It seems like the go-to cup of choice for parents of babies and toddlers is the sippy cup. They’re convenient, portable and prevent a mess. And as a mom of three little ones, I get it–sippy cups are easy (for both parents and kids!) and tempting to use all of the time. But what you might not know is that they can also cause delays in the proper formation of oral muscles, as well as nutritional and dental issues if overused. Although I, too, turn to sippy cups now and then with my baby and preschooler, as a dietitian, I do my best to use other types of cups when I can. Here are 3 reasons why.
1) Oral-motor development and speech:
Using sippy cups prevent the opportunity to practice mature oral-motor and swallowing skills. Sippies force babies and kids to use an immature, infant-like sucking motion when drinking, and the spout prevents the front of the tongue from elevating during swallowing. Frequent, everyday use of sippy cups may prevent a child from developing the proper lip, jaw and tongue movements needed to successfully drink from an open regular cup at the proper time (by about one year of age). An immature swallowing pattern (when little ones use a bottle or sippy cup) can also affect tooth alignment and speech development. Kids with a tongue thrust (that immature swallow learned from excessive use of bottles, sippies and pacifiers) often have difficulty with producing some speech sounds, such as the “s” sound.
2) Sippy cups are similar to bottles:
The spout of sippy cups (depending on the sippy cup), can be similar to that of baby bottles or pacifiers, which can easily become a source of comfort for a baby or toddler. So, when you’re trying to wean your baby or toddler off a bottle or pacifier, the sippy cup could potentially just replace it and delay the process. What’s more is that sippy cups often serve as a vehicle for sugary beverages such as milk, formula or juice (the last is definitely not recommended), so the excessive sucking is coupled with excessive sugar exposure for poor little teeth.
3) Dental and nutritional issues:
When babies and toddlers sip on their sippy frequently throughout the day (which they will given the chance, especially if it’s full of something sweet!), they’re exposed to excess calories and sugar, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain and health issues down the road, not to mention an increased risk of cavities. Sending a baby or toddler to bed with a sippy or bottle of milk is also not a good idea, as it allows the natural sugar in milk (lactose) to sit on their teeth all night, putting a them at risk for cavities.
So what type of cup should my baby or toddler use?
Many parents don’t realize that babies can and should be introduced to regular, open cups at about six months of age (when they start solid foods). The most recent infant-feeding guidelines say that open cups are the best choice right from the get-go. As soon as a baby is introduced to real food, she can begin using an open cup for water or even small amounts of breastmilk (with help from Mom or Dad). Personally, I’ve found that introducing an open cup at six months helped both my daughter and my son “get it” sooner. By the time they were both a year old, they were using regular cups fairly independently without too many spills (although, it takes most babies a bit longer to master the open cup).
What about the spill factor?
When your baby is first learning, you’ll likely need to reserve open cups for family mealtimes at the table, when you can help and be on spill-watch. When on the go though (or when you don’t have time to sit with your little one at the table), a better option would be a straw cup
. Straw drinking, in a nutshell, is harder work than sipping from a sippy cup. It develops the same oral muscles needed to successfully and safely manipulate food in a baby’s mouth, and the same muscles needed to make sounds and talk! So, by choosing a straw or open cup over a sippy cup, you’re helping to lay a stronger foundation for developing these important skills. And if your toddler is struggling with solids or speech, moving away from a bottle or sippy cup might just help!
Babies are typically ready to learn how to drink from a straw cup at nine months of age, but you can start right from six months (or sooner). He might choke on liquids at first when using a straw or open cup–this is normal. If it happens often though, try putting a thicker liquid into the cup (something like a smoothie) until he gets the hang of it.
If you have only ever used sippy cups, don’t worry! Your baby isn’t doomed to a life of cavities, weight issues and speech delays, I promise. And even if you continue using a sippy cup once in awhile (which is ok!), start using an open cup when you can. Even better, slowly wean your little one from the sippy and start using a combination of open cups and straw cups. Your little one will surprise you at how quickly he learns!
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