Are sippy cups ok to use? Are sippy cups really THAT bad? Don’t they foster independence? Don’t they help children transition from a bottle?
If you have found yourself asking these questions, you are not alone!
Between the ages of 12-18 months, many parents begin to transition their child from a bottle to a sippy cup, with the end goal of having them drink from an open cup. And the generalized notion seems to be that as long as the liquid inside the cup is not sugary (causing cavities and tooth decay) and use is not prolonged, all is well, right? Right?!
Let’s take a step back for a moment and examine the origin of the sippy cup. Sippy cups were invented in the 80s by a mechanical engineer who was in the thick of parenting his very messy toddler. And although these cups have prevented countless messes around the world, health care professionals, such as occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, dentists, and pediatricians, share their concerns about the potential harms of these cups.
As speech-language pathologists, we are concerned about children developing the proper swallow pattern. As a baby matures, so does their swallow pattern, and over-use of hard sippy spouts may get in the way. At about 12 months old, your child’s tongue tip should be able to rise to the bumpy gum-line ridge where we produce the “d” sound (this is also known as the alveolar ridge). This action begins the development of the “wave” motion of swallowing, in contrast to a less mature “suckle-swallow pattern” demonstrated by infants. Sippy cups, or bottle nipples, can get in the way of a “normal swallow” because they actually cover the front third of the tongue, constantly working against this natural developmental action. When the tongue can’t elevate properly, it tends to rest forward, potentially impacting the swallow; over time, prolonged sippy cup use may change dentition/facial structures, impact oral motor development/feeding skills, and impede speech sound development.
So what can you do?
Skip right to an open cup! As early at 6 months, you can begin to offer your little one small sips of water when they are starting solids (one sip at a time). You won’t believe how much progress they will make over a few short months. You can also try a “360” spill proof cup or you can teach your little one to drink from a straw. Try a pop up straw cup and as the child masters its use, begin cutting down the straw until it eventually is just touching the tip of the tongue.
Now if you’re thinking to yourself “Oh no! My child uses a sippy cup. His/her speech is doomed!” Take a deep breath. Sippy cups are used by many children around the world without any harm. In fact, there is limited research in this area and nothing conclusive to show that sippy cups are unequivocally “bad”. But, most experts opine that it is frequent and sustained use of sippy cups that is to blame for negative outcomes.
Our recommendation, based on our clinical experience, would be to skip them altogether or use them sparingly. Above all, remember that by age 18-20 months, your child should be drinking from an open cup independently (for the most part). If your child is still using a sippy cup or bottle beyond this age, and you have noticed any impact on their oral motor skills, feeding skills, or speech sounds, please feel free to reach out to us!
Wishing you all the best in your sippy cup switch,
Aurora Speech Clinic