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, many experts recommend skipping the sippy cup. If you need a covered cup, use a straw cup instead.

Using a Cup

Years ago, the only leak-proof cups available for babies and toddlers were sippy cups with hard spouts. Parents typically used them as a transition to regular, open cups, which are often too messy for little ones to use.

Today, we have cups fitted with straw lids, which are a better option. Use an open cup or a straw cup:

  • As you phase out the bottle
  • To give water to a child over 6 months old
  • With milk at mealtimes as you are transitioning to an open cup

Since you are trying to transition to a regular cup, try to use an open cup at times, especially when you aren't worried about your child spilling their drink. Babies as young as 6 months old can start learning how to use an open cup.

Put a few ounces of water in a small cup while you can supervise your child and see how they do. Be sure to expect some spills, and 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.

Many pediatric occupational therapists and speech/language specialists recommend avoiding sippy cups. The hard spout puts a lot of downward pressure on the child's tongue (which is often something kids enjoy). But babies this age need to be working on tongue tip elevation, because it's necessary for many sounds they will need to make in order to speak.

Misusing sippy cups can also contribute to cavities, especially if your child carries around a sippy cup full of juice or milk all day. The teeth need time when they are not exposed to food or drink (since most have sugar in them, including milk). Since sippy cups are easy for a child to carry without spilling, they might keep it with them and sip from it frequently.

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. The amount of liquid a sippy cup can hold (often 12 ounces) is way too much for a toddler.

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 they brush their 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. Milk at bedtime is okay, as long as they brush their teeth afterward.
  • Allowing the cup to take the place of a bottle, which often happens if you get a sippy cup with a spill-proof valve.
  • Giving your toddler or preschooler a sippy cup of juice or milk in the middle of the night. Kids should only drink water during the night.
  • Failing to clean 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 if it is filled with milk, your child's teeth will be covered in sugar all day, and that will greatly increase their risk of getting cavities. Like not brushing or eating too much candy, drinking too much milk in a sippy cup is definitely not a good habit to promote healthy teeth.

A Word From Verywell

A sippy cup shouldn't be used for a long time or carried around and kept in the mouth. The best practice is to avoid sippy cups and help your child practice using an open cup or a straw cup. These can help your child be more independent.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Policy on early childhood caries (ECC): Classifications, consequences, and preventive strategies. Updated 2016.

  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