Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

February 14, 2017

Cup Drinking: Where to start?

By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP

As a feeding therapist, I often have parents ask me about where to go next when transitioning to a cup. Finding the appropriate cup for your child can be a difficult task. Although there are a variety of sippy cups on the market today, the most important transition for your child is eventually to either an open cup or a straw cup. If your child has a specific reason for a certain cup, your feeding therapist will help you with this transition. We often recommend practicing with open cup drinking or a straw cup once your child is around 6 months old or sitting independently. This depends on where your child is developmentally and it is important to keep in mind if your baby has any difficulty with swallowing. Although these two versions of drinking may be a little messier than the sippy cup, try practicing outside or in an easy-to-clean environment so that your child can learn.

Many parents view sippy cups as a developmental milestone, but drinking from a sippy cup is not a specific milestone a child must reach. When focusing on the developmental milestones, we look at a child’s ability to transition from the breast or a bottle to an open cup or straw drinking. As a child’s oral motor skills develop, they gain more control over their lips, tongue, and swallow. As feeding therapists, we notice that children are typically most interested in the cups they see their caregivers use. At around 9 months, your child may be able to start to drink from a straw or at least start to practice. There are certain cups that can be helpful when “teaching” straw drinking, although many kids learn through practice as their oral motor skills develop. We would not expect your child to be able to pick up an open cup without assistance and drink from it, there are a few great transition open cups that we often recommend to families.

Here are a few tips when looking for a cup for your child:

Handles: Handles are important when introducing a new cup since this allows your child to easily grasp onto the cup and start to learn how to independently bring the cup towards their mouth. When a cup is hard to hold, it is difficult for a child to focus on holding the cup, bringing it to their mouth, and learning how to drink from the cup.

Focus on the “top” of the cup: The transition open cup allows for the child to learn the motor pattern of drinking from an open cup. We often recommend the Miracle 360 cup for a transitional open cup. Since the top of the cup is mainly closed, the liquid comes out at a slower pace and allows the child to have better oral motor control. This cup has a lip on the top where your child learns how to position their top and bottom lip while drinking. There are also straw cups that have “weighted” straws, which means that the straws hold liquid even when the cup is tipped up, allowing the child to be successful even if they attempt to tip the cup up. Parents have recommended the Zoli cup for a first weighted straw cup.

Allow your child to explore: It is important when introducing a new cup that you give your child the time they may need to explore the cup. This means that when you are first starting, take the time to put the cup out while your child is playing with their toys. Although they may not drink from the cup yet, they will become comfortable with how to hold the cup and bringing it to their mouth. Your child will learn best from what they see you do, therefore mealtimes are a GREAT time to model drinking from either a straw or an open cup!

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