Sippy cups? Straws? Open cups? Which one is best for my child?
Firstly, don’t over think it, it can be as simple as you want it to be. We live in an age with so many choices that sometimes it is hard to know WHAT to think! Should we buy one? Should we buy them all?
As a Paediatric Feeding Speech Pathologist and mum, I know when my boys were young, I bought a lot of cups – they were fun to try but boy some of them were expensive.
So here is my goal – to empower you with knowledge so that you can make an informed choice.
Firstly, when a baby is born and in the early months of feeding, their tongue moves in a forward to backwards direction (sucking motion). A bottle, breast and even dummy naturally aligns itself to this tongue action.
Then as a baby starts solids, there is slowly but surely a gradual change in that tongue movement. The tongue in your baby’s mouth when they are 9-10 months of age starts to change in it’s movement. It no longer moves in a forward-back movement, it can now move side ways as well – how clever! Now this doesn’t happen straight away but by 11-12 months of age, most kids have this lateral tongue movement.
So why is this anatomy important to know when it comes to sippy cups? Because sippy cups and prolonged use of the bottle (and dummy) encourage the forward-back tongue movement but as they get older, we don’t want to encourage this movement – we want more of the side ways tongue movement. Why? Because this lateral tongue movement helps children learn to chew and swallow solids. Think about when you eat – your tongue takes the food to your side of your mouth to chew. This is an important skill to help your child learn to eat finger foods (eg pieces of fruit and vegetables) and mixed textures (eg lasagna, soup).
Does that make sense? I hope it does because I want you to make an informed decision.
From my perspective as a paediatric feeding speech pathologist, I would rather parents see sippy cups as a stepping stone- quick rest stop for their 6-7 month olds to help their learn to coordinate their swallowing skills on this faster flow. And then move onto a lidded cup (eg cheap and cheerful drinkee cups or more expensive WOW cups or premium glow in the dark lidded cups), straw cups and definitely small practice moments with open cups. The grand plan is to be on an open cup by 2 years of age.
Here is a couple of other points
- Avoid sippy cups and straw cups that have a valve in it. These are made with parent convenience in mind not child oral motor development. Have a go sucking out of them- you need to bite and suck- definitely not a normal movement.
- Watch where the straw sits in your child’s mouth- you don’t want it resting on the middle part of their tongue- it encourages that suckling forward back tongue movement I discussed earlier. If you see this, then cut the straw so it sits on their bottom lip. Again keep it simple- have a go sucking from a straw and see where it sits in your mouth- it doesn’t rest of the middle part of your tongue right?
- transition your child to an open cup (or versions of) and straw cup sooner rather than later.
- Expect a bit of mess and spills, it’s all part of their learning.
- If they cough a bit on the flow, encourage them to take small sips. Feeding expert Melanie Potock from My Munch Bug has a great strategy of using clean empty baby food jars with water or milk in it. She encourages the baby to take a small sip of the jar then teaches them to tap it on their chest. She argues that this technique doesn’t allow a baby to tip the whole jar up (which they learned to do from a sippy cup) causing spilling and too much liquid coming out/coughing. I love this strategy and use it all the time. It requires lots of parent modelling and simple language – I use “sip-tap (on chest)” in clinic. And a few practice sessions, most of my little ones have got it. Get 2 baby jars so you can both practice together and do it outside so it doesn’t matter if it spills everywhere.
Take home message?
One exception- for children with special needs including those with sucking difficulties, nasogastric tubes and/or swallowing aspiration issues, they may need to stay on a sippy cup longer than most kids and that’s totally okay (step away mummy judgements). No doubt these kids already have Feeding Speech Pathologists involved who are monitoring their oral motor development and there are plenty of other strategies that can be individualised to help these kiddos.
So hopefully I’ve armed you with some knowledge around this contentious issue so you can make your own informed decision. Cup? Sippy cup? Straw? I would love to know your thoughts- which ones do you use and love? Do you have a drawer full like me?
Until next time
Wishing you happy and positive mealtimes
Paediatric Feeding Speech Pathologist @ Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology
This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Speech Pathology assessment and management nor medical or nutritional care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have with your Speech Pathologist and managing Doctor and develop an individualised team plan specifically for your child.
About the author of this blog post
Valerie Gent is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 14 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She has recently opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ that caters for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website www.letseatspeech.com.au and Facebook page www.facebook.com/LetsEatPaediatric SpeechPathology or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org