Benefits of open cups versus sippy cups for babies

Sippy cups for babies are usually the go-to for a lot of parents, but many experts recommend using open cups instead. You’re probably thinking, ‘introducing solids is messy enough, so why would I want to give a baby a cup to spill liquids everywhere as well?!’ So, let’s first look at the benefits of using open cups versus sippy cups, and then how to go about introducing one to your little person.

From 6 to 12 months, your baby will need a little cooled boiled tap water at mealtimes only. This is to prevent constipation, to help wash down food, and to rinse food off their teeth (if they have any yet!). It should not replace breastmilk or formula, or be given before 6 months.

We also want them to start to enjoy water as a drink for when breastmilk or formula is no longer the primary source of nutrition past 12 months of age.

So, why do dietitians, dentists, speech therapists, feeding therapists, and occupational therapists recommend an open cup rather than a sippy cup?

Oral-motor skill development

To prepare for talking, babies need strong and flexible lips, tongue, jaw, cheek muscles, and swallow mechanisms. Open cups promote these good oral motor skills.

Using sippy cups can delay speech and feeding development, such as managing different food textures. We need tongue tip elevation for verbal sound production, and sippy cups restrict that movement in the mouth, pressing the tongue down rather than allowing it to move freely around the mouth.

Dental impact

In particular the hard spout sippy cups can cause damage to teeth and gums over time. The spout pushes on a child’s teeth as they suck, which can lead to crooked teeth or tooth decay.

Skill development

‘Start as you mean to go on’ is a great mantra when it comes to feeding children. Learning to drink from a cup is a skill, so the earlier you expose your baby to it, the better.

With help from you, and lots of practice, they will learn to control the cup (and the spills!) well before 12 months. This also coincides with the age that it’s recommended to wean a baby off bottles, so if you choose to do so, a cup could make this transition smoother.

Sippy cups don’t require any more skills than bottle feeding, so a baby can’t progress in their development if they continue to suckle the liquid from a spout.

Cleaning up factor

The upside to using a sippy cup is that they prevent spills, but keeping them clean isn’t always easy! There are usually removable parts to wash, and fiddly straws to clean that mildew can grow in if not dried thoroughly.

An open cup can usually just go into the dishwasher with the rest of the dishes. It’s a win win!

What to look for in an open cup

  • Made from a material that isn’t too hard

Stainless steel and glass are great plastic alternatives, but can be too hard on a baby’s teeth and gums. While they’re learning, they might go in too quickly for a drink and bop their teeth on the rim. Look for cups made of bamboo or ones that have a soft silicone rim.

  • Small size for small hands

The cup should be lightweight enough for your baby to easily pick up, and small enough to get their little hands around them.

  • Optional criteria

Some baby cups have handles, tilted rims, or weighted bottoms to prevent them from toppling, so you might want to experiment with different ones to find the one that your baby prefers. However, these features aren’t necessary to get started.

How to introduce an open cup to your baby

  1. Start with a small amount of water in the cup so there’s less to spill.
  2. You might have to offer it yourself as you introduce the concept, but once your baby starts to grasp the cup in two hands, you can gently place your hands around theirs and help them to bring it to their mouth slowly.
  3. Tilt the cup up slightly for a couple of seconds so that the water touches your baby’s lips, and then take it away. The idea is for the baby to start to close their lips around the rim of the cup rather than pouring water into their mouth.
  4. Model drinking water yourself at every meal, with a big ‘ahh’ to indicate you took a drink.

It will take a lot of patience and plenty of practice, but over time your baby will figure out how to open their mouth and then to control the flow of water.

Spills will happen (but it’s only water), so try not to make a big deal of it. If you’re already doing baby-led weaning or offering finger foods, you’ve probably either got your baby in a feeding smock, or they eat their meals in nothing more than a nappy. Mess is important when introducing solids, and mealtimes should be fun, so relax and enjoy!

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