A common question parents ask me is, “I hear sippy cups aren’t good for my child’s speech development. Can you tell me why?” The answer may not be what you think! Here are the common concerns regarding sippy cups:
When a child drinks from a sippy cup vs. an open cup vs. a straw cup, what they do with the muscles of their mouth varies. A sippy cup is the same swallowing pattern as a bottle. An open cup and straw cup require more movement and control from the lips, cheeks, tongue and jaw. When drinking from an open cup or straw, the tip of the tongue elevