SKIPPING THE SIPPY CUP

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.

The Doidy Cup

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?

16 responses to “SKIPPING THE SIPPY CUP

  1. We used a straw cup from the time my son was about 7-8 months old. I work with speech therapists and occupational therapists and wanted to skip the whole sippy cup type spout. Open cups and straw cups support development of the mouth muscles. I liked the Nuby straw cups when he was younger because they have a wider straw that is easier for little ones to use. He transitioned from the bottle to the straw cup at about 8 months, and no longer used the bottle. We did start working on an open cup with him when he was about 18 months old, but it was nice to have a spill proof container for when we were going out. Now that he is 5 we send the Funtainer thermos that has a straw with him to school and take it with us when we go out, but at home he just uses a regular cup.

    • I can definitely see the value of a straw cup for those occasions where it is just not practical to deal with the mess of a regular cup (e.g. when we are out and about, or in restaurants)!

  2. My oldest, also an Oliver who is now 2, did not like bottles or sippy cups and we also did baby led weaning with him. We were given two Zoli straw cups as a gift and I must say that we absolutely love them. He was able to drink unasisted from them at 6 months and still loves them today. But we only use them for water because of the cleaning issues. Otherwise we just used a variety of plastic cups and about 6 months ago moved to tiny glasses from Ikea to teach him to be careful with his dishes, since they will now break if he is not.

    • Great name ;)

      Those ZoLi straw cups are quite innovative. How long did it take Oliver to learn how to suck/sip from a straw, and did you do anything special to teach him?

  3. We skipped almost all the standard baby gear, including sipppy cups and plastic plates with cartoon drawings. We use a really basic set of enamelware from Nova Naturals. It was expensive, but our wee one is four and those are the only ones she has used (short of sometimes using our regular plates these days). The cup has endured some chips from being dropped, but oh well. I try to avoid the plastic trap as much as possible. We never gave her a beverage besides water once she started drinking from a cup, so spills weren’t a problem. I could handle an ounce or two of water at a time! When we were out, I used a Klean Kanteen and let her sip out of that. It worked out well enough–like I said, she’s four now and has no problems (that we can tell!) from skipping the sippy cup phase!

    • It’s nice to hear of another parent who hasn’t offered any beverages other than water. We are planning to do the same, as we don’t see any real reason or benefit to doing otherwise.

      I’ve read that offering lightweight plastic plates and bowls is the surest way to tempt a child to throw them on the floor. Apparently, once the child is ready for plates and bowls, it is best to go with heavy ceramics, even though they can break.

      P.S. Just checked out Nova Naturals – what a fantastic site! I am going to bookmark it for toy purchases when Oliver gets older.

  4. Again, thorough and well thought out post.

    I’m quite interested in the cups your reference that are sloped and have handles. When/if we have a second child I think those would be really useful. Maybe I can buy them from your Amazon store :)

    We did a mix of sippy cups, regular cups and a bit of bottle feeding (never really took to it). At almost 2.5 he is now a confident and fairly tidy eater. He uses a cup, usually glass, eats off of adult size dishes and uses a regular size fork and a teaspoon. We were using a sippy cup for water when we were out until about a month ago. Now I just bring a water bottle with a wide mouth and he drinks from that.

    I found cup learning to be a lot of work up front. You have to be patient. I think most parents are intimidated by it and don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up. That’s why you see four year olds still using sippy cups at the dinner table.

    I was lucky that at a year our son started going to a fantastic daycare that practices cup skills and self-feeding. Early skills were learned there and we supported it at home.

    We’re now in the UK and I find that children use bottles and sippy cups here a lot longer. My son goes to a daycare and all the children, even the four year olds, are served beverages in a sippy cup.

    I love your thoroughness and forward thinking approach to parenting. But have to ask, do you find a lot of your practices and ideas are challenged by the other new moms you know? Or are they respectful of your choices? Or, like me, do you not reference your different approach in front of other new moms?

    • I remember reading one of your posts (or comments?) where you mentioned that you don’t use toddler dishes and utensils for Henry. I agree that they seem unnecessary, and perhaps even counter-productive. Lightweight plastic dishes and cups practically beg to be chucked on the floor, and I think those strangely shaped and bendy baby utensils may not actually help to teach children how to eat from real utensils. I’d prefer to give Oliver heavy ceramic and glass dishes, and teach him from the get-go that they must remain on the table. When it comes time for him to start using a fork and spoon, I’m sure that the dessert forks and teaspoons from our current cutlery set will do just fine.

      It’s really fantastic to hear that your 2 1/2 year old can eat confidently and tidily – it gives me hope that dealing with all the messy stuff up front will eventually pay off :)

      Did Henry go to one of the VSOCC daycare centres? They make a pretty big point of discouraging sippy cups (and bottles for the older kids), and I’ve seen some fairly young kids in Oliver’s infant program eating and drinking with proper, scaled-down flatware! They seem very big on self-care skills of all kinds, which is refreshing.

