Pros And Cons Of Sippy Cups

Thinking about giving your little one a sippy cup? Today, we’ll cover the advantages and disadvantages of sippy cups so you can make an informed decision.

Your baby is 6 months old and they've started solids. Should you give your little one a sippy cup to help them learn cup drinking skills? Today, we’ll help you weigh the pros and cons of sippy cups. Plus, we’ll share when and how to transition from a sippy cup to an open cup.

Note: In this article, “sippy cups” refers to any sealed cup with a spout. There are two main types: soft-spout and hard-spout sippy cups.

  • Soft-spout sippy cups are fine to start with. But they often allow baby to suck more easily (like they do from a bottle).
  • Hard spouts encourage the tilt and sip motion, and are harder to suck from like a bottle.

  • The best sippy cups don’t have a valve, because valves allow for sucking instead of sipping. The purpose of a sippy cup is to help your little one move away from sucking like they do at a bottle, and towards sipping from an open cup.

    Advantages Of Sippy Cups

    The two main advantages of sippy cups are that they aren’t as messy and that they’re a great “transitional” option to use in between bottles and open cups.

    Pro: Sippy cups are less messy

    The number one reason that parents choose sippy cups is that they’re a lot less messy than regular open cups. You won’t have to worry about cleaning up big water or milk spills, or changing baby’s wet clothes. And if you’re starting out with giving breastmilk or formula in a cup, a sippy cup means hardly any of these important liquids go to waste.

    Pro: Sippy cups are a great transitional cup

    Sippy cups work well as a “bridge” from the bottle to an open cup. They let your little one practice picking up and drinking from a cup, without the risk of spillage that an open cup poses. So, they teach skills needed for drinking from a regular, "adult" cup.

    Once your baby has mastered picking up and drinking from the sippy cup on their own, you can start having them practice drinking from an open cup with water. They may have an easier time transitioning from sippy cup to open cup vs. bottle to open cup. Introducing baby to a sippy cup around 6-8 months may help baby be more ready to give up the bottle at age one, the recommended age for starting to wean off of the bottle.

    Your little one should move completely to drinking from a regular cup, and stop using sippy cups, by their second birthday.

    Disadvantages Of Sippy Cups

    Some of the main disadvantages of sippy cups are that they may cause an improper swallowing pattern, harm the teeth, and/or encourage too frequent drinking, if used incorrectly or too long. And surprisingly, babies are ready to start using open cups as soon as they are ready for sippy cups!

    Con: Many babies are ready for open cups at the same time as sippy cups

    Generally, babies are ready for a sippy cup around 6 months of age – the age they can start drinking water. They’ll need to be able to sit up with little to no support and grasp the cup, and they’ll need good head control. Once they’re ready, you can start by showing how to use the sippy cup, and then have your little one take drinks with you holding on.

    But surprisingly, many babies are also ready to start learning open cup drinking by 6 months of age as well, once they show the same milestones needed for sippy cup readiness. So, you have the option to skip the sippy cup stage. You might have to hold onto the open cup for longer (to guide your child), but this may not matter if the cons of sippy cups outweigh the pros for you.

    Plus, the longer your child uses a sippy cup, the tougher it may be to move on to an open cup. That’s another reason you might prefer to skip the sippy, given that your child can start using the open cup around the same age.

    Con: Sippy cups may cause improper swallowing

    Sippy cups cause children to use the same swallowing “pattern” as they use with a bottle. The tip of their tongue stays at the bottom of the mouth because of the position of the sippy cup spout. But the mature way to swallow involves raising the tip of the tongue to push liquid back – this way requires more mouth movement and control.

    The harmful swallowing pattern that sippy cups encourage may make it harder for your little one to learn the proper way to swallow. It may lead them to have problems with biting and swallowing different types of solids. Some doctors mention that this could also negatively affect speech development. Moving to, or sticking with, an open cup will encourage the more mature swallowing pattern.

    Mature swallowing starts around 12 months of age, so it’s a good idea to start the transition away from the sippy cup at age 12 months.

    Con: When used incorrectly or too long, sippy cups can harm the teeth

    As soon as your little one's teeth start coming in, they are vulnerable to decay. Sippy cups are less likely to decay your little one’s teeth than bottles. But drinking formula or cow’s milk from a sippy cup is more likely to cause tooth decay than drinking those liquids from an open cup. This is because the liquid can cover the teeth (especially the front teeth) more readily.

    Given this, you might want to stick to offering just water out of the sippy cup. Or, follow up formula or cow’s milk from the sippy cup with a water “rinse,” and then brush your child’s teeth around 30 minutes after giving them the formula or cow’s milk.

    If children use a sippy cup for too long, this could also lead to crooked teeth later in life because of the immature swallowing pattern.

    Con: Sippy cups could encourage too frequent drinking

    Once little ones have mastered the sippy cup, it’s easy for them to grab and drink from the cup throughout the day. If that sippy cup is filled with anything other than water, and your little one drinks from it too frequently, they could fill up too quickly and not be hungry for solids meals.

    There’s an easy way to prevent this, though. Offer only water, breastmilk, or formula in a sippy cup, and offer only water between meals.

    Cow’s milk can be very filling, but babies shouldn’t have cow’s milk to drink before 12 months of age anyway. Since it’s best to start moving away from the sippy cup by 12 months of age, try offering cow’s milk only in an open cup.

    Note: For safety, children should only have a sippy cup when seated at the table or in a high chair, as walking around with a sippy cup can put your little one at risk for a mouth injury.

    How to transition from sippy cup to open cup

    Whether you choose to give your child a sippy cup or not, one thing’s clear. Sippy cups are a transitional tool, not a cup that children should be using for a long time.

    Your little one should be sipping from an open cup on their own, and should be done with sippy cups completely, on or before their second birthday.

    Here are some tips to encourage a smooth transition from sippy cup to open cup:

    • Let your little one pick out their own open cups, to make the transition more exciting.
    • Swap the sippy for an open cup at one meal at a time.
    • Model drinking from the open cup: “This is how Mommy/Daddy drinks. Now you try!”
    • Praise your little one when they drink from the open cup: "You're a big boy/girl, drinking from the cup!" Or "You're drinking from the cup, just like mommy/daddy!"
    • Only serve cow’s milk in an open cup, not the sippy cup.
    • Try giving your child thick fruit smoothies (made with just fruit or fruit and plain yogurt) in the open cup. These fun drinks will encourage open cup use. And they pour out slower, so they may be easier to practice with.
    • If your child's daycare or preschool requires the use of sippy cups, you can still phase out the sippy at home. Tell your child that sippy cups are "school cups" or "daycare cups," and that you only use "big kid cups" at home.
    • Once your child is ready to get rid of the sippy cups completely, have them toss the sippy cups themself (or put them in a donation box). Then, celebrate that your child has moved to big cups!

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