It can be very tempting, and many of us have done it at one time or another. But please, DO. NOT. EVER “prop up” your baby’s bottle. It may seem like an innocent enough habit, but doing so not only has general health consequences — it can be extremely unsafe. In some cases, babies have even died from this practice.
For anyone unfamiliar with the practice, propping up a baby’s bottle simply means that you use pillow or blankets to hold your baby’s bottle in place while they feed. This is usually done with a baby too young to hold the bottle up themselves, and it leaves a parent’s hands free. But both of these factors are what can end up causing the most dire consequences.
Babies who are too young to hold up a bottle themselves are also apt to choke on milk if it keeps flowing after they are done actively sucking (for example, if they fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth). And if you get some “hands free” moments, you are more likely to stop supervising your baby, which means you will not be able to catch it if anything dangerous happens.
A tragic case from the United Kingdom involving bottle feeding recently made headlines, highlighting this issue. According to the BBC, a mom named Chloe Masters had left her 4-month-old son Alex in the care of his godmother, Claire Sawyer. The case is from 2015, and although Sawyer seems to have changed her story over the past few years, according the most recent report, baby Alex was left to sleep in his car seat with a bottle of milk propped up on a blanket while Sawyer napped.
When Sawyer woke up, just 30 minutes later, the baby was hunched over his car seat with a blanket over his face, not breathing. He was taken to the hospital, where he died. The postmortem exam revealed that Alex’s cause of death was inhaled milk into his lungs. (It should be noted, too, that letting your baby fall asleep in their car seat when they are not in the car is also considered unsafe and babies have died as a result of this practice as well.)
Baby Alex’s story is awful and horrifying, and although most instances of bottle propping do not result in death, it’s an important lesson for any of us who might have a young bottle feeding baby, or who might ever care for one.
As the Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns, bottle propping is a practice that should never be employed. Not only does bottle propping decrease opportunities for you to bond with your baby while feeding them, but it has numerous health and safety ramifications.
First, there’s the danger that your baby will “choke or the bottle will slip out of position,” writes the AAP. “Propping the bottle also increases the risk of ear infections,” they caution. Besides warning against propping with blankets or pillows, the AAP doesn’t recommend purchasing or using any devices made to do the same thing.
The CDC has similar guidelines, and also lists concerns about tooth decay as a reason to never bottle prop. They also advise that bottle propping increases the likelihood that you will overfeed your baby, because when you aren’t watching your baby for hunger cues, your baby is more likely to eat more than they need.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital explains in more detail how bottle propping can result in tooth decay, and it’s a good warning for parents who let their baby fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth – whether they are bottle propping or not.
“Propping up a bottle can make baby’s teeth decay,” they explain. “When your baby starts to fall asleep, he or she doesn’t swallow so often. The liquid sits in the baby’s mouth, and the teeth are coated with food that helps germs rot the teeth.”
Now listen: I know almost all of us have used bottle propping at one time or another. Sometimes your baby is starving and you just have to pee, or run out of the room for a second to wipe your toddler’s butt. But this is one area where you really, really don’t want to take any chances.
This information isn’t meant to promote shame, it’s to help us increase awareness of a common practice that can have serious consequences.
And it’s also an issue where you need to speak up and let anyone who takes care of your baby know that this practice should never be implemented. As Chloe Masters, baby Alex’s mom describes it to Lincolnshire Live, if she had known that Sawyer — the woman who was caring for her son — was going to bottle prop, she would have never left him in her care.
“It will always haunt me,” she said. “I will never know what happened to my little boy that morning. He was my world. He was always happy and smiling and he loved to make sure everyone was up early in the morning.”
Yet Masters has found a way to take her heartbreak and turn into a call to action. She is imploring anyone out there who might ever care for a baby to never bottle prop. Ever. There’s no circumstance where this is a good idea, even for a minute.
“Never, ever, ever, bottle prop under any circumstances,” she said. “You could be put in this situation with your own child. I did it and thought it would never cause anything like this.”