It seems like a natural progression to go from the breast or bottle to a sippy cup.
After all, toddlers are quite messy!
The spill-proof sippy cup just might be the best invention for busy mothers with constantly thirsty toddlers.
Or is it?
Why Your Toddler Shouldn’t Use A Sippy Cup
As convenient as the sippy cup is, it’s not ideal for oral development.
In fact, the sippy cup doesn’t really benefit children, it’s beneficial for parents.
I won’t disagree that the sippy cup saves quite a bit of cleaning!
But if we think back to our early years, and especially our parents’ early years, sippy cups weren’t a must have item.
Many kids transitioned from the breast and bottles to plain old cups, or cups with simple lids (though not spill-proof).
Why Should We Skip Sippy Cups?
Newborns and young infants have a unique suck-swallow pattern. They take a deep latch to the breast or a bottle. Their tongue uses specific movement to get milk flowing.
A proper latch is important for them to be able to efficiently transfer milk. You can read Learning to Latch: A Key To Breastfeeding Success to learn more about infant latching.
As infants become toddlers, their swallowing pattern changes. The spout on a sippy cup has the potential to interfere with their maturing swallowing patterns and use of their tongue.
How Can A Sippy Cup Interfere With Learning To Swallow?
As mentioned above, babies have a unique suck-swallow pattern. As they mature, they learn to chew and swallow food as their swallowing patterns change.
Around 12 months old, babies develop the mature swallow pattern. If they’re drinking exclusively from a sippy cup or bottle, it can interefere with learning to properly use their tongue.
Having plenty of opportunity to practice using their tongue without an impeding spout is important as they become more efficient with solid foods. Not learning to use their tongue properly could interfere with their ability to properly chew and swallow solid food.
Another way to help babies develop feeding skills is baby led weaning, read Baby Led Weaning – What Is It and Should I Be Doing It? to learn more.
Can Sippy Cup Use Interfere With Speech And Language Development?
One of the most exciting, and for some parents stressful, experiences is watching your baby develop language skills. If your baby seems to be struggling with speech, you might fall into the group of stressed parents.
Every baby develops at their own unique pace when it comes to language development. However, there are certain milestones infants should be reaching at different times.
There are pre-language skills (e.g. babbling and cooing) our babies master before they’re holding conversations with us. In addition to those adorable pre-language sounds, they need to develop their tongue and other oral muscles.
If you’re thinking, “Well my oldest child always used a sippy cup and he could talk up a storm by 18 months,” it’s important to understand that a risk isn’t a guarantee.
Plenty of infants and toddlers utilise sippy cups without developing a speech delay. The difficulty with this type of risk is we don’t always know which child will suffer from delayed oral development due to using a sippy cup.
The occasional use isn’t likely to have much impact. However, today we see children with a sippy cup nearly all day long. Not only are sippy cups typically used at meals, we also see them in the car, at the park, in the stroller, and even hanging from their mouth during playtime.
This overuse leads to children not developing the appropriate mature swallow pattern and sometimes even overall poor oral development.
If We Can’t Use Sippy Cups, What Can We Use?
In the era of spill-proof sippy cups, it’s hard to imagine just giving your toddler an open cup. It might surprise you, but with a bit of practice, many 12 month olds can master drinking from an open top cup.
Putting a small amount of water in an easy to lift cup at meal times can be a great way to help toddlers learn to use an open cup.
If you need a spill-proof cup for outings, a straw top cup is an alternative that works for some children. Just like a regular sippy cup, it’s not ideal to use exclusively, but it’s less likely to impede oral development than a hard spout.
A reusable water bottle designed for children or adults can also be used for outings. You might be surprised how quickly your toddler can master using a regular cup or water bottle when given the opportunity.
If your child has unique needs, then the benefit of a sippy cup to ensure they can adequately and safely drink certainly outweighs possible risks here. If you have concerns, you can speak with your child’s physician or their speech language pathologist (speech therapist).