Caring for a baby is tiring and sometimes, to make life a little easier, we take shortcuts like bottle propping.
As new parents, we take in loads of guidelines, evidence and opinions about child rearing.
It can be hard to sort through them, to work out which topics are most important and vital for keeping our children safe.
It also adds to our fatigue.
Sometimes, too, although caregivers are warned about many things, not every single topic is relayed to them.
And sorting through everything that’s thrown at us means we sometimes miss an important topic, such as bottle propping.
Bottle Propping Warning After Baby Chokes To Death
Many people assume the warnings against bottle propping have to do with the importance of bonding and healthy development, rather than about any risk to babies.
After all, it’s just a bottle filled with liquid, how could it be physically harmful?
We could see bottle propping as a parenting preference – a survival tactic – rather than a safety issue.
However, as one mother so tragically discovered, bottle propping is in fact a risk.
The mother, Chloe Masters, didn’t prop her son’s bottle, but a caregiver did, and it cost her 4-month-old son Alex’s life.
Masters’ son died a few years ago, but her message is still relevant today: it is not safe to prop a bottle.
How Can Bottle Propping Lead To Death?
Even though many infants have survived bottle propping, and even despite commercial bottle propping devices, the evidence shows it comes with real risks.
From the moderate risk of increased ear infections, to the very serious and real risk of death, bottle propping isn’t safe.
How is bottle propping dangerous?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says:
“Never prop the bottle and let your baby feed alone; not only will you miss the opportunity to bond with her while she feeds, but there’s also a danger that she’ll choke or the bottle will slip out of position.
“Propping the bottle also increases the risk of ear infections. We do not recommend devices to hold a bottle in a baby’s mouth—they could be dangerous”.
How does an infant choke on just liquid? After all, it isn’t like an object that could become lodged in the throat.
As adults, if we begin to gag and start choking while drinking, we stop drinking and catch our breath.
Infants do not have the head and neck control to be able to move away from a propped bottle if the flow causes them to choke.
This is especially true for babies with muscle problems, coordination difficulties, or reflux.
As they begin to gag and struggle to catch their breath, they’re unable to stop the flow of milk. This can lead to a fatal choking accident.
While we are feeding babies in our arms, if they gag or choke we can easily remove the bottle. We sit them up and pat their backs and they’re usually fine.
But Can Bottle Propping Really Be That Dangerous?
We all know people who survived childhood without using car seats.
There are generations of people who survived the days when tummy sleeping was common.
And, no doubt, we all know babies who survived bottle propping.
However, anecdotes don’t prove the safety of things.
Yes, plenty of people survived childhood without car seats, but were they ever in a serious car accident?
Car accidents remain a real risk, but evidence has shown being properly restrained drastically reduces the risk of death during many accidents.
Will babies survive bottle propping? Sure, plenty will.
However, as any parent who has lost a child will tell you, any potential convenience of bottle propping is not worth the risk of losing a child.
Masters was dealt an incredibly tragic blow. Her child died because someone else made an uneducated choice.
This mother shouldn’t carry the responsibility or the guilt for this tragedy. The caregiver didn’t use bottle propping with any malicious intent.
However, it is likely Alex’s mother will carry ‘what ifs’ with her for the rest of her life.
Because of the tragedy she suffered, she’s now warning other parents of the real risks so they can avoid the same thing happening to them.
It can be difficult to make sure all caregivers are aware of proper infant safety guidelines, but it’s important to have these conversations with parents, family and hired caregivers.
How Can I Keep My Baby Safe?
Being a parent or caregiver can be exhausting, especially in our culture, where parents are under supported.
Even when it’s challenging, however, there are things we can do to protect our infants.
Here are some steps parents can take to feed their infants safely:
- Always feed baby in your arms. Do not prop bottles while she is in a car seat, a swing, etc.
- Never put cereal, baby food or other items in your baby’s bottle as it poses a serious risk of choking. The exception is if your child has swallowing or aspiration problems; in that case you should follow the directions given by your baby’s medical team.
- Follow baby’s feeding cues. Avoid forcing a baby to take a bottle she’s pulling away from, and don’t force baby to finish when she’s no longer showing feeding cues.
- Follow expressed breast milk storage guidelines, and formula preparation and storage guidelines.
It’s important we don’t become overly stressed about the risk of infant death.
However, it is still vital that we understand the importance of following safety guidelines.
We might not be able to wrap our little ones in bubble wrap, and neither should we, but there are many things we can do to keep our babies as safe as possible.