Just Say No to the Sippy Cup (and what to use instead)

By: Hallie Bulkin, MA CCC-SLP, COMTM
Little Sprout Speech
You’re in good company if you believe the Sippy Cup is a rite of passage between the bottle and a straw or open cup. But I’m here to set the record straight. This is a myth. The sippy cup is NOT a rite of passage and can do more harm than good.
Sippy cups were created as a convenience item by a parent who was tired of cleaning up spills all over their house. As a mom to a toddler and an infant, I get it. Believe me, I do. Convenience items are phenomenal things, but not at the expense of a child’s oral development. For this reason, I urge you to skip the sippy cup and go straight to a straw cup or “360” cup. (I also urge you to limit the use of pouches for the same reasons!)
As a Speech Language Pathologist and Certified Orofacial Myologist (SLP/COMTM), I have read the research and treated the cases. Seeing first-hand how poor oral habits (sippy cups being one of them) negatively impact proper oral development was the sole reason sippy cups were banned from ever entering my home. Sounds extreme, but consider the following:

  • Your baby starts with an immature swallow pattern or a “suckle” with their tongue moving forward and backward to extract milk from the breast or bottle and sending it to the back of the tongue to swallow it.
  • Around 12 months your child’s swallow begins to mature and the continued used of a bottle or introduction of a hard-spouted sippy cup can interfere with progression from that infant suckle to a more mature swallow pattern. This is why we recommend ditching the bottle by 12 months of age and moving to a straw cup!
  • With the hard spout or bottle resting on the front 1/3 or 1/2 of the tongue, the tongue is forced to rest on the “floor” or bottom of the mouth
  • If the tongue sits low, it doesn’t develop the ability to rise to “the spot” (that bumpy area of your hard palate right behind your upper front teeth also known as the incisive papilla sitting 2-3mm behind upper central incisors).
  • If the tongue doesn’t rise up to “the spot” at rest and when swallowing, your brain becomes hard-wired to keep your tongue on the floor of the mouth. As a result, we now have an incorrect swallow pattern and an incorrect lingual or tongue rest posture in place.
  • Additionally, when the tongue sits low in the mouth it often forces the mouth to rest in an open position, which also leads to your child breathing through their mouth instead of their nose (and this increases illnesses, but that’s a topic for another day!).
  • When your tongue sits low it impacts swallowing, dentition (yes, it can interfere with your child’s teeth eruption pattern and schedule…but I am not a dentist so that’s all I will say on this topic!) and may also impact speech development. When it comes to speech development, some children develop a lisp where the air is heard escaping the front or side of the mouth when certain sounds are produced (e.g, like an “s” that sounds “slushy” as a result). It can also impact sounds like “t”, “d” and “n” if the tongue isn’t able to make contact with “the spot” up behind your top front teeth.

So how can we prevent these issues and promote healthy oral development? It’s simple! Move from the breast or bottle to a straw or 360 cup. There are many that are spill proof out there these days! My favorite cups are linked below (and everything I recommend is based on personal use with my own children and patients):

  1. When getting started, my favorite “training cup” to make the transition from breast or bottle to a straw cup is the Playtex Sipster Straw Training Cup. The ones with the removable handles are great for your little one and I usually introduce them by 9 months of age.
  2. Think Baby Cup (comes in steel or plastic)
  3. Wow 360 Cup
  4. Munchkin 360 Cup
  5. Talk Tools Honey Bear Cup (this is great if your child is having a hard time learning to suck liquid through the straw. It allows you to squeeze the bear and send liquid up the straw and into their mouth).

As always, if you find you are having a challenging time with this transition, feel free to contact us with any questions. We are always happy to help! We can be reached at clientcare@littlesproutspeech.com or 301.881.1394. Be sure to mention you read the article from Potomac Pediatrics and let us know which straw cups you have tried.
To happy & successful straw cup drinking!