As parents, one of our first priorities in caring for our children is keeping them safe from harm. A huge part of achieving this goal is knowing how to use their gear correctly; car seats, harnesses, and even seemingly innocuous items like sippy cups can pose hazards if you don’t know the rules of proper use. Though there are some issues associated with incorrect use of sippy cups, knowing the potential hazards and how to avoid them can go a long way in mitigating their occurrence.
So, does my child really need a sippy cup?
As one of the major intents of using a sippy cup is training your child in the use of a regular cup rather than a bottle, you may wonder if it’s a step that’s actually necessary. While the answer is technically no, sippy cups primarily help your child transition from bottles to open cups without making a mess.
With this in mind, sure, you could give your little one a cup without a lid, but cleaning up repeated messes during the learning process probably isn’t the new hobby you’ve been daydreaming about. A sippy cup is a very helpful transitional tool as long as it’s a sturdy, leak-proof cup that’s being used correctly.
Other than preventing a mess, how are sippy cups helpful?
- They make travel easy: Just like you, your little one needs a drink on the go from time to time; they’ve become accustomed to a bottle, but once they’ve weaned, it’s not an acceptable choice. A sippy cup allows them access to their drink when they’re in the car, at the park, or otherwise out in the world. From the parental perspective, this allows them to have a drink without risking spills on clothes or car upholstery.
- Hydration is essential: We are well aware that hydration is important for us, and your little one’s hydration needs are just as important to their well being. Regular access to fluids is a positive thing.1Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010).Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews, 68(8), 439-458.
- They help kids master the motions: Holding and drinking from a real cup requires the use of different motor skills than toddlers use during breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Grasping a cup, lifting it to their mouth, and taking a sip help them learn the motions needed to drink from a real cup.
- Issues associated with long term bottle use are avoided: Bottles are easy and familiar, but not weaning your baby off of their bottle by the appropriate age (one year is recommended can cause some long term issues including tooth decay. Weaning to a sippy cup that’s used in a healthy, proper manner can mitigate these issues.2Rizal, M. F., Sutadi, H., Bachtiar, B. M., & Bachtiar, E. W. (2010). The frequency of bottle feeding as the main factor of baby bottle tooth decay syndrome.Dental Journal (Majalah Kedokteran Gigi), 43(1), 44-48.researchgate.net
- Issues associated with long term bottle use are avoided: Bottles are easy and familiar, but not weaning your baby off of their bottle by the appropriate age (one year is recommended, but 18 months is the absolute max) can cause some long term issues including tooth decay, failure to develop a mature swallow reflex, ear infections, and speech delays and impediments. Weaning to a sippy cup that’s used in a healthy, proper manner can mitigate these issues.
In what ways can sippy cups be dangerous to my child?
Sippy cups seem like a fairly innocuous piece of baby gear, and it’s true — the cup itself doesn’t pose danger unless it’s used improperly, especially over an extended period of time. Some issues you should be aware of are as follows:
- Hard spouts shouldn’t be used consistently: Sippy cups with hard spouts are often what comes to mind when the devices are discussed, but they’re not the best choice for your child’s future orthodontic health. Improper tooth development, tongue placement, and swallow reflex can all be caused by frequent use of hard spouted sippy cups; this can impact sleeping habits, facial appearance, and even create a need for future orthodontia where it wouldn’t otherwise exist.
- Orthodontic and speech issues: Overuse of sippy cups can lead to orthodontic problems, however, while the internet commonly discusses such issues, they are often overstated. A more pertinent concern is that sippy cups promote immature sucking patterns that do not aid in speech development.
- Small crevices are a breeding ground for nasties: Little crevices, screw-on cap threads, narrow spouts, and tiny straws all create perfect environments for mold and mildew to grow; they’re both hard to clean and hard to dry.3Tinanoff, N., & Palmer, C. A. (2000). Dietary determinants of dental caries and dietary recommendations for preschool children.Journal of public health dentistry, 60(3), 197-206.health.maryland.gov
- They play a role in a lot of household accidents: When kids are permitted to run around drinking from their cup, a fall that may have otherwise been no big deal can turn into an unexpected trip to urgent care; cuts, bruises, and even broken teeth have happened because of cup use not monitored.
- Tooth decay can be an issue: Unfettered access to sugary drinks like soda, juice and milk over extended periods of time rather than in short intervals at mealtime is the primary issue leading to tooth decay. In between meals water is the best liquid.4Doğramacı, E. J., & Rossi-Fedele, G. (2016). Establishing the association between nonnutritive sucking behavior and malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 147(12), 926-934.