      To answer your last question, for the most part, the majority of new moms I know are curious and open-minded about alternative approaches to parenting (just like we are!), so they will tend to ask questions if they see or hear something that is different from what they know or do. I don’t generally try to draw attention to our unconventional habits :), but I’m always happy to share my opinions and experiences if asked, or if certain topics come up in conversation. I’ve definitely gotten criticism and doubt from the older generation and from experienced parents, because they’ve already done things a certain way that worked for them, and tend to believe that their way is the “right” way to do things. I hope that when J and I are raising our subsequent child(ren), we can remain open to different approaches and continue to evolve as parents.

  5. Our philosophy is, no matter what age you make them transition from “baby stuff” (be it sippy cups, diapers, letting the kid feed herself, whatever), you are stuck cleaning up messes for a bit until the kid catches on. I think the parents who delay things because they don’t want to clean up messes are fooling themselves – there WILL be a mess because they’re learning a new skill. It’s like we don’t give modern kids enough credit for their ability to learn physical skills. This is the best time to learn, they are learning so fast at this stage, how to use their whole bodies, fine and gross motor skills, and they can master things very quickly! So yeah, with our (now 3-year-old daughter) we used regular cups pretty early, regular dishes pretty early, dessert forks and spoons pretty early (you’re right that the bendiness and bluntness of those baby ones works against them as they try to learn to use them), BLW and skipped the spoon feeding, so all this was early by most people’s standards. Toilet training was the same thing – they’re going to wet/poop in their pants intermittently until they decide they don’t like the feeling, no matter what age they are when you decide to do it – you’re just delaying the inevitable!

    WRT eating, we are also very into “rules” (no throwing food, no banging cutlery, no talking with your mouth full, no playing with your food, no bubbles in your cup, etc.) which were tricky to enforce at first, but they understand way more than they can verbalize, even at an early age. So now we have a fairly polite eater. And when she does break the rules she knows it, and watches with a mischievous look in her eyes, to make sure we correct her, that the rules still apply, and then goes back to her “big girl” behaviour.

    The most exciting thing lately was getting our daughter started using a knife (a butter knife), since much of her regular food is soft – eggs most days for breakfast, for example. Baked fish earlier this week, meatloaf last night, hamburgers another night. She did really well with it, presumably because she’d already been playing with knives and Play-dough, and also she watched us cut things every single meal. I personally don’t remember ever not knowing how to use a sharp knife at the table (Italian background – normal to have kids use grown-up cutlery AFAIK), whether for cutting meat or peeling apples and oranges, so I want her to be as independent in cutting and eventually peeling her food as I am. Plus it gets me off the hook for having to do it for her!

    • That’s amazing!! I really like your approach.

      I agree that transitions to self-care will be messy at any age, and in a lot of ways, I think the feeding is *less* messy now, simply because there’s only a very limited amount of food in the equation.

      We are also very big into the idea of appropriate table behaviour. At this point, Oliver is not intentionally “misbehaving” when he drops his food on the floor, pounds his steak on the table, or blows bubbles in his water, but we do our best not to react (as much as it kills us sometimes), in the hopes that these behaviours will not become novel, attention-seeking strategies. We have also discussed at length how we will deal with these behaviours if they emerge later, when he is old enough to understand what he is doing. I think consistency is very important.

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  7. My daughter learned very early how to drink from an open cup. We started at 6 months with her and when she turned 1, we took the bottles away and there was no issue. My son just turned 1 and we only, just in the last week, started introducing the open cup. He really doesn’t like it. He cries when he sees it, and swats at it. If I leave it on the tray with a tiny bit of water, he will pick it up and dumpt it over. We do not believe in the sippy cup and so will muddle through. Any advice here?

  8. This is so refreshing. I had a Dutch friend who didn’t use sippy cups with her children, and I made a note to try following her example if I ever had children. Both our boys went straight to regular cups with no trouble at all, and at one year were pretty competent, except we needed to be there to make sure the cup got put down safely. Someone gave our son a sippy cup as a gift, and he thought it was the most hilarious thing. Now he keeps it at his bedside in case he’s thirsty at night or naptime. Actually he never used the valve, so it’s not entirely spill proof, but it does prevent major spills on the bedroom floor.
    We also used our regular china for the boys right from infancy, and I’ve had only one broken bowl. I think they actually enjoy the beauty of real things, and it gives me great pleasure to share them with my little people. They used the plastic spoons people gave them as teethers and toys.
    It’s interesting to me how in some ways what’s on the market drives (or encourages) parenting choices. Sometimes when I’m looking to buy a real tool (e.g. a metal infant feeding spoon) and I’m confronted with an array of grotesque plastic, I feel like I’m being manipulated by industry. Then again, I guess if we all didn’t want those things, there wouldn’t be so many of them available.
    It is a joy to help children grow up rather than dumbing them down.

    • I totally agree with you about using “real” things, instead of dumbed-down children’s versions. Oliver has always used our china plates and mugs, and he has yet to break one, or even come close. He never developed the habit of tossing his plates and cups on the floor, because we were very careful to make sure he didn’t do it (lest they break). I don’t think we’d ever have been quite so vigilant if he’d been using plastic.

      We made the mistake of giving Oliver plastic forks at first, so he wouldn’t hurt himself, until I realized that they were so dull that he could not possibly skewer his food without help. Once we switched to child-sized metal utensils, he became very adept at using them.

      It is indeed a joy to help children grow up instead of infantilizing them.

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