How to Introduce a Sippy Cup to a Breastfed Baby

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MDWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on August 26th, 2021

When you’re a nursing mom, being able to pump milk when your body is ready and nourish baby through bottle-feeding later is a godsend.

Of course, even if you’re still actively nursing, the time rolls around for baby to transition from bottles to sippy cups for the sake of their oral health and development.

If baby is very attached to their bottle, or almost always nurses directly, accepting and learning to use a sippy cup might take a bit of extra effort. We’re here to tell you how to get the job done while minimizing the struggle, so read on!

Why is it important to transition away from bottles?

While drinking from a bottle is an ideal way for babies to be fed during early infancy, by the time they’re nearing the one year mark, it’s time to make the transition to a sippy cup. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Drinking from a bottle may be more likely to increase tooth decay, as the action of drinking liquid from the bottle places sugar from that liquid on the teeth rather than inside the mouth. This means that it lingers on the teeth for longer than it would if they were using a sippy cup, which can create cavities.
  • When babies and toddlers drink from a bottle for too long, they’re at risk of developing weight issues as soon as early childhood. Research has demonstrated that when toddlers are still bottle-feeding at two years old, their likelihood of being obese by age six increases.1Science Daily This is likely because they’ve been trained to tote their bottle with them, drinking from it when bored or agitated rather than hungry. At this age, children should be eating solid food, which means that supplementary calories may be in excess. On the flip side, some children refuse solids in favor of their bottle, which can deprive them of important nutrients found in healthy solids.
  • Drinking from a bottle beyond the appropriate developmental age can have a negative impact on your child’s future adult teeth. Continuously sucking on a bottle can impact the way the roof of your child’s mouth and their facial muscles develop, which can make teeth crooked, lead to an overbite, or require orthodontic intervention.

When should a breastfed baby start using a sippy cup?

By the time your baby reaches a year old, they should be drinking from a sippy cup exclusively. Direct nursing is still encouraged, though many mothers will find their babies naturally nursing less, leading to a diminishing milk supply. In order to ease the transition, it’s recommended that parents introduce a sippy cup as soon as babies are old enough to use one. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6 months is about the earliest you should consider introducing a sippy cup.

At 6 months, babies are typically able to sit up by themselves in their high chair, a good indicator that their neck is strong and they can move their limbs effectively. Though you may wish to introduce a sippy cup at this milestone, the AAP notes that 9 months is actually the ideal age for making the bottle-to-cup transition; this is likely because baby is physically able to drink from a sippy cup, but isn’t likely to have developed the significant emotional attachment associated with ongoing bottle use.

What are the best sippy cups for a breastfed baby?

One of the reasons breastfeeding babies are notoriously stubborn about sippy cups is almost certainly the difference in sensation. Sippy cups which use a hard plastic spout for drinking don’t feel much like nursing, nor do they feel like the rubber or silicone nipples baby is used to.

Cups which use large, soft tops and silicone spouts feel more natural, and are the best sippy cup for the transition. Pick up an assortment of these, as there’s many options, and every baby seems to develop their own preferences. Parents should note that the American Dental Association recommends that parents avoid the use of sippy cups with no-spill valves, as these encourage a baby to suck on rather than drink from the cup’s spout.

How can I get my breastfed baby to drink from a sippy cup?

Transitioning from bottles to cups can sometimes be tougher for babies who are used to nursing. Taking things slowly, being deliberate, and staying positive are key to making the jump successfully.

  • Choose the right type of cup, and have a few versions available: As noted above, a cup with a silicone spout is the best sippy cup when transitioning a nursing baby from a bottle to a cup. This is because the softer spout feels more like the bottles and nursing that they’re accustomed to. Having a few different options on hand can save a bit of frustration, as babies can be picky about exactly which cup becomes “the” cup they’ll actually drink from. Cups with handles are also helpful, as babies may struggle to hold a cup with two hands without them.
  • Help them understand the cup: Without an indication of what’s inside, using a sippy cup can be confusing for babies. Putting a bit of breast milk or juice on the spout of the cup and letting them examine, smell, and taste it can help them make the connection between their cup and drinking. Keep offering the cup to them, gently demonstrating how it works, and being patient as they learn to use it.
  • Let them examine the cup: Sippy cups are deliberately designed to avoid messes, so letting them examine, play with, and hold the cup is just fine — it will help them get better acquainted with it. Practicing with water in the bathtub means even if an accidental leak or spill happens, there’s nothing to clean up.
  • Keep calm and patient: When parents get stressed out about big milestone transitions, kids can often sense it, and will respond in kind — yes, even babies. By remaining patient, calm, positive, and consistent, you are showing your child healthy behavior to mirror and helping them to feel comfortable as they acclimate to this new experience. Positive reinforcement is huge here, as your child will respond to enthusiasm, big wide smiles, and heaps of praise. Even if they don’t quite understand why they’re doing something right, it encourages them to repeat the behavior in the future.

Sippy cup safety

We’d be remiss not to mention that with the introduction of sippy cups comes a new set of safety rules parents and children must follow to stay safe. Make sure to give these guidelines a look before giving your child their new cup.

Clean it thoroughly, every time

Sippy cups, especially options with small parts like a straw cup, have tiny crevices and threads where nasties like mold and mildew can pop up with improper care. Always clean sippy cups thoroughly after each use, including the insides of spouts and straws, to avoid contaminating breast milk or any other beverage your child is drinking. If a cup cracks, displays permanent discoloration, or a silicone top is showing wear, dispose of it right away.

No walking around with the cup

Not only is it unhealthy for tots to constantly access the beverage in their sippy cup, but an accidental fall while drinking on the run can seriously hurt their little face — think broken noses and teeth. Make drinking from the cup a stationary activity.

Opt for a silicone top or straw cup

A hard plastic spout on a sippy cup isn’t great, as it places the liquid your child drinks in front of their teeth rather than beyond them, increasing the duration of sugar exposure and likelihood of tooth decay.

The bottom line

Making the transition from bottles to sippy cups can be challenging, but preparing yourself with the best sippy cups — think silicone spouts and handles — goes a long way in easing the switch. It’s also helpful to focus on technique, giving real consideration to your baby’s sense of attachment to their bottle and easing into use of a sippy cup in ways that make them feel comfortable, confident, and supported. Practice makes perfect, so try, try again; you’ll practically cheer in victory the day they ask for their cup instead of their bottle!

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Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MDWritten by Neve Spicer Updated on August 26th, 2021

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