To Use a Sippy Cup or Not Use a Sippy Cup, That is the Question…

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,

Aersta Acerson

A Utah Speech Therapist

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13 thoughts on “To Use a Sippy Cup or Not Use a Sippy Cup, That is the Question…

  1. Pingback: Friday Favs: 5/24/13 | The Speech Clinic

  2. How do you feel about straw cups? Looking at the foogo straw bottle (sklicone straw) and the klean kanteen sport cap (plastic sport cap or silicone not sure) as well as the life factory new straw cap version (hard plastic straw)
    My girl is 5 but has special needs. She is hypotonic, non verbal except with vowels and a couple of consonants (mama and Dada and baba words). Please help. She is g-tube fed. When I try to orally feed her she tongue thrusts (hates food anyway and has always been on a tube) and getting her to sip water is a challenge. I was thinking of getting all three bottles to help her with her mouth muscles, but unsure if that is the right choice (she can sip from a straw and when I give her a sippy bump style spout with NO VALVE so she doesn’t have to suck (because she doesn’t know how)….she just tongue thrusts 😦 help

    • Hey, thanks for your comment! Straw cups are great! I have actually been thinking that I need to update this post to include information about straws because learning to drink from a straw is actually a great way to help a child overcome tongue thrust. For your specific situation, I would buy a basic straw bottle without a valve so that it is easy for her to suck. I’m not familiar with the foogo or lifefactory brands, but if they have straws without valves and they are easy for her to use, they should be great choices. You could also use a regular cup and just purchase a pack of straws. The bottle is really only for convenience. I wouldn’t purchase the klean kanteen sport cap. From what you’ve told me, I don’t think that kind of cap will be helpful for your daughter. Once you purchase a straw bottle, have your daughter practice with thin liquids (water, juice, etc). Over time, as her muscles develop, you can increase the difficulty of the sucking by either using a smaller straw, or by using a thicker liquid, such as a milkshake. Feeding is very difficult for tube-fed children, so have patience. Progress will be slow, but you will see it over time. I’m assuming she is being seen by a feeding therapist. You can ask her opinion on this as well. If you don’t have a feeding therapist, I strongly recommend getting one, especially if your goal is for your child to some day have the tube removed and for your daughter to be fed orally 100% of the time. Good question, and good luck! I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have.

      • THANK YOU SO MUCH! we are on a long break from feeding therapy as insurance wouldn’t cover unless there were improvements such as cutting tube feeds to make her “hungry”. It didn’t go well when we tried as she’s chronically constipated and long story short…I’m waiting until she is completely transitioned to a different formula that I’m slowly introducing (via g-tube). She doesn’t know hunger or thirst…not yet at least. She can definitely drink from the straw (summer when she is hot outside). She learned in a day from the honey bear straw cup a few years ago. She also can suck through the tiny straw too 🙂
        Basically, because she is tube fed, I have to flush her with a big syringe (60ml) of water at every bolus feed and so when we’re out and about (especially summer) I wanted stainless steel to keep the water cooler but also with a big diameter at the top of the bottle so the syringe fits to fill with water so I can flush her. It would be great to use that same bottle for her to take drinks out of as well (so I’m not carrying so many bottles) as I have my own as well. I considered the klean kanteen one due to the big open top for syringe and I read some more reviews on amazon, and the sport cap one requires no sucking. One mom was saying that its a fast flow and if you keep it half way open…its a little less easier. I wanted the foogo as well (just a stainless steel thermos with silicone straw for same reasons/ for inserting syringe and for sips…but for school though). I have the life factory glass bottle myself with straw and its easy enough to suck through but still makes her work some. That was for me to let her take sips from me and has a hard straw top. Of course that one won’t keep water cold in the summer time. I wish the Klean kantean one made a straw top. But my question then now is: the sport cap (which is silicone by the way) which requires no suction, or very little, is that bad for her speech you think? (By the way, she has been on a waiting list to have private speech therapy for years now, she gets it at school though). Oh, thank you for that Pam Marshall you tube video!!! I now know how to try and teach her the vowels and consonants with the hand gestures…I’m so excited about it as I always felt time was passing by her by with speech 😦

      • Hey, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I didn’t notice this comment until today. Anyway, no, the sport cap is not bad for her speech. It will in no way make her speech better or worse. I only suggested not getting it because it doesn’t have a straw, but if you have other bottles that she can practice using a straw and if she is already good at using a straw, then it’s completely fine. If it’s something that will be easy for you to use on outings, go for it! I’m so glad you found the Pam Marshall video helpful. And yes, the hand gestures are a great way to help her with her speech. Maybe you can find another private therapist in your area that doesn’t have quite as long of a waiting list? That would be ideal. Good luck, I hope this info has helped some!

      • http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00GD0YFWU?vs=1

        Hope your able to view this link.
        Its what I’m assuming a new cup called: green sprouts glass sip and straw bottle. From sippy to straw, great for transition. Plus its silicone tips and straw. Interior glass to prevent chemical leaching etc, and plastic on outside to protect the bottle from breaking. Anyway, found it on amazon and saw only one review but it was excellent. Just wanted to share 🙂

  3. Hi there the picture of the one from walmart won’t show up – could you tell me the name? My baby is 6 months old and does Ok with a regular cup but has a lot of spills. After reading this I got one that teaches them how to use a straw (says 4 months) but she just chews on the straw… I tried the advent one you mentioned but she isn’t old enough so can’t quite figure it out. My mom bought a regular sippy cup but I am afraid to let her use it as my brother and I both needed orthodontist work as kids. Thanks for your thoughts on this contraversal issue !

  4. Hi are the sippy cups with soft silicone sippy spouts instead of hard plastic ones better for baby’s development ? I am also wondering if babies who are breastfed longer have more of the issues you describe as they tongue trust to breastfeed right ?

    Thanks

    • Hello! No, there is no difference between soft and hard spouts when referring to baby’s development. I have never heard of a connection between longer breastfeeding time and a higher incidence of tough thrust issues, but I doubt there is a connection. Usually, children begin using a regular type of cup between 6 and 12 months, so that by the time they are done nursing, they have learned how to swallow properly.

      • Okay thanks. Sorry one more question… My 6 month old drinks (water, coconut water, and breast milk) from regular cups pretty well but we need something less messy for travel and grandmas- would you say a regular sippy cup is equal to drinking these things from a bottle (like the bottle with handles- I know not to leave it with her) from a tongue thrust standpoint or one is better than the other ? I bought the advent cups you mentioned and a 4 month old straw training cup but she can’t figure them out and I worry about giving my mom the okay to use traditionally sippy cups as she is there so often and I needed orthodontic work as a kid.

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