Feeding Therapy: You may want to ditch the sippy cup

Updated: Mar 8

Between 9-12 months most typically developing children are ready to trial cup drinking. So what cup is the best? While sippy cups can promote independence by allowing the infant to drink freely with less parent supervision (thank you leak proof-spill proof cups!), another option to consider is a straw cup or open cup. Why? Children's swallow matures as they grow, and in order to control and manage advanced solids and liquids in safely, they need room for development. Some believe that prolonged use or reliance of sippy cups can interfere with the oral-motor development of more advanced feeding skills. The American Speech and Hearing Association published an article which stated as a "baby matures, so does their swallow pattern, and over-use of hard sippy spouts may get in the way of development."

Feeding specialist in CO, Melanie Potock, stated in her article:

"It (use of sippy cup) continues to promote the anterior-posterior movement of the tongue, characteristic of a suckle-like pattern that infants use for breast or bottle feeding. Sippy cups limit the child’s ability to develop a more mature swallowing pattern, especially with continued use after the first year. The spout blocks the tongue tip from rising up to the alveolar ridge just above the front teeth and forces the child to continue to push his tongue forward and back as he sucks on the spout to extract the juice."

Of course, some infants (those with special needs or suspected feeding disorders) benefit from sippy cups. A valved cup can slow the flow of fast moving liquid to allow for improved safety in a swallow. Difficulty with swallowing, known as dysphagia, can occur when food or liquid is not well controlled. Infants and children who are not tolerating liquid well are at risk for liquid entering their lungs (aspiration), which if occurs chronically can causes repetitive or consistent respiratory illness.

If you are introducing cup drinking for the first time:

- You may use an open cup with small amounts of liquid. We recommend plastic cocktail cups as they are wide and can allow infants to see and anticipate when the liquid approach their mouths.

-straws are wonderful tools to advance a swallow

The following recommendations made from the ASHA wire, a speech language pathology publication. To see full article, click here

"Terrific alternatives can still protect from spills:

  1. Pop-up straw cups, like the Playtex Sipster, guaranteed by Playtex to be leak-free. Once the child masters straw drinking, suggest to parents cutting down the straw so the tip of the straw just reaches the tip of the tongue when the mouth is closed around the straw. This ensures the tongue can still elevate.

  2. Fun valved toppers, like the Good2Grow Spill-Proof Bottle Toppers. These character bottle toppers also help motivate kids to drink more water.

  3. Aluminum options with built-in straws, like the Kid Basix Safe Sippy Cup (actually a straw cup) with a straw specifically designed to be short and angled for little mouths.

  4. Some children with special medical needs may require a valved sippy cupto maintain a safe swallow. For your clients in speech, language or feeding treatment, you can determine the best cup for their needs. Ideally, children learn to drink from a straw cup by 9 months of age and an open cup, held by a parent, in the first year of life. Independent open-cup drinking, albeit somewhat messy at times, should be learned by 18 months of age."

Amy Contant, M.A.,CCC-SLP, CLC

Simple Speech

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