Recently we’ve been teaching baby to hold a bottle on her own.
Baby was able to grasp toys from 10-weeks so we know that she is at least physically able to hold her bottle.
The hard part is getting her to hold the bottle securely and at an appropriate angle that allows her to drink.
Baby books provide a variety of estimates regarding when babies should be able to hold their own bottles. Most fall within the range of 6-to-10 months. I couldn’t find any topical academic research regarding babies holding their own bottles other than anecdotal mentions. There are a wealth of patents related to making bottles easier to hold. Since there is no health or behavioral concern related to holding a bottle it is doubtful that any formal research has been conducted. Bottle-holding is also absent from detailed questionnaires about baby development.
As Arya is just about to turn six-months old, we thought it would be a good time to start teaching her to hold her bottle without help. Unfortunately it has been a difficult process. We are finally to see sporadic results even though she is not willing to actually feed herself yet.
The first step in getting baby to hold her bottle is making her understand the relationship between the bottle and feeding. Arya’s volume of nursing from Mommy (relative to drinking pumped milk from the bottle) has been declining over the past few weeks. She has become less interested in nursing during daylight hours and prefers nursing over the bottle only at night as she is getting ready for bed.
Her increased interest in drinking from the bottle also means that she gets happy whenever she is hungry during the day and can see the bottle. I find it amusing that she gets excited about seeing the bottle regardless of whether it is full or empty. Because she is interested in the bottle, she leans her head forward and opens her mouth whenever she is hungry.
The second step was getting her to understand that someone needs to hold the bottle in order for her to drink from it. By placing her hands directly on the bottle and putting our hands over hers, we were able to “get her to hold the bottle”. Most of the time she doesn’t apply enough pressure to keep the bottle at the correct angle.
Arya also needs to be reclining against a nearly-flat surface to hold the bottle. We don’t want baby to drink milk lying down flat since that creates a risk of ear infections. But if she is seated upright it is impossible for her to hold her head back far enough to actually drink from the bottle.
Now, the most important factor in baby holding her own bottle is making sure she doesn’t get distracted while feeding. Every time Arya hears an interesting sound, sees a person, looks at her toy, or otherwise finds stimulation, she will drop the bottle and turn her head. Only if she is in a quiet location with minimal visual distraction will she actually be focused enough to grasp the bottle at the correct angle to drink milk.
We didn’t use any specific process to teach her to hold the bottle other than repeatedly putting her hands directly onto the bottle itself. I think it also helped that I usually do something else while helping her the bottle with one hand. Since I am also partially distracted when she is feeding from the bottle, the bottle drops and she stops getting milk whenever she loses focus. All other adults who feed Arya are much more focused on her during feeding time and I suspect that eliminates baby’s incentive to care whether or not she holds her own bottle.