As I’ve previously discussed at length, we are following the baby-led weaning philosophy of introducing solids. With the introduction of solids comes the need to offer water with every meal, and ideally throughout the day as well. In the beginning, it is usually easiest and most convenient to provide water in a baby bottle.
We haven’t done much bottle feeding with Oliver, and when we started offering a bottle of water alongside his meals, he seemed disinterested. At first, I mistook his lack of interest for lack of thirst, but I have come to realize (through his outright refusal to take a bottle at daycare – but that’s a topic for another post) that Oliver simply does not like to drink from a bottle. I suppose this is both a curse and a blessing.
Back when I was having trouble with breastfeeding, I had learned that the use of bottles is contraindicated before a good latch has been established. I wanted to supplement Oliver’s feedings with expressed milk (in order to give my nipples a rest from time to time), and many breastfeeding advocacy websites suggested cup or spoon feeding as an alternative to the bottle. I became fascinated with the idea that an infant could drink from a proper cup – with parental assistance, of course. When Oliver began to refuse to drink from bottles, my thoughts returned to this notion of cup feeding. I found that Oliver was not only willing, but actually very interested, in drinking water from a cup held to his mouth. It took him no time at all to catch on, and almost immediately he started “helping” us by grabbing the cup with both hands and bringing it to his lips with amazing accuracy.
We found that using heavy ceramic and glass cups or mugs allowed us to exert more control over the movement of the cup and reduce the Oliver-induced spillage, but these would of course be difficult for Oliver to manipulate when the time came for him to drink without assistance. So we started to consider other options, including the ubiquitous spill-proof sippy cup.
According to my extensive research (aka a quick Google search), the sippy cup was invented in the 1980s by a fellow named Richard Belanger, who patented it in 1992 and then later licensed the design to Playtex. This means that less than a generation ago, there were no sippy cups. Whatever did parents do?! Why, they taught their children to drink from regular cups, sometimes after a brief stint with a training cup (a spouted cup similar to a sippy cup, but without the spill-proof one-way valve).
The introduction of the sippy cup has been correlated with an increase in the rate of many common childhood pathologies, including orthodontic issues, tooth decay, speech impediments and delays, chewing and swallowing problems, otitis media (ear infections) and even diarrhea. Note that many of the aforementioned problems are also linked to prolonged bottle use, and that the sippy cup is largely considered by medical professionals and child development experts to be merely another iteration of the bottle — but one that often ends up being used long past the age that is otherwise recommended for bottle weaning.
Regular and prolonged drinking from the hard spout of a sippy cup during critical periods of growth and development is thought to contribute to malformations of the soft palate, potentially leading to malocclusions (poorly positioned teeth/jaws), and a later need for expensive orthodontic work. Because bottles and sippy cups are mostly spill-proof, parents and caregivers are more liable to allow children to drink milk and juice over an extended period of time — even sometimes allowing these beverages to be taken to bed — which has been absolutely proven to increase the incidence of tooth decay when compared with consuming sugary (lactose and fructose) beverages in individual, time-limited sittings.
Speech-language pathologists almost universally agree that sippy cups can cause developmental anomalies that lead to speech impediments and problems with chewing and swallowing. The incidence of middle ear infections is thought to be increased by the unnatural intra-cranial and intra-oral pressure generated through sucking on an artificial nipple (note that suckling on a breast is an entirely different action). Additionally, several studies have shown that children who drink from bottles and sippy cups are more prone to contracting diarrhea-causing pathogens than their breastfed, spoon-fed and cup-fed peers, most likely because sippy cups and bottles are more difficult to sanitize.
Finally, the use of sippy cups does not teach children how to drink from a proper cup! The sippy cup is not a training cup; rather it is an item of spill-proof convenience for parents and caregivers. Most major paediatric health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend phasing out bottles and sippy cups as early as one year of age, and certainly no later than two.
So with Oliver not keen on the bottle, and no shortage of arguments against the sippy cup, we began to explore age-appropriate alternatives to the standard open top cup.
One option is the use of straws or straw cups (such as this one), which have actually been shown to have benefits to children’s oral development (they are often used therapeutically in speech-language training). I vetoed straw cups, however, due to the difficulty in properly cleaning them.
Finally, I found a solution I was looking for: the Doidy Cup! This innovative training cup actually supports, rather than hinders, the transition to a regular drinking cup, with its unique slanted design and child-sized handles. Yes, it requires parental supervision, and yes, there are going to be spills and messes as Oliver learns to drink without assistance, but I think the long term benefits to his health and development are well worth the initial effort. The hope is that Oliver will more quickly develop the coordination necessary to handle a regular drinking cup than he otherwise would with a bottle or sippy cup, while simultaneously avoiding all of the health and developmental pitfalls associated with their use.
It is interesting to note that Oliver’s daycare specifically requests that parents do not send their infants and toddlers to the centre with sippy cups. Instead, they encourage all children, regardless of age, to drink from small, plastic cups. They were happy to support Oliver’s use of the Doidy Cup.
So far, Oliver seems to be adapting well to drinking from the Doidy Cup, with parental assistance. I know that he is not ready to use it independently, since he does not yet understand the need to place the cup back on the table after drinking (he simply lets go of things when he is finished with them). In the near future, we will allow him some opportunities to experiment with drinking on his own (for example, in the bathtub, or outdoors in warmer weather), but for now, we help him to drink with minimal frustration and maximum success.
How did you teach your child(ren) to drink from a cup? Did you use any transitional cups (sippy cups, straw cups, training cups, etc.), or just switch straight to a regular cup?