Skip Sippy Cups?

Sippy cups are certainly convenient and have their place, but did you know they’re not a necessary milestone for teaching your little one to drink? Most babies today move from a bottle to a sippy, and then later to an open cup. Sippy cups are actually a relatively recent invention, designed in the 1980s. Richard Belanger, a mechanical engineer, was sick of cleaning up messes caused by spilled cups. A few prototypes later—voila!—the sippy cup was born.

Even though sippy cups aren’t developmentally necessary, they do prevent having to clean yet another grape juice stain off the carpet. So why not use them? As with most baby gear, the message here is moderation, and choosing your cups wisely. Sippy cups have their place—and can save your sanity—and that's important too! But if a child is using a sippy cup the majority of the time, they’re missing out on some important development that could impact their eating and speech and language later on.

Here are some of the problems with the overuse of sippy cups:

  • Babies use a different tongue pattern to drink when using a hard spout sippy than an open cup. The hard spout sippy cup pattern is a less mature pattern than what they would learn to use with an open cup, and if they use it long enough, can prevent a mature pattern from emerging.
  • If used regularly over a period of time, a sippy cup with a hard spout can change a baby or child’s mouth shape. This isn’t to say occasional use here and there will deform your baby’s precious smile, but overuse for long periods of time could.
  • And maybe the biggest problem with sippy cups is this—if your child is only ever using a sippy cup, they are missing out on the opportunity to learn how to use an open cup, which is a big developmental achievement.

Teaching Open Cup Drinking

You can start teaching open cup drinking between 6-12 months when your child starts solids. Some parents find that using an open cup at home during already-supervised mealtimes is an easy way to begin. Start with a small, clear cup, and offer tiny sips of water at first while you hold the cup. Yes, your child may get wet at first as they are figuring it out. As your child becomes more used to an open cup, they will become better at it and will have fewer spills. They may also enjoy the independence and being a “big boy” or “big girl” by drinking out of an open cup like the rest of the family.

But What About the Car? Or a Restaurant?

There are certainly times and places when sippy cups are preferred. If you’re getting in the car for a drive, or eating at a restaurant, you don’t want to have to worry about spilling. As long as you’re teaching open cup drinking as well, an occasional sippy here and there isn’t going to delay your child’s development. Just be smart about which cup you choose. Avoid the hard spout and instead choose a cup with a straw or a cup like the Wow or 360 cups that encourage your child to use a more appropriate tongue pattern during drinking.

Contact us for more information about oral motor skills for feeding. In Sioux Falls, 605-444-9700. In Sioux City, 712-226-Able(2253). In Rapid City, 605-791-7400.

Learn more about our therapy services here.

-Bridget Page, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist, LifeScape