything related to baby requires time and varying degrees of effort!
While I live for baby snuggles and contented faces, the excitement of bottle feeding your little one tends to wear out with time.
Mental to-do-lists and impatiently occupying brain matter also have a role to play in wanting a way out of long(ish) feeds.
Unfortunately, daily life cannot wait at the side until that lovely smelling bundle of joy turns 18.
Once both my kids started holding their own bottles, I discovered a new kind of freedom – of the fleeting kind, true (both kids are fast drinkers, one more than the other), but freedom, nonetheless!
As my little one drank to her heart’s content, I could cross a little something off from my ever burgeoning to do list.
And that, in my book, is a win!
As you’ll soon experience yourself, life with a baby does get slightly easier once they start holding their own bottle and feeding themselves.
Here’s all you need to know about this (exciting) milestone if you can’t wait till you’re there!
At What Age Do Babies Start to Hold Their Bottles on Their Own?
According to BabyCenter, some babies start holding their bottle as early as six months. Others take longer to develop the fine-motor skills required to hold a bottle and only start to hold it around the 10-month of age mark.
There’s no reason to worry if your little one doesn’t master the art of bottle-holding at the 6-month mark, though. Some babies simply take longer to figure this one out.
As Sandeepa Rajadhyaksha, MD, says, ‘be patient’. Comparing your little one to other babies is never a smart move.
Holding bottles requires the development of fine motor skills. Babies usually master these specific skills only around the 6 to 10-month mark.
Around this age, babies also develop a sense of curiosity and a drive towards independence.
That said, all babies develop at a unique pace, and you shouldn’t descend into the cavernous depths of worry if your little one is still not holding their own bottle at 6 months of age.
Signs Baby Is Ready to Hold a Bottle
There are specific signs you can stay on the lookout for that can help indicate that your little one is ready to start holding their bottle:
Sitting up for 10 Minutes or Longer
Melanie Potock, pediatric feeding expert and coauthor of Baby Self-Feeding, notes that holding a bottle is a fine motor skill, and all fine baby motor skills require stabilization.
Sitting up shows that the baby can stabilize herself and may hence be able to hold her own bottle.
Baby’s Ability to Grab Items
When a baby grabs a toy and gnaws at it, it means she’s multitasking.
Holding onto a bottle and drinking from it is also a form of multitasking.
Reaching for the Bottle
At some point, your baby will start attempting to grab the bottle as you’re feeding her.
This means your little one is interested in the task at hand, and that her cognitive development has progressed enough for her to associate the bottle with food.
Some babies also get excited when they see a caregiver preparing a bottle – this is another sign of readiness.
Pushes Bottle Away
If your little one is pushing a bottle away, or pulling it out of her mouth when full, she may be ready to start holding the bottle on her own (while still supervised).
That said, the only way to really know if your baby is ready to hold her own bottle is to give her one and watch what happens.
If she manages to put the bottle in her mouth and take it out when full, you can start offering her one to drink on her own every now and then.
Is It a Problem If the Baby Doesn’t Hold Their Own Bottles by a Certain Age?
As we’ve said, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to baby developmental milestones and when you should expect a child to hold their own bottle.
Some babies take more time than others to start holding their bottles all alone and feed themselves, while others manage to master this skill earlier.
Nonetheless, you may wish to seek your doctor’s advice if you notice any of the following:
- Your baby is still not holding his own bottle at one year of age.
- Your baby tries to hold the bottle but she drops it often or it slips out of her grip.
- Shows no interest in guiding the bottle towards her mouth and gives no indication that she’s full.
- Difficulties with self-feeding and tracking objects with her eyes or hands at one year of age.
- No eye contact or response to visual or verbal prompts.
In these cases, your doctor may recommend evaluation to see if occupational health therapy or other health-related services are needed.
How to Help Baby Hold Bottle
There are ways through which you can help your little one hold her own bottle faster, if she needs the help.
Holding a bottle is not a skill that babies develop overnight – it requires time and is part of a longer process of fine motor skill and cognitive development.
Here are four ways you can use to help get your baby to hold their own bottle:
Tip #1: Direct safe toys and teethers to her mouth while sitting. Gnawing on toys or teethers uses the same neck and facial muscles used for holding and drinking from a bottle
Tip #2: Tummy time is important from the get go (The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] recommends babies begin tummy time the day they arrive home from hospital).
This baby exercise enhances core strength. As Potock says, ‘add coordinated sucking, swallowing and breathing to the task of holding onto a bottle independently, and it’s not that easy!”
This means babies need to build up strength before attempting to hold a bottle.
Tip #3: Guide her hands around the bottle during a normal feed. Once she manages to hold the bottle, help her guide it towards her mouth.
Tip #4: Having the right feeding gear also helps your little one with her ability to hold a bottle. Heavy bottles are naturally harder to manage.
As suggested by Rajadhyaksha, a BPA-free silicone bottle band can help your baby grasp the bottle and reduce slipping.
What to Avoid When Bottle Feeding Your Baby
As much as propping the bottle sounds enticing, experts warn against it.
Bottle propping is when a baby bottle is propped against a pillow, blanket or other support for the baby to drink milk without adult support.
Yes, bottle propping does free you from having to keep your hands on the bottle, but it presents serious risks to your baby.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasise that bottles should not be propped or left in the baby’s mouth. In their own words, ‘this can increase your baby’s risk of choking, ear infections, and tooth decay’.
Let’s delve a little deeper into the risks involved. Bottle propping can lead to:
If you’re propping your baby’s bottle, it’s because your little one still cannot hold the bottle by himself.
This means that your baby isn’t ready to control milk flow, either.
Milk from the bottle will continue to flow, even if your little one is not ready to swallow. Choking is silent – and deadly!
This occurs when milk goes into the lungs instead of the stomach.
Liquids or food in the lungs can lead to chest infections and hospitalization.
Pillows or rolled up blankets used to prop the bottle can present a suffocation hazard.
Bottle propping mostly happens with a baby lying flat on her back. Babies should not be fed while lying flat.
Milk and bacteria can easily pool at the back of your little one’s mouth and enter the ear via the eustachian tubes when lying flat.
When milk stays in the mouth long enough, tooth decay becomes a possibility. When milk and saliva combine in a baby’s mouth, acid is created.
There’s a higher probability that milk will remain longer in the mouth when bottle propping.
Over Feeding or Under Feeding
Babies show cues when they’re done from a feed.
With bottle propping, you won’t be able to read these cues and your little one will end up drinking the whole bottle, even if they’re already full.
On the other hand, if the bottle falls before the baby has had enough milk, there’s a chance that they didn’t manage to drink sufficiently.
As the AAP notes, bottle propping reduces bonding opportunities during feeds.
Babies develop at varying rates. While the average age of a baby holding his bottle ranges from 6 to 10 months, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your little one will hold her own bottle when she reaches this age bracket.
Yes, this gained ability will free up your hands for a few minutes. Soon enough though, you’ll start missing the peaceful snuggles while your little one is feeding.
So, hold on there; this stage of life is fleeting!
Before we wrap this piece up, please always remember that even if your little one has mastered the art of holding her bottle, she should still be continuously supervised during a feed.
Never leave a baby unattended, even more so with a bottle of milk in your baby’s hand or within reach!