Toddler Transitions and Sippy Cups

Baby girl drinking from sippy cup

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Available in a variety of sizes and shapes, sippy cups can be made of plastic (choose BPA-free cups), stainless steel, or even glass. You can pick from a variety of designs and types of spout to get the perfect cup for your child. While they can be a solution as your child transitions from bottle to open cup, there are precautions you should take for your child's dental health.

Using a Sippy Cup

Parents typically use sippy cups as a transition to regular, open cups, which are often too messy for younger toddlers to use. They sometimes overlook the fact that the transition from a bottle to a cup is supposed to take three or four months and not three or four years.

In general, sippy cups should be used:

  • As you phase out the bottle between 12 and 18 months of age.
  • If you are going to give 100 percent fruit juice to an infant once he is about 6 months or older. Keep in mind that there is no formal recommendation that these kids actually need juice. But if you are going to give your older infant up to 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice, then give it in a sippy cup and not a bottle.
  • To give water with fluoride to an exclusively breastfeeding infant at about 6 months instead of introducing a bottle.
  • With milk at mealtimes as you are transitioning to an open cup.
  • With water, if it is not mealtime and as you are transitioning to an open cup.

Since you are trying to transition to a regular cup, you should actually try to use a regular, open cup at times, especially when you aren't worried about your child spilling her drink. Put a few ounces of water or other clear drink in a small cup while you can supervise her and see how she does.

Be sure to expect some spills, and be rest assured that your child will eventually get the hang of it with some practice.

Misusing Sippy Cups

While definitely convenient, the problem with sippy cups is that they often end up simply taking the place of a bottle and are used for extended periods of time.

This is important because misusing sippy cups can contribute to cavities, especially if your child carries around a sippy cup full of juice or other sugar-sweetened drink all day.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that a sippy cup shouldn't be used for a long period of time. It's not a bottle and it's not a pacifier.

Using a sippy cup can also contribute to poor eating habits if your child frequently gulps down whatever is in the sippy cup, which can fill up your child and take the place of food at meals or simply add on extra calories. Finally, a substantial number of injuries have occurred in young children using sippy cups, most commonly mouth injuries resulting from falls while running and drinking from a sippy cup simultaneously.

Misusing a sippy cup can even make milk (which is normally a very healthy drink) contribute to cavities if your child carries around the sippy cup of milk all day or drinks milk after he brushes his teeth at night.

Other ways to misuse a sippy cup can include:

  • Using a sippy until your child goes to kindergarten.
  • Giving your toddler or preschooler a cup of juice or milk at bedtime.  
  • Giving your toddler or preschooler a sippy cup of juice or milk in the middle of the night.
  • Simply allowing the cup to take the place of a bottle, which often happens if you get a sippy cup with a spill-proof valve.
  • Not cleaning all parts of the cup between uses, including inside the lid and under the valve.

Again, perhaps the biggest mistake is letting your child carry a sippy cup all day. Even with diluted fruit juice, your child's teeth will be covered in sugar all day, and that will greatly increase his risk of getting a lot of cavities. Like not brushing or eating too much candy, drinking too much juice in a sippy cup is definitely not a good habit to promote healthy teeth.

A Word From Verywell

While the sippy cup is a great way to teach your child to be more independent and work on her coordination, it shouldn't be used for a long time or carried around and kept in the mouth.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. The use and misuse of fruit juice in pediatrics. Pediatrics 2006;107(5):1210-1213. doi:10.1542/peds.107.5.1210

  2. Keim SA, Fletcher EN, TePoel MR, McKenzie LB. Injuries associated with bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups in the United States, 1991-2010. Pediatrics. 2012; 129(6):1104-10. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3348

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Sippy Cup Tips for Parents.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Preventive Oral Health Intervention for Pediatricians. Pediatrics 2008. 122(6):1387-1394.