Oh the spill proof convenience of a sippy cup. Every parent’s dream, right? Your child can drink her liquid in peace, without supervision and have no drips, leaks, and spills anywhere. What is not to love?
Well... a lot.
There are definitely some drawbacks to consider before pledging your allegiance to the sippy cup. Though these cups prevent spills and messes in your car, if used for a prolonged period of time, it may negatively impact your baby’s development of a mature swallowing pattern. Dentition and speech sound development may also be affected by prolonged sippy cup use (pacifiers and bottles too).
How does a sippy cup affect development of a mature swallow?
Babies and adults swallow differently. Babies use a suckling pattern or reverse swallow that is typical for their age and is crucial during breast feeding so they can expel milk from the nipple. This is seen also when feeding an infant food from a spoon, the child will push the food back out with her tongue. Typically by 12 months of age, she will begin to develop a more mature, adult-like pattern of swallowing and the tongue will no longer push forward. She will learn to lift and push up the tongue tip inside her mouth to swallow. Extended use of a sippy cup, pacifier, or bottle will cause the child to continue to use a suckling, immature swallow pattern.
What is a parent to do? Should you ban sippy cups entirely?
Use of a sippy cup is NOT a developmental milestone. As mentioned before, it can actually negatively affect oral motor development. It is best to avoid the sippy cup altogether and teach your child to drink from an open cup or straw cup. However, I find that it is difficult for many parents to eliminate the magical spill-proof sippy cup. Therefore, I advise parents, who are not willing to stop using sippy cups, to teach their child how to drink from an open cup as soon as they are drinking from a sippy cup, usually around 6-8 months. This way the child is exposed to and practicing open cup drinking while the parent can still reap the benefits of the sippy cup occasionally on trips and drives. It is important to start weaning your child from the sippy cup and pacifier around 12 months of age and to be completely sippy cup, bottle, and pacifier free by two years old.