By: Jennifer Tripoli, M.S., CCC-SLP
I often get asked the question “Should my child use a sippy cup?” It’s a difficult question to answer. Sippy cups were initially invented in the 1980s by a mechanical engineer who was sick and tired of cleaning up his son’s juice mess around the house. He uniquely devised a prototype for the no spill mechanism and just like that problem solved! He eventually sold his patent to Playtex ® and the rest is history as this became the go to type of cup for babies learning to transfer from bottle to cup.
I am sure you probably see tons and tons of children walking around the mall, playing at the park, and in the car with their sippy cups. This is the era of “to go” cups. Everyone, including adults bring their drinks (coffee, tea, water) to their next destination. I understand the convenience of sippy cups for parents and quite frankly I get it, but hopefully I can convince you to try out some other convenient cups that will support your child’s oral motor and speech development.
So why are they really SO bad?
- Promote immature tongue movement pattern or suckle
- Sippy cups promote an anterior-posterior tongue movement pattern, similar to the way an infant extracts liquid from a bottle or breast (suckle pattern). We want to begin to promote a more upward and backward swallow pattern for infants and toddlers by way of an open cup or straw cup. Sippy cups promote a suckle pattern especially with continued use.
- Promote inappropriate tongue position for swallowing
- The spout on the sippy cup can anchor the tongue tip down during swallowing. The only way for the tongue to move is forward. During a mature swallow pattern the tongue tip elevates to the area behind the upper teeth (alveolar ridge) as the tongue moves upward and backward.
- Promote speech sound errors
- Continued and overuse of sippy cups (and pacifiers!) promote the tongue to rest forward in the mouth. This inappropriate resting tongue position can directly impact your child’s ability to produce certain sounds. For example, a child may produce the ‘th’ sound (a frontal produced sound) in for an ‘s’ sound (‘tho’ for ‘so’). It is important to note that not all children who use sippy cups will have speech sound errors. My thought is though let’s set our children up for success by using developmentally appropriate cups!
- Poor dental development and Dental Caries
- Sippy cups can cause cavities and tooth decay. If your child is sipping on fruit drinks, milk, or any other sugary drinks, sugar can be left on their teeth which will cause the enamel to erode away. Sippy cups (and pacifiers!) can also cause misshaped oral cavities and affect resting tongue position.
- Risk of Injury
- In my research on sippy cups, I came across a study proving sippy cups can be dangerous?! Who would have thought?! A study conducted in 2012 by Dr. Sarah Keim at Nationwide’s Children Hospital in Columbus, Ohio stated every 4 hours a child in the U.S. is rushed to the hospital due to an injury from a sippy cup, bottle, or pacifier. Dr. Keim stated this likely occurs due to the child learning to walk. As they are learning to walk, they trip and fall often. If they have a bottle, pacifier, or sippy cup in their mouth they can injure themselves.
So what’s the alternative?
- Open cups
- Many parents think I am crazy when I suggest an open cup for a young child. Yes, it may seem a bit ambitious, but an important step in the development of good oral motor and feeding skills! When children drink from an open cup they are developing a more mature swallow pattern. A smaller open cup (with a smaller rim) will allow your child to have better motor control of the liquid. You can first try giving your child an open cup to practice without liquid (place a preferred pureed on the rim of the cup) or you can use thickened liquid in the cup for a slower flow.
- Straw Cups
- It may take your child some time to learn how to extract liquid from a straw, but be patient and the skill should develop! When choosing a straw cup choose a straw that is thin versus thick. Also make sure the straw is not too long. It is possible for young children to drink from a straw cup with a suckle pattern. Some children are able to extract liquid from the straw by placing the straw under their tongue. To avoid this, you can slowly cut the straw ¼ inch at a time until the straw is short enough that the child cannot place his/her tongue underneath it.
Here are a few of my favorite open cups and straw cups!
To learn more about development milestones and speech-language therapy services, visit eastersealsdfvr.org.