August 27, 2015
As children transition from nursing and/or bottle feeding to cup drinking, the most common type of cup we see used is the "sippy cup. " The sippy cup became popular in the 1980's when a mechanical engineer created a spill-proof cup to eliminate the mess his toddler made while drinking juice. Soon, Playtex offered a licensing deal and the rest is history. The sippy cup was developed for the convenience of the parents to reduce spills. It was never designed for developing good oral motor skills which are crucial for early speech and language development.
Why do we as speech language pathologists not like sippy cups? The use of sippy cups promotes a continued use of a suckle-like pattern and can limit the child's ability to develop a more mature swallow. It prevents the tongue from moving into a more natural position for speech development. Prolonged use of sippy cups can even result in dental malocclusions such as an open bite or large gap between the upper and lower teeth when closing the top and bottom teeth together. All of which can and often do negatively impact speech and language development.
Although messier and more work for the parent than the sippy cup, the best transition from nursing and/or bottle feeding is learning to drink from an open mouth cup held by the parent to reduce spills. Open mouth cups facilitate appropriate tongue positioning and increase oral motor control. Another option is a straw cup. Straw drinking is wonderful for oral motor coordination. Drinking from a straw promotes good lip rounding and is a great way to improve tongue, lip, and cheek strength and coordination all in one. Many straw cups are also spill-proof!
If the idea of not using a sippy cup at all is too much to handle along with all the other tasks of parenting, then only let your child use one for a short period of time. Begin to move towards other options such as a straw cup as your child approaches their first birthday. Between the ages of two and three, children should be independently drinking from only straw cups or open mouth cups. Kicking the sippy cup habit isn't easy. It takes time and commitment, but setting your children up for success from the very beginning is a great thing.