Sippy cups have quickly become synonymous with toddlers, but you might want to consider skipping the sippy altogether, and here are a few reasons why:
Sippy Cups May Cause Developmental Delays
Hard, spouted cups may not be helpful for your child’s development. Leading child development specialists say that because spouted cups are held on the front of a child’s tongue, he or she may not develop what is called a “mature swallow pattern.”
Young children are learning how swallow like an adult and are pushing up their tongue to the roof of their mouth. Cups with a hard tip can hold the tip of their tongue down when they swallow instead of letting the tongue tip rise. If something holds their tongue down, they could develop a tongue-thrust, (or immature swallow) which could delay progress both in speech and motor development. Also, they can have difficulty with producing some speech sounds, like the “s” sound.
Speech-language pathologists consistently agree that prolonged use of a bottle or sippy cup can cause abnormalities in mouth development.
Your toddler is also figuring out his or her own eye-hand coordination. Many great skills combine when a child uses a glass and learns to drink on his or her own. For many parents whose child seems to be having a difficult time transitioning from a bottle, a sippy cup may seem like a terrific solution. But really, this intermediate step may just delay the natural learning process for your child.
It can take time and patience to help your child learn to drink from a real cup, but it’s worth the effort and will give your child valuable life skills they will need anyway—even if you were to inadvertently delay this process with a sippy cup.
Increase the Risk of Tooth Decay and Decrease Healthy Appetite
Another reason you may want to eliminate the sippy cup step altogether is because it can encourage unhealthy habits that can cause tooth decay, interfere with hunger, and create unhealthy “grazing” tendencies.
Kids love to drink apple juice and milk because of their sweetness. However, when a child sips continuously throughout the day, the lactose from milk and fructose from fruits stays on their teeth and gums, putting your child at a higher risk for cavities in their developing teeth.
And, when kids always have a sippy cup full of calorie-dense liquids they may have a decreased appetite for healthy food at mealtimes. Nobody wants to add more stress to toddler meals!
What to Do Instead
Many parents don’t realize that babies can and should be introduced to regular, open cups at about six months when they begin eating solid foods (with a lot of help from you!) If they have a lot of trouble you can try starting with a thicker liquid like a smoothie at first. By the time your child is 18 months old they should be able to use a regular cup fairly independently without too many spills.
A cup with a half lid (or a cup without the valve or nipple installed), and even a cup with a short straw is a better choice for busy toddlers. Or, try starting with a very small cup (like a shot glass or play cup) and a limited amount of liquid. Another trick might be to use a travel coffee or hot drink cup that has a small opening at the top. Sometimes these types of cups will help to decrease the flow of fluid so your child can drink with fewer spills.
If you have tried some of these ideas and nothing seems to be working, talk to a doctor or pediatric speech or occupational therapist about different, more individualized options.
Remember, the sippy cup is a relatively recent invention. Your grandparents, and maybe even your parents, survived the toddler years without them. And, although it can be a bit messy at first, it is important that most children learn how to drink from an open cup by 18 months of age.
Written by Annie Buck, OT
Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.