Decisions, Decisions! How to Choose a Sippy Cup For Your Child

An Asian infant holds a clear sippy cup with two hands in a high chair.

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Your baby's first year is all about transitions, such as breast to bottle, milk to solids, and sitting to crawling to walking. So many big things are happening in that little body! One big transition is moving away from the bottle and, instead, using a sippy cup.

One glance at a social media parenting group shows that everyone is using a different type of cup, and that there are strong opinions about hard spouts versus soft spouts. Between social media, online searches, and looking in stores, the information can seem overwhelming. Here’s everything you need to know to help your little one make the transition go smoothly, including what a sippy cup is, which kinds are best for your baby, and when to stop using one.

What Is a Sippy Cup?

You may have heard the words "sippy cup" but you might not be sure what it means exactly. It's not a transitional bottle, or a bottle with handles, or just a cup with a straw. It's a specific kind of training cup that helps your child transition from a bottle to an open-top cup. They are meant to get your child used to drinking from something that doesn’t have a nipple and to prevent spills during this phase.

Why Should I Use a Sippy Cup?

Pediatrician Shayna Smith, MD, of Flourish Pediatrics in Atlanta, says your child should transition away from bottles around the 12-month mark. This is when they are getting more solid food than liquid, with the ultimate goal of getting your child off formula or breast milk as the primary source of nutrition. "Children normally decrease the amount of milk at this age and increase the amount of solid food," she explains.

Babies are on feeding schedules with bottles or breastmilk, but toddlers only drink when thirsty. The in-between stage is where a sippy cup comes in, to help your child go from consuming liquid calories via a nipple to consuming liquids when thirsty via a cup.

What to Put in a Sippy Cup

What you put in a sippy cup is just as important as the type of cup you give them, says Stacey Reynolds, DDS, of Pediatric Dentistry of Garden City in Garden City, NY It should only be water or unsweetened milk beverages and nothing high in sugar. "We want them to transition to a straw, but we don't want to train their tastebuds to prefer flavored drinks," she says.

That doesn't mean you can just put milk in a cup and let your child suck on it all day, either. "We want to be careful about filling up on liquid calories, which can decrease their solid food intake," she says. Dr. Smith agrees and says that allowing your child to drink constantly can increase cavities and their chance of obesity, especially if the are beverages high in sugar.

Types of Sippy Cups

If you have a child that is over 6 months old, you've probably already experienced the onslaught of information and products related to sippy cups. There are several different types of sippy cups on the market today, including hard spout, soft spout, spoutless, and straw sippy cups. Many models are available with and without handles, and some come with removable handles. Often, parents buy several types of sippy cups to see which their child responds to best.

Hard Spout

A sippy cup with a hard spout has a drinking piece that is made of hard plastic from which your baby drinks. The hard spout can withstand teeth. The cup does have to be turned up in order for the liquid to come out. 

Soft Spout

A soft spout sippy cup has a drinking piece that is made of soft silicone or plastic, similar in texture to a bottle nipple. A child has to turn the soft spout cup up to make the liquid come out. 

Straw

A straw sippy cup has a straw that comes out of it like a regular cup with a straw would. Sometimes they are weighted. Your child doesn’t have to tip it upwards but can drink out of the straw instead. 

Spoutless

A newer category of sippy cup is the spoutless one. It looks like a regular cup with a lid on it, and it has handles. New innovation allows for the cup to be turned upside down to drink, but once the cup is turned right side up, it seals up so there’s no spilling. 

Stacey Reynolds, DDS

A sippy cup without a valve is preferred. Otherwise, the valve inhibits ‘drinking’ and forces ‘sucking,’ so it is just a different version of a bottle.

— Stacey Reynolds, DDS

Valve Sippy Cups vs. No-Valve Sippy Cups 

There are two types of cups: valve cups and no-valve cups. Valves that often make sippy cups no-spill are attractive to parents, but they could impact a variety of developments, including teeth. Says Dr. Reynolds, “A sippy cup without a valve is preferred. Otherwise, the valve inhibits ‘drinking’ and forces ‘sucking,’ so it is just a different version of a bottle.” 

She recommends a sippy cup with two handles and a weighted bottom to prevent spills instead of a valve. “We want the child to truly sip,” she says. 

Dr. Smith agrees that the no-valve ones are best. “The [sippy cups] that look like they have nipples defeat the purpose,” she says. 

How and When To Introduce A Sippy Cup

Sippy cups can be introduced as soon as 6 months, or once your baby is sitting up on their own. Only putting a few ounces of liquid in it will help reduce spills. Be prepared for spills regardless. There will be times where you are frustrated at having to clean your rug or the floor beneath your high chair, but know that it's just temporary.

Do You Have to Use a Sippy Cup? 

You don’t have to use a sippy cup if you don’t want to, as the goal is to eventually train your child to drink out of an open cup. It all depends on your child’s patience—and yours, too. That might mean spills and messes, but with gentle reinforcement and repetition, your child can master it.

Not every dentist or pediatrician recommends a sippy cup. Adds pediatric dentist Saadia Mohammed, DDS, of Palm Beach Pediatric Dentistry in Boca Raton, Fl., “From an oral motor development perspective, a sippy cup should be avoided.” She says it’s because most sippy cups on the market have children sucking from the cup, rather than sipping. "When a child is sucking from a sippy cup, they're using more of a suck and swallow pattern, which is more of an infantile pattern."

She explains that when you suck, your tongue goes low, and when you swallow it goes up. That's a functional pattern that you don't want your child to have long-term, as it can cause problems later on, such as impaired speech and language.

All recommend forgoing the sippy cup in favor of open cups or straw cups if possible. “Yes, it gets messy!” says Dr. Reynolds. “But they can develop the oral musculature that is created by the action [of sipping]. This is important to increase oral motor tone. Straw cups are often used as a speech therapy tool for this reason.”

Open cups can be messy, but they do eliminate the need for an in-between stage. There are several open training cups on the market made for small hands, or you can progress your child straight to an adult cup. Cups come in plastic, silicone, and glass, which is a good choice for any parent who wants to be more eco-friendly with their sippy cup selection.

When Should You Wean Off A Sippy Cup?

Dr. Smith reminds parents that the sippy cup is a transitional cup, and truly should only be used for a short period of time until the fine motor skills develop that they need to drink out of an open cup. This usually is around age two. “That is when they’ll most likely be able to use an open cup developmentally but stop as soon as you can,” she says. 

Dr. Reynolds agrees, saying she understands that parents are busy and exhausted and sippy cups sometimes end up getting used longer than is advisable. “A sippy cup is just a glorified bottle,” she says. But with a little practice and patience, a sippy cup can be a useful tool to help your child make the leap to toddlerhood.

A Word from Verywell Family

You don’t have to use a sippy cup, but they can make the transition from bottle to regular cup easier on both parent and child. Sippy cups are truly for transitions only, and should not be used for prolonged periods of time. Check with your pediatrician and your pediatric dentist for more information. 

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