Open cups and messy eaters

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends discontinuing bottle-feeding when children are between the age of 12 and 15 months. Sippy cups, while fairly easy for young children to use, can interfere with how children learn to take sips, sometimes cause dental problems, and may also inhibit the tongue movement used in certain speech patterns. 

So, even if you dread the extra mess of an open cup, it really is worth it to make the leap!

Choosing the cup

Instead of using your tall dinner glasses, start with a small plastic cup, like the plastic cups that come with liquid medicine. This is a good starting cup because it has a wide lip, and you can pretty easily control the amount of liquid that comes out. If you don’t have a medicine cup, any similar kind of cup will work. 

Preventing a mess

You’re probably ten steps ahead of this tip, but it’s always smart to prepare for things to get messy. The simplest way to prepare for a particularly messy cup-drinking session is to put a towel, sheet, or plastic sheeting under the high chair before you start to introduce cups. This will cut your clean-up time in half, or even more – although there’s a chance that you’ll find that your messy eater is a not-so-messy cup drinker!

What to do

Make sure that Baby is sitting in a chair that supports them as they lean back and tilts their head back. A high chair is perfect. While Baby is sitting in the high chair, pour a very small amount of the liquid into the cup.

Have Baby tilt their head back and open their mouth. Bring the cup to Baby‘s lower lip, then tilt it so that a tiny bit of the liquid goes into Baby‘s mouth.

If you’re successful and Baby swallows the liquid, praise Baby and tell them that they did a good job! Then let them have a little bit of a break before you try it again.

If it’s difficult to get Baby to open their mouth, then you might need to practice a few times with an empty cup, rewarding them when they opens their mouth for the empty cup. You could also dip the rim of the cup in a juice that Baby likes, so that they are more likely to open their mouth.

Reinforcing open cup drinking

It will take a lot of tries – and definitely a few months – for this new skill to become second nature for Baby. Keep offering the cup at each meal, making sure Baby has a few sips, and model sipping from the cup every so often so that Baby sees you drinking from it, too.

Once Baby gets the hang of things, start showing them how to hold the cup with both hands (with you helping, of course). From there, you can help less and less until Baby can do it on their own.

Why it’s good for Baby to self-feed, despite the mess

It’s really important for Baby to get the whole sensory experience of eating and drinking. Your fear of a messy kitchen is completely valid, but Baby has to learn sometime, so why not dive right in? Learning this new skill will give them a sense of confidence in the long run, and more immediately, it may start to ease your workload at mealtime.

  • Nancy Ripton, Melanie Potock. Baby Self-Feeding: Solid Food Solutions to Create Lifelong, Healthy Eating Habits. Fair Winds Press, Jun 2016. Web. 
  • “Discontinuing The Bottle.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 2015. Available at
  • Krisi Brackett. “Working on Cup Drinking: The Benefits of Using an Open Cup.” PediatricFeedingNews. Pediatric Feeding News, Jun 2014. Available at 
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