What Parents Need to Know About Bottle Proppers

Curious about the benefits and risks of bottle proppers? We turned to the experts to learn more.

Baby drinks from a bottle.

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Feeding your child safely and easily is a concern for every new parent. Newborns who are bottle-fed require eight to 12 feedings a day, according to the Kids Health Organization. This can be extremely tiring, which is why some new parents gravitate toward bottle proppers. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both strongly advise against this practice, as it can lead to choking and other adverse consequences.

We turned to the experts for more about bottle propping. Read on to learn about how to feed your child safely, and if you still find yourself with questions, be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician or health care provider for more guidance.

What Is a Bottle Propper?

A bottle propper is any device—either homemade (like a rolled up towel) or store-bought—that enables parents to feed their infant hands-free when they’re too young to hold a bottle themselves, explains Christina Johns, M.D., M.E.d., F.A.A.P., pediatric emergency physician and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatric Care

“Some parents who use bottle proppers may be tempted to leave their baby unattended while feeding because they do not need anyone to hold the bottle as the baby eats,” adds Dr. Johns. 

But it’s important to remember that both the AAP and the CDC, as well as many pediatricians, do not recommend bottle propping because of the choking hazard it presents.

Types of Bottle Proppers

Despite recommendations against the use of bottle proppers, many companies produce them and market them specifically to overwhelmed or tired parents, Dr. Johns points out. The CDC and AAP recommendations against bottle proppers do not prevent them from being sold in stores, despite the risks involved in their use.

So what might bottle proppers look like? “These can look like bottle attachments, standalone bottle holders, or even extension tubes that allow the nipple to be removed from the bottle itself. None of these marketed items are safe,” continues Dr. Johns. 

Ali Alhassani, M.D., M.S.c., head of clinical at Summer Health, also explains bottle proppers can be “makeshift proppers,” made of other household objects like rolled up blankets or towels. These homemade proppers can be just as dangerous as store-bought options.

Why Do Some Parents Prop Their Baby's Bottle?

Dr. Johns explains that bottle propping may seem like a good solution by helping tired parents take a break from infants’ rigorous feeding schedules.

Dr. Alhassani explains, “The perceived benefits are mostly for the parent: offering hands-free feeding for their child so they are able to use their hands for something else.” 

New parents know that completing chores and cleaning up around the house, or just having a moment to yourself, can be hard when your infant is bottle-feeding so often. A device that helps feed your child sounds like a good choice, but there are risks involved.

The Dangers of Bottle Propping

When infants are in the newborn stage, they are fed on demand–which can lead to exhaustion in parents. But Dr. Alhassani is emphatic: “The risks of bottle propping are much higher than what any perceived benefits may be.” Here are some of the possible dangers.

Choking: Dr. Alhassani explains that bottle propping can lead to babies choking on their milk, because it renders them “unable to move the bottle away from their mouth.”

Uncontrolled Eating: Dr. Johns adds that bottle propping poses a less obvious risk: uncontrolled and unsupervised eating. “When a parent holds both the baby and the bottle during feeding, they see and feel if the baby is in distress or has consumed enough. They can adjust the angle of the bottle and the flow of its contents to help the baby eat,” says Dr. Johns. This can't happen with bottle propping. It's important to note that overeating in babies can cause gas, fussiness, and possible weight problems.

Ear Infections and Tooth Decay: Shannon Tripp, R.N., B.S.N., also says that there are other, deeper problems that prolonged bottle propping may cause. Not only does bottle propping increase the likelihood of choking and overeating, but it can increase the risk of ear infections and tooth decay. “As babies drink, the liquid can pool at the back of their mouth and enter the ears, resulting in infection,” Tripp explains. That pooling liquid, either formula or breast milk, has sugars, which can lead to cavities in babies.

What to Do Instead of Bottle Propping

Unfortunately, until babies are old enough to hold their bottles themselves, parents should be supervising their feedings, says Dr. Johns. Her main advice is something all parents could benefit from: asking for help when they are tired. 

“Taking care of a newborn is hard and exhausting. Give yourself grace, find comfortable routines that work for you and your baby, and take things slow,” says Dr. Johns.

While it can be hard to resist the temptation to prop a baby’s bottle, feeding is important for bonding with our children when they’re young. 

If you feel overwhelmed or anxious, it may be time to talk to your doctor and your child’s pediatrician. Help is available.

Tips for Safe and Effective Bottle Feeding

Feeding our children safely is a top priority. Here are some additional tips and tricks for smooth bottle feeding.

  • Make sure milk is room temperature. Never heat milk or formula in a microwave; this can create "hot spots" that burn a baby's mouth or throat.
  • When feeding your baby, make sure to hold them at an angle that allows them to control how much they can drink without ingesting air. An upright or diagonal position can decrease choking risk.
  • If your baby seems full or pulls away from the bottle, give them feeding breaks.
  • Always burp your baby after feeding them to release uncomfortable trapped air bubbles.
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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Formula Feeding FAQs: How Much and How Often. Kids Health Organization.

  2. Feeding From a Bottle. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Practical Bottle Feeding Tips. American Academy of Pediatrics.

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