Here’s When Your Child Should Stop Drinking From A Sippy Cup, According To Experts

It’s a childhood milestone for sure. When your child is able to hold her sippy cup for the first time, you might feel like one proud parent. She’s finally independent enough to drink on her own, and there’s nothing cuter than seeing your kiddo take a swig from her sippy cup. But at some point, you might find that your kiddo is clinging to her cup more than you’d like. So when should your child stop drinking from a sippy cup? It’s probably a lot sooner than you might think.

So when does the sippy cup saga start, anyway? Depending on the parent, it can be sometime within your baby’s first year. “Six months of age is a great time to begin introducing kids to a range of cups and how they work, such as open cups, cups with straws, and sippy cups,” says Sarah Smith-Simpson, PhD, a Principal Food Scientist at Nestle Nutrition (Gerber).

Thing is, a sippy cup might not always be the best drinking device for your child. In fact, it could interfere with your child’s development. “The hard spout of a sippy cup can prevent a child from developing a mature swallow pattern. This is related to the tongue’s ability to elevate – in a mature swallow pattern, the tongue will rise,” explains Devon Breithart, M.S, OTR/L, an occupational therapist. “If this is prevented, it can lead to the tongue resting forward in the mouth, which can eventually lead to delayed speech skills.” And over time, according to Breithart, it can alter anatomical structures in the face and potentially affect your child’s breathing.

Plus, sippy cups can potentially be dangerous, too. A study in Pediatrics found that an estimated 2,000 children go to the emergency room for sippy cup-related accidents. More often than not, it’s children under the age of 3 who were hurt when they fell while having the sippy cup in their mouths. “Many injuries occur when children are active and drinking from sippy cups,” says Smith-Simpson. “Children should always be seated and supervised when drinking from any type of cup.”

Another issue with sippy cups is that they can become a surrogate blanket of sorts for your child. “A sippy cup or a bottle can also become a comfort item,” says Breithart. “If this happens to your child, gradually fade it back and only allow its use at specific times, such as mealtimes at the table.” But if your child insists on cradling the cup wherever he goes, you can offer another option to provide comfort, such as a stuffed animal or toy. And be sure to pile on the praise for your child when they are able to drink their H2O sans their sippy cup.

And then, there’s always the caveat of cavities. “My advice to parents is to only use water in sippy cups” warns Dr. Summer Holloway, DMD, a dentist in Reno, NV. “Decay starts in an acidic and sugary environment, and the use of a sippy cup with anything other than water allows for the child to constantly splash their teeth with acid/sugar all day while carrying the cup around.”  So if your kiddo is clinging to their sippy cup, try to only have it filled with water so that their teeth aren’t constantly exposed to sugar—and decreasing the early childhood exposure to tooth decay.

While a sippy cup can certainly offer independence, (for both you and your toddler), there comes the time when your child should segue from a sippy cup to an open cup. In fact, your goal should be to have your child drinking from a regular cup by the time they turn two. “By two years of age, most children have a full range of skills to drink from an open cup – a parent’s ultimate goal for hydration,” says Smith-Simpson.

Even though it might feel like a losing battle, there are ways to break your child’s insistence on having a sippy cup with them wherever they go. “The key is to offer a variety of cups to practice new drinking skills and experiences,” says Smith-Simpson. “Parents can hand their child an empty cup and imitate how to use it, show their child how it works, and let them practice.” Just be sure that the cups are heavy enough to be stable and yet small enough that little hands can grasp it. You can also try to curb the habit by not letting your child carry the cup everywhere. Another option is to offer an intermediary cup that has a straw before giving your child an open cup. And above all, don’t put your child to sleep with a sippy cup to avoid cavities.

Sure, sometimes it’s easier to let your child drink from a sippy cup a little (okay, a lot) longer than they should. And ultimately it’s up to you as a parent to decide when your child should stop drinking from a sippy cup. But transitioning them to an open cup is important to do sooner rather than later. That way, your child will be on target developmentally, and reduce the risk of cavities. And if it means that you might have more spills to clean up on your carpet, so be it.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

1 Comment

  1. by Laila Hishaw, DDS on April 24, 2020  3:06 am Reply

    Such a great article that answers this common concern brought up by parents often in my pediatric dental practice. Thank you!

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