- It can lead to the early establishment of problematic eating behaviors: If little ones are given constant access to sugary drinks in their sippy cup, especially to calm them when they’re agitated, they may begin to look to the drink as a source of pleasure and pacification. This can train them to look toward food and drink as a source of comfort, a behavior pattern that’s linked to weight gain.5Michels, N., Sioen, I., Braet, C., Eiben, G., Hebestreit, A., Huybrechts, I., … & De Henauw, S. (2012). Stress, emotional eating behaviour and dietary patterns in children.Appetite, 59(3), 762-769.
What sippy cup types exist, and what’s good and bad about each option?
The Pros: These traditional cups are okay for occasional use, and they tend to be less expensive than their fancier counterparts. They tend to excel at regulating the flow of liquid and preventing leaks during travel.
The Cons: They’re not for constant use, as they may interfere with normal speech development in some extreme cases.
The Pros: Unlike hard-spouted cups, they use soft plastic or silicone to create a spout which flexes to accommodate baby’s tongue and teeth.
The Cons: Though they’re healthier than hard-spouted sippy cups, silicone and soft plastic tend to degrade faster, and thoroughly cleaning them can be difficult, especially if there’s a secondary valve piece. Children with teeth can also bite through the silicone spout or straw and it can become a choking hazard.
The Pros: They do the best job of mimicking the sensation of drinking from a regular glass.
The Cons: Getting accustomed to these cups can be tough for kids who are just transitioning away from a bottle.
The Pros: They’re ideal for developing healthy tongue positioning, mature swallow reflex, avoiding tooth decay and otherwise promoting good orthodontic health.
The Cons: If they’re not well-made, they can be much leakier than their spouted counterparts, and they don’t really demonstrate what drinking out of a real cup without a straw is like.
The Six Sippy Cup Safety Commandments
Sippy cups can be a perfectly safe transitional tool as long as they’re used correctly, which honestly isn’t too tough. What’s key is knowing best practices, so we’ve made is simple with the Six Sippy Cup Safety Commandments; they’re as easy to follow as they are important, so check them out to be assured that you’re using and maintaining their sippy cups correctly.
- Stop, Sit, and Drink: Although your little one might want to tote their sippy cup with them as they run around, doing so can lead to serious accidents if a fall happens. Establish drinking habits that include sitting down quietly to drink from their cup, putting it down on the table, and going back to their activity of choice to stop the potential for an unnecessary disaster.
- Always Be Cleaning: A rinse really isn’t sufficient to thoroughly clean your kiddo’s sippy cup, even if they just had water. Use hot water, soap, and a cleaning brush with small bristles to get into every nook and cranny of their cups and lids, especially hard-to-reach areas like lid threads, spouts, valves, and crevices where bacteria and debris can linger. A small bottle brush makes a great cleaning tool for little straws, which are especially prone to getting gross with repeated use.
- Time Limits Are Essential: Occasional treats like chocolate milk and sugary juices are a perfectly natural and healthy part of childhood, but they shouldn’t be on constant access via your little one’s sippy cup for a few reasons. First, sugary liquid passing over their front teeth over the course of hours rather than minutes at mealtime can contribute to tooth decay. Second, sugary drinks given to calm or reassure kids can create a link in their mind between “unhealthy” food/drink and reassurance, which can contribute to future weight issues. Stick to offering these treats at or after mealtime only, so they don’t have an emotional association and aren’t constantly accessible.
- Soft, Straw, or Spoutless: While it’s okay to use hard-spouted sippy cups occasionally, there are some serious issues associated with their consistent, long-term use.. It’s best to stick to soft-spouted, spoutless, or straw cups for your little one, all of which reduce the risks posed by hard spouts to some degree.
- Practice Regular Cups Too: Particularly once they’ve become accustomed to their sippy cup, begin practicing with drinking from regular cups during meal time, too; just as you phased in transitional sippy cups before weaning them off the bottle, this can help them to acclimate to a new way of drinking. Small, light-weight plastic cups with water given at dinner are good practice, as accidental spills are easy to clean.
The key to using sippy cups safely is proper, balanced use. It’s wise to have a small range of cups on hand, primarily focusing on soft spouts and straws as they initially transition to a cup and moving on to spoutless picks as they become better acquainted to the act of drinking from a cup. Opting to establish good habits by sitting down to drink and offering water the majority of the time can help to mitigate issues related to accidents, tooth decay, and the formation of bad habits. Finally, thoroughly cleaning their cups and storing them in a clean, dry place increases their longevity by preventing the development of mold and mildew.