Is My Baby Ready for a Cup?

The little boy drink from a cup.
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"My little girl is 6 months old. We just started her on cereal and fruits. She's mostly breastfed, but when we give her a bottle, she holds it herself. We're wondering when we should start thinking about giving her a cup to drink out of and what we should be putting in the cup."

Really, any time between about 5-9 months is prime cup time. That's a pretty big range because, of course, all kids are different and bring different skills to the table. Children who are already holding a bottle might take more readily to a cup than a child who has been fed exclusively from the breast, for example, even though this is not always the case. Motor skills play a part and so does interest.

Something important to keep in mind no matter what the age or skill of a baby in this range -- a cup should not replace breastfeedings or bottles. You should just look at it as an addition to the diet, something to wash down those new meals or practice for the day that bottle or breast weaning begins.

What Type of Cup?

Some parents like the sippy cups with valves that keep the cup from spilling no matter what position it's in. These cups require a bit of sucking to get the fluid out which most kids are used to with breast or bottle. They also keep baby and everything around baby cleaner. Keep in mind that if you use these cups you may have to go through a second cup training when your child is older and moves to cups without lids. The dependence on no-spill lids can keep your child from learning how to avoid spills. For this reason, I advise that you use no-spill cups when it really matters (like in the car) and use a cup without a lid or with a lid with no valve (that allows a little bit of spilling) at home or in the high chair. Another type of cup that some children really take to is the type that has a straw. The advantage here comes if you frequently eat out -- your child will already have the skill of drinking with a straw.

What Types of Fluid?

You should start out with water. This is especially true if you're using a cup without a lid or valves. Just a little bit at a time -- maybe a few spoonfuls or 1/4 cup to start with. There are going to be spills and there may not be much real drinking going on, so this helps eliminate waste as well. Once your child understands what the cup is for and has a bit of a grip on how to use it, you can start to add other fluids like expressed breast milk or formula. Once your child is 6 months old, you can start to offer some juice. Just be careful -- 4 ounces or so is the limit (that's just 1/2 cup) for the entire day. Giving more juice can lead to problems like cavities and diarrhea. You may also find that your baby will stop eating all the healthy food you offer. I've seen the latter happen even with just small amounts of juice, though, so try to get the nutritious stuff in first and then offer the cup. My son stayed entertained with the cup and I got some much-needed cleaning in when I gave him the cup after meals instead of before or during and that way he didn't refuse the less sweet foods or fill up on juice.

More Tips for Introducing a Cup

  • Don't force the cup -- if your child isn't interested, try again later. Remember that whatever is in the cup isn't replacing the nutrition your child is getting elsewhere at this point, so it's not a necessity.
  • Make sure your child is always sitting up to avoid choking. Sippy cups can be used even when they aren't upright, so encourage your child to drink sitting up.
  • Remember the old adage "Don't cry over spilled milk." Learning to use the cup is just like any skill that requires practice, practice practice. Don't get angry or discipline your child for spills or accidents.
  • Keep it nutritious. Coke, sugary juice cocktails and other soft drinks don't add any benefit to your child's diet so don't add them to your child's cup. If you use fruit juice, make sure it's 100 percent juice with no sweeteners added.
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