If you look in the dictionary for the definition of “to feed” you will find: “to give food to”. We think of feeding as the act of providing food and nutrients. Which it is. However, feeding an infant or a child is much more than providing the required nutrients. Feeding a child is time for bonding, for relaxation, for a child to feel secure and cared for… A time for nourishment. If you look for the definition of “nourishment” you will find: “food”, but you will also find “the substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition”. A child not only needs nutrients and food, as she needs nourishment and a caring relationship where she feels safe and secure to grow.
One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing babies with bottles propped. I can understand using this technique once in a while, when you are overwhelmed and really need that time to do something else. Or if you are by yourself with multiples. Let me just emphasize that I do look at situations on an individual case by case matter. But, when you are right there and have nothing else to do… why, oh why would you choose to do that?
Let’s begin with the dangers of propping bottles, which should be a discouraging factor in itself.
1. Risk of choking and aspiration, specially when babies are lying on their backs. There is no control over the speed the liquid is coming out of the bottle and if the baby can’t drink it as quickly as it is coming out, they might choke or the liquid can go down the wrong tube, causing aspiration.
2. Suffocation – if you are using blankets or pillows to prop the bottle, there is a risk that the baby moves and it’s face gets covered with these fabrics.
3. Tooth Decay – what? my baby doesn’t even have teeth! Well, think again, because the constant contact of the gums with the sugars in the bottle, specially if lying down, will begin to ruin your baby’s teeth even before they emerge. If they are upright and awake while feeding the saliva helps wash away those sugars.
4. Ear Infections – as crazy as it might seem, if your baby is lying down and liquid gets backed up in his mouth, it can get backed up all the way to the ears, where bacteria can grow and cause ear infections.
Like I said, these dangers should be discouraging factors on their own. But, now go back and look at those pictures? What do you see? Yes, you see someone providing nutrients to their child. But that child is alone and helpless. Those little hands can not grab and control the bottle yet. Their eyes are wandering off and don’t seem happy, safe or relaxed. And, they are probably sucking as quickly as they can, to keep up with the bottle. Which, by the way, can not help with colic, either. So, if you are saving time by propping, you might just lose all that time later, when colic sets in and you are awake all night. Just saying.
Nature does things in a way that just makes sense. If you think about breastfeeding, you can’t prop the breast. You have to be there, holding your baby, in physical contact with him or her and paying attention to his or her cues and needs. Now, I know that not everyone can breastfeed or chooses to breastfeed, and that is fine. But if you are bottle-feeding, the principal should be the same. It should be a time to connect with your infant. You are not only providing them the nutrients they need, but nourishing them as well. You are helping them literally grow by giving them what they physically need to grow and what they emotionally need to grow! You are paying attention to their needs and they are learning that their parents know what they need. They are learning to trust you, to love you, to ask for comfort from you, knowing that they will find it. You are giving them food for their tummies and food for their souls.
So yes, life at times get’s crazy and everyone does something as a parent that is not “best practice”. But we aim for that to be an exception and not the norm.
I always ask parents to think about how your baby is feeling in this moment. If they could talk, what would they be saying? If you were the baby, what would you be thinking or saying? Now that you are in their “shoes”, look at these pictures and tell me which one you would prefer…