If you’re like many parents, you may confused about if/when to introduce a sippy cup to your baby. Your Mom may have told you that sippy cups are bad for your baby, but your doctor says it’s OK. Confused yet? That’s OK. That’s why I’m here to give you the good and the bad about sippy cups.
I’m actually personally torn on this issue. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, sippy cups are a big NO-NO! In grad school (before I became a Mom), I swore I would NEVER use sippy cups! Why? Because when you let your child use a sippy cup, you run the risk of delaying your child’s development of a mature swallowing pattern. But, as a Mom, I LOVE sippy cups! No fuss, no mess, and easy to travel with! With sippy cups, my kid can take a drink without me there by her side every second. What’s not to love?
A Little Swallowing Lesson
First, let me explain a little about swallowing. Infants actually swallow differently than adults, and this is normal. Infants use a suckling pattern, and this is what helps expel milk from a mother’s breast during nursing, so it’s very important for infants. When an infant swallows, their tongue thrusts forward toward their gums. Think about feeding an infant baby food. You stick the spoon in their mouth, and the child seems to spit it right back out! This isn’t necessarily because they don’t like the food. Rather, this is caused by the infant thrusting their tongue forward in an immature swallowing pattern. The tongue is literally pushing the food back out of the mouth as the infant is trying to swallow it!
The Truth About Sippy Cups
As babies get older and begin to learn to eat properly from a spoon, they begin to develop a more adult-like swallowing pattern. The use of sippy cups, bottles, and pacifiers encourages babies to continue the infant suckling pattern, rather than develop an adult-like swallow. This is why we want babies to learn to drink from a cup as soon as they are able. Drinking from a cup teaches the child to swallow like an adult.
Swallowing Like a Big Kid
Why does it matter if your child swallows like an adult? Because an immature swallow (aka, tongue thrust) can affect teeth alignment and speech development later in life. Children with a tongue thrust often have difficulty with producing some speech sounds, the “s” sound being the most common. Children with tongue thrust will also often have protruded front teeth. Orthodontists will often recommend speech therapy to correct a tongue thrust before placing braces, because if a tongue thrust is left untreated, the teeth will not stay in place after correction. There goes your $3000 for those braces!
But Those Sippy Cups Are SO Convenient!
I know, I hear you! I am a Speech Therapist, but I am also a Mom of a baby girl. Do I give her a sippy cup? You better believe it. They are way too convenient not to! It’s so easy to hand my daughter a sippy cup and know that I won’t have milk spilled all over the carpet in 5 seconds! And travel is so much easier too. Those anti-spill cups can go anywhere!
So What’s a Mommy To Do?
Obviously, going without a sippy cup is the best option. But, if you’re like me and can’t resist, here are my recommendations as a Mommy Speech Therapist:
1) As soon as you start giving your child a sippy cup, also begin practicing with an adult cup. Between the ages of 6-8 months, your child can begin learning how to swallow from a real cup. With my daughter, I gave her a sippy cup during meals and when we traveled (Grandma’s, restaurants, etc), but I gave her an adult cup when she was thirsty between meals. It was easy for me to control, and it gave her practice with an adult cup. I also had the convenience of a sippy cup when I needed it.
2) Use the right sippy cup:
- Start your child with the traditional sippy cup between 6-8 months of age. They are easy to grasp, and the spout is easy to manipulate in little mouths. I use this one from Wal-Mart.
- At about age 12 months, your child can begin to transition to a more adult-like sippy cup. I like this one from Avent. For swallowing purposes, this sippy cup functions like an adult cup, but you still have some convenience of an anti-spill feature. It’s not completely spill-free, so be careful where/when you give your child this cup!
3) Start weaning your child from their bottle and pacifier at age 12 months. Both bottles and pacifiers encourage infant sucking patterns, and they quickly become comfort items that are difficult to get rid of after 12 months.
4) Your child should be completely sippy cup, pacifier, and bottle free by no later than 24 months. By this age, they should have the gross motor skills to handle an adult cup without help, and should be well on their way to developing an adult-like swallow!
Until next time,