To sippy cup, or not to sippy cup?

How important are sippy cups as an ingredient for early childhood development? According to many parents, doctors, and speech therapists, not very. And in some ways, if they’re misused, sippy cups can actually create problems for speech or tooth development.

Sippy problems

One of the reasons sippy cups are often the easiest thing to transition babies to using after the bottle is because many of them don’t actually work all that differently from bottles. The soft-nosed, valved ‘no spill’ cups require kids to use the same suckling motion they learn to use with bottles, instead of teaching them the more adult sucking motion cups and straws use. This can lead to the same speech and eating delays and risk of tooth decay that using a bottle for longer than recommended can.

So why sippy?

The truth is, kids are messy, and toddlers are messy times ten. The ability to keep liquid, especially sticky things like milk, from getting spilled and tracked all through your home can feel very appealing to new parents. More than that, though, many children just don’t thrive on huge shifts in their lives, and do better with more gradual transitions, like slow night-weaning over several weeks, or switching from bottle to sippy to open-top kids’ cup, to eventually handling glassware.

Additionally, there are many types of sippy cups, from soft-nosed no-spill cups, to cups with straws, to cupsthat are designed to mimic the drinking motions of regular cups. Sippies that use straws generally don’t carry the same risks to speech and eating development that no-spill cups do.

Doing it right

The right way to use sippy cups, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, is to use them briefly, as a transition between the bottle and the cup, and not for any significant amount of time on its own. Transitioning from sippy to cup after a period as brief as a month is reasonable. The AAPD suggests aiming to have Baby using a regular cup some time between 1 and 2 years old. It’s also a good idea, especially if you’re using a combination of sippy and regular cups, to make a policy only to offer water in the sippy, because it can trap sugars behind and between the front teeth in much the same way that a bottle does.

On the other hand, many parents find it’s easiest to skip the sippy altogether and move on to a small size plastic or sturdy glass cup when they first move away from the bottle. Another alternative is to use straw cups, which can have lids to prevent spills, but don’t create the same tongue position, and require more adult sucking motions than the sippy cup.

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