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The dangers of prop feeding and bottle propping

Around the world there have been concerns raised recently about a rise in prop feeding as a contributing factor to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Even if you do this for a very short period, it is dangerous for your baby.

What is prop feeding?

Bottle propping, or prop feeding, is where a baby is left with their bottle ’propped’ in their mouth before they are able to hold the bottle themselves. The bottle may be propped up against cushions whilst on a sofa or chair, or propped in their mouth with a blanket, pillow or other object whilst in their car seat, bouncer or crib. This should never be done.

Although this may only be intended for a short period, while you nip to the toilet or answer the phone, it can be very dangerous for your baby.

Always supervise your baby during feeding.

Dangers and risks of prop feeding

These include:

  • choking
  • aspiration
  • suffocation
  • tooth decay
  • ear infections
  • interruption of bonding


Babies can’t cope with the continuous flow of milk from a  bottle, which may continue after the baby stops sucking. This can lead to your baby inhaling or aspirating milk, rather than swallowing it. Choking during prop feeding can be silent, and your baby can choke without you noticing. Never prop feed and never leave your baby unsupervised when feeding.


This occurs when food or drink goes into a baby’s lungs instead of their stomach, and can lead to chest infections and hospitalisation. Babies are more at risk of aspiration when fed lying flat on their back (instead of upright).


Your baby’s risk of suffocation is increased when you prop pillows, roll up blankets or use soft toys to support the bottle in your baby’s mouth.  These items can fall over your baby’s face and smother them. Even when your baby is in their cot awake, you should be following safe sleeping guidelines. This includes keeping your baby’s head and face uncovered and ensuring there are no pillows, toys or cot bumpers. For more information, visit The Lullaby Trust.

Tooth decay

Prop feeding/ bottle propping results in milk pooling in the back of your baby’s mouth rather than flowing down their throat. The longer the milk stays in the mouth, the greater the risk is of their teeth decaying as they come through. link to tooth decay articles

Ear infections

Ear infections are another complication of prop feeding that causes milk to pool in the back of a baby’s mouth.  When a baby is lying flat whilst feeding, milk can collect near the opening of the small passageway that connects the throat to the middle ear; called the eustachian tube. The milk that pools here can cause irritation and/or swelling in the inner ear. The sugar in these liquids causes germs to grow and can lead to ear infections and ‘glue ear’.

Interrupted bonding time

Prop feeding/ bottle propping takes away bonding time between you and your baby. Holding, looking at and talking to your baby whilst feeding is crucial for bonding. This promotes healthy infant attachment and development, and maintaining eye contact while feeding is important for a baby’s brain development. If this time is lost, it can weaken your bond.

Feeding your baby with a bottle

When offering your baby a feed from a bottle, paced feeding is recommended.

Paced feeding allows your baby to be in control and regulate their feed, this avoids over feeding and choking.

Never leave a baby unsupervised when feeding.

Useful links

Health for Under 5’s – How you’ll feed your baby

NHS – Bottle feeding advice

Page last reviewed: 27-10-2021

Next review due: 27-10-2024