How to Introduce a cup to your baby

By Sarah Carvajal

December 17, 2019

My name is Sarah Carvajal. I am The Mama Coach in for Vaughan, Markham and Richmond Hill in Ontario. I'm a Registered Nurse, Sleep Coach, Lactation Counsellor, Prenatal Educator, Mama to one and passionate about making motherhood easier. ,I can't wait to support you and in your parenting goals!

Just when you thought you had a feeding routine going with your little one, guess what? It’s time to start solids. A whole new fun (and messy) ball game. And with solids, often comes the introduction of water and the use of a cup. 

Sippy cup, straw cup, open cup…Which one? What’s the difference? How do you start &When? 

At The Mama Coach, we want to make sure you are feeling comfortable in making these decisions. So read on…

Most doctors will recommend introducing water and a cup around 6 months old when a baby can sit without support. This is often around the same time your little one is ready to start solid foods. The benefits of teaching your little one to drink from a cup can make it easier to transition from breast or bottle down the road and will help develop important fine motor skills.  

So which cup do you start with?

 The Canadian Pediatric Society encourages the use of an “open cup” to start.

What is an OPEN CUP? 

An open cup is a small cup, with no lid or spout. Getting one that is on the smaller side will be ideal in helping your little one learn to drink from it. An example of a good-sized open cup is this Munchkin Cup.

Fill your little one’s open cup with a bit of water and bring it up to their mouth. Tilt a bit into their mouth. You want to watch for lip closure, and the ability to take a bit into their mouths and swallow. The first few times you do this, I can guarantee that much of what you serve in that cup will end up on the floor or your baby. But don’t be discouraged. Did you learn to ride a bike the first time you hopped on? Probably not. The same goes for cup drinking. Practice makes perfect. 

Remember too, offering water in an open cup is not about how much volume they consume. They will most likely still be getting most of their hydration at this point, from breast milk or formula. But by 12 months of age, your little babe’s hand-eye coordination will be so much stronger and they may very well be able to hold that same cup and drink from it independently. 

Sometimes though, an open cup is just not that convenient. When you are out and about, you will more likely need to rely on some sort of, spill-proof alternative. 

Enter the traditional and convenient sippy cup.

Sippy cups are great because they are often leakproof and easy to throw into your diaper bag. 

But whether they have a hard or soft spout, they often don’t help our babies learn more of the advanced drinking skills they will need down the road. This is because using a sippy cup is quite similar to using a bottle. Your babe’s tongue is kept at the front of their mouth and forms a seal to suck. Keep in mind too, that the recommendation for weaning from a bottle is around 12-24 months. So if you plan to use a sippy cup, ensure you are still exposing your little one to other types of cups as well. 

Dentists, Occupational therapists and Speech-Language Pathologists are starting to recommend a straw cup as opposed to the traditional rigid spout of a sippy cup. 

Why? 

Because a straw can bend and mould with the shape of your little one’s mouth. The straw cup can help build lip, cheek and tongue strength as well as promote proper tongue positioning. This is vital in ensuring proper swallowing patterns as well as speech development. 

Unlike a sippy cup, a straw cup can teach your baby the new skill of pulling their tongue to the back of their mouth when they drink. These oral skills are so important for eating and talking. Most babes are ready for a straw cup at around 9 months of age. Some examples include the OXO Straw Cup or the Munchkin Click-Lock Straw Cup.

Straw cups take a lot of practice to master using. You can help facilitate this learning by practicing this strategy: 

  1. Using a straw (cut in half) in a glass of water, cover the opening with your finger and lift the straw out of the cup, creating a vacuum and sealing the water inside the straw.  
  2. Lower the bottom of the straw into your babe’s mouth and release your finger momentarily to allow a bit of water to drip in. 
  3. Tell them to “take a sip” and this can alert them to create a seal around the straw and begin to suck. Repeat this a few times, keeping the seal so they have to suck the water out.
  4. Keep practicing and then allow your little one to suck the fluids out of the top of the straw by themselves. Remember to always praise their success!

Another cup that is gaining popularity with parents is the leakproof open cups with lids. These bridge the gap between sippy, straw and open cups. 

Check out this Munchkin cup called the Miracle 360 Cup. It allows your little one to drink from anywhere around the rim, like a regular cup, but the lid ensures there is no mess and no spill. 

These types of cups can help contribute to that much needed oral muscle development.  Some also have handles that can help our little ones practice the art of holding, lifting and bringing the cup towards their mouth. And with no extra spouts, straws or pieces, they are easy to use and easy to clean!

With all the different cup options out there, we encourage you to offer a variety to your little one. All cups, whether an open, straw or sippy, will be beneficial. Learning to drink from a cup is a skill and can help improve their hand-eye coordination and strengthen the face and mouth muscles all needed for drinking, eating and speaking. 

Let them explore the cups, and become familiar with them. Be patient. Don’t give up if they don’t get it the first few times. Like any other new skill, it will take time, a lot of practice and multiple exposures to begin to master it. 

As always if you had any questions about introducing a cup to your little one, weaning from the breast or bottle, or anything else, reach out to your local Mama Coach!

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