September 8, 2019


Baby bottle propping isn’t just dangerous – it’s a sign of a broken society.

Amy Brown, Swansea University

Bottle propping is a dangerous practice that goes back years. But it is now receiving increased attention as society tries to sell a “solution” for everything.

Feeding a baby with a bottle resting upright against something allows the milk to flow without the need for parental hands. And over the last few years, numerous devices that essentially make feeding a baby a hands free (human free?) activity have flooded the market. Promoted as enabling parents to get a break from the proposed monotony of caring for a baby, they sell a solution to a deeply ingrained but skirted around societal issue – that we simply do not value or care for new mothers.


Tragically, bottle propping can be fatal. Young babies may not have the head control or strength to move away from the flow of the milk that is being aided by gravity. Quite simply they can choke to death as they cannot escape from the milk, or inhale it as the bottle becomes displaced.

There is also the very real risk that babies simply end up consuming too much milk if it keeps flowing. Research has shown how babies take more milk from a bottle than they do when they breastfeed (one reason why bottle fed babies can be at a higher risk of being overweight) and this increases if they are encouraged to take more – as a propped bottle would “encourage” them to do.

Yes, an older baby might be able to move their head away, but at what stage? When they’ve had enough? Or when they really can’t stand any more? Small extra amounts of milk every day matter. Those few extra calories can turn into extra kilos over the months. And encouraging a baby to keep feeding when they are full can also interfere with their ability to control their appetite later on.

Then there is the inescapable fact that having a bottle propped into your mouth when you can’t remove it can’t be the nicest feeding experience. Feeding is about so much more than nutrition. Holding a baby warm and close while being fed is a big part of them feeling secure and loved. It’s no coincidence that the sight range of newborn babies is pretty much perfect to reach their parents eyes at the angle that they would be held for a feed. Skin to skin contact is ideal when possible during feeds, but just the fact that the baby is being fed by a human being increases oxytocin, helping calm them and create general all round lovely feelings.

And no, you don’t need to stare endlessly into a baby’s eyes at every feed, but there is a vast gulf between that and not even holding a baby.

How Did We Get Here?

But my real question is: how did we get to a stage where these devices are needed? You can understand their appeal. We now have so many parents who are pretty much doing this on their own. Yes, they might have a partner, but they’re often at work all day. Yes, they might have visitors, but how many are there just to coo over the baby rather than do anything useful such as cook a meal, do the washing up, or anything else that might actually help a new mother feel more relaxed? Rates of postnatal depression are soaring. So many new mothers feel isolated and alone. The stress and sheer exhaustion of trying to manage everything on your own, day after day, can be overwhelming.

How on earth have we got to the point where bottle propping is the solution? Why are we ignoring the needs of our new mothers? Why are new mothers literally the ones left holding the baby, day in, day out? Having a new baby is always going to be a huge change. But it doesn’t need to be like this.

There needs to be proper postnatal support for new mothers. Professionals who are given the time and the training to identify issues and advise on options. We need partners to have extended, well-paid leave (and indeed in places such as the US, even giving mothers this proper extended well-paid leave would be a start).

There need to be support networks. No mother should be doing this alone. We should track down where the “village” – that extended network of family and friends which share responsibility for raising a child – went to and recreate it. There must be a recognition of how isolating and exhausting caring for a baby can be – and a system in place to catch mothers before they fall.

We need to mother our new mothers, so that mothering with your sanity intact isn’t an insurmountable challenge.

The ConversationAnd finally, these devices should be recognised for what they represent – a breaking point, a plea for help. Governments must put their money where their mouths are and invest in repairing and supporting a future that is balancing on the edge of being truly broken.

Amy Brown, Professor of Child Public Health, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A little while ago, a coroner warned parents about “propping up” babies and leaving them unsupervised with bottles of milk, after a four-month-old died when he was left to feed alone in his car seat. – Read more on that here.

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  • Ive never done this as I have never bottle fed my babies. I had to be there with my boobs….cant prop one and walk off.


  • I never thought of propping the bottle when feeding my girls as babies.


  • Feeding with a bottle is natural and its bonding time between mum and bub I never did this!


  • Thanks for this article and carefully explaining the damage of bottle propping. Well put!


  • I loved nothing more than feeding my babies, it’s great bonding time and also a bit of a break and wind down time for me.


  • I love sitting down to feed my baby as it gives me a 10 minute break and an extra 10 minutes to spend with my baby


  • It can be seen as lazy but then if used properly it can be done safe. With my twins I would at times prop a bottle in one of their mouths while feeding the other one, still keeping an eye on the other one while he/she feed. This was done if no one else was around to help at feeding time. When a young baby is hungry they want to be feed. Even when trying to BF then found still having to prop them but they feed from my breasts.


  • such a great article and one very parent needs to read …thanks for sharing this information.


  • I found feeding time a great to to sit and spend time with my kids


  • It is very sad that devices are being marketed. They should not be able to sell such dangerous devices.


  • I never propped my baby’s bottle up with either of my kids, as I totally loved feeding them. I think it’s a mum trying to get other things done.


  • I feel like the author has taken a very dramatic tangent on this. Whilst I don’t prop bottles for any of my babes (or nieces and nephews I might be looking after) I don’t think it signals a “broken society” either. Many mums look for ways to multitask, not every avenue they create is safe for babies and I feel like that should’ve been the focus here. There are still many families and cultures in which the ‘village’ still exists (I’m lucky enough to be in one of those) and whilst extra support definitely goes a long way I don’t think it would remove the need some mother’s have to use this as a way to feed their babies “hands free”. I think finding ways of making other tasks easier or more efficient would be more useful so those mums would have the extra time to dedicate to bottle feeding safely.


  • Supervision is always a requirement for babies especially and all children. Leaving them alone to manage on their own is dangerous and irresponsible. It’s all about valuing life. They are not to be left alone to fend for themselves that’s why care and nurturing is so important. Some people should never be parents especially those who display careless actions and attitudes towards the sanctity of these little one’s lives.


  • We live in a society where no one wants to accept responsibility for wrong doing, especially parents. Somehow when things go wrong there’s always an excuse or someone else’s fault.


  • I feel that it’s very unsafe but shouldn’t be labelled as the sign of a broken mother.

    • I agree, I think it’s more a matter of ignorance.


  • I have never done this as I knew the dangers, plus I always enjoyed feeding them. No idea there where devices on the market to do this


  • Aside from the the safety aspects that the article mentions it also touches on what my initial thoughts were – that it can’t be that comfortable and it takes away from the bonding time.


  • It is very silly and dangerous to do this. Feed children properly.


  • Informative article – certainly not worth the risk ….


  • Broken? I don’t believe that. Yes sure it can be dangerous and yes you should try and spend as much time with your baby as possible. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Many mums have 2+ kids under 5 so you have to multitask.


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