Learning to use a cup is one of the developmentally-important, “big kid” tasks of babyhood. Here’s everything you need to know about the downsides of prolonged bottle use, when to introduce cups, and how to choose the best sippy cups.
The Downsides of Prolonged Bottle Use
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that parents start transitioning to cups when their children turn 1, dropping bottles altogether by 18 months. Using bottles beyond that point can cause problems, including:
- Increased difficultly weaning, because the longer a child uses a bottle the more attached to it he is.
- Tooth decay, because drinking from a bottle causes the liquid to pool around a child’s brand-new baby teeth.
- Obesity, because habitual bottle use adds too many calories to a child’s diet after age 1. A study found that children still using bottles at age 2 were more likely to be obese at age 6.
- Exacerbated picky eating, because a child may refuse new foods and rely on the bottle to fill him up.
- Altered tooth positioning or palate formation, because prolonged bottle use can interfere with oral development.
When and How to Introduce a Cup
According to the AAP, age 6-9 months is an ideal time to let your baby experiment with cup drinking. You can do this with sippy cups (see below), or even help your baby drink from an open cup. This is just practice—he’ll be able to use a sippy cup solo by age 1, and an open-cup around age 18 months.
To gently wean from bottles, the AAP says to begin swapping them out for cups when your child turns 1. Start with the midday bottle, then move on to evening and morning bottles. Save the bedtime bottle for last. Then, stop bedtime drinking, as it’s no longer medically necessary to fill your tot’s belly before sleep. Drop bottles altogether by age 18 months.
Another option is to introduce cups cold-turkey style. Sometime around age 1, explain to your child that “today we say bye-bye to bottles and hello to big-boy cups!” You can even take him shopping to pick out a new cup. Just like switching from diapers to underpants, your enthusiasm about the switch goes a long way.
If your child is exclusively breastfed and you wish to wean him around age 1, you can follow the same advice outlined above. Some breastfed children continue nursing into toddlerhood, but they should be familiar with cup drinking by the time they’re 18 months old.
How to Choose and Use Sippy Cups
Do you feel overwhelmed walking down the sippy cup aisle? You’re not alone.
A simple rule of thumb, says the official blog of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is to go for a cup with a relatively short straw (like this one) or a valve (like this one).
Traditional sippy cups with spouts, especially if overused, prolong an immature sucking pattern. Before age 1, babies use a sucking pattern designed for swallowing liquids and soft solids. After age 1, they need a new sucking pattern for managing various types of solids. The basic difference is tongue positioning: Sippy cups with spouts keep the tongue forward, which can interfere with chewing and swallowing new foods. In turn, this can lead to challenging or messier-than-usual mealtimes.
The ASHA blog also warns that overuse of sippy cups with spouts may interfere with speech development or cause a lisp. Straw, valve, or open cups encourage mature tongue movements that help new talkers make speech sounds.
Lastly, remember that it can be dangerous for little ones to cruise, walk, run, or play with a sippy cup in hand. In fact, this study found that every four hours a child is treated in a hospital emergency room for injuries related to baby bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups!
For more guidance about introducing cups, our BabySparks program has you covered with easy-to-follow instructional videos.