How to Get Baby to Hold Bottle

What You Need to Know About Self-Feeding

Timing, tips and guidance for prompting your baby to hold the bottle and self-feed. Also learn about developmental milestones concurrent with bottle-holding.

Babies develop the fine motor skills needed to grasp a bottle, and find its destination, between 6 and 10 months old. Some babies start a little earlier, some start a little later, but you don't want to rush bottle-holding, no matter how much you want a reennactment of the flair displayed by your favorite bartender. You can, however, give a few helpful nudges.

Signs of Readiness

When your baby has the fine motor skills to hold a bottle, he will—if he chooses to. Your little one might have the ability but still prefers the closeness of mommy, so he defers to you during feeding. The only sure way to tell is by handing him a bottle. If he doesn't hold it when you hand it to him, don't go crazy thinking it's a developmental issue. As long as your baby has experienced some or all of the following developmental milestones by 9 months old, you don't have to consult the doctor:

  • Transfers toys and other objects from one hand to the other
  • Scoops up objects using his hands and fingers in a raking movement
  • Picks up and drops objects during play.

Progression, not pace, points toward successful development. However, if by 9 months old your baby doesn't reach for objects, has poor head control when seated and can't put things in his mouth, make an appointment to see your pediatrician. If you feel your baby has met enough milestones to encourage bottle-holding practice, acquaint yourself with self-feeding safety.

Self-Feeding Safety

  • Don't prop the bottle on an object to help her out; it can cause overfeeding and choking. Liquid also pools around the teeth and can create an environment conducive to tooth decay.

  • Don't let your baby fall asleep while holding a bottle in her mouth; liquid might leak and enter her Eustachian tubes (throat-ear connection), where it can cause an infection.

  • Don't let your baby self-feed all the time; she needs that snuggle time.

In short, don't force bottle-feeding; it will happen when it needs to happen. On the other hand, you can encourage and accustom your little one to bottle-holding.

Bottle-Holding Tips

  • Cuddle your baby and hand him the bottle; he might take to holding it more readily if he's close to you.
  • Fill the bottle incrementally while he learns to hold it; a full bottle might be too heavy. Start off with an empty bottle so he can practice grasping; then add formula as he can handle it.
  • Provide physical support while your baby holds the bottle. He might need elbow or forearm support, or you might have to lift the end of the bottle slightly.
  • Set the bottle in his play area and just see what he does without any cajoling. He might use the moment to assert his independence and hold it by himself.
  • After your baby can grasp the bottle, help guide it to his mouth. He might only need to learn the bottle-to-mouth motion.
  • Hold your baby in the breastfeeding position when he starts self-feeding. 

Self-feeding, like other milestones, is a marathon, not a sprint. As long as your baby is meeting other developmental goals, he is doing fine.

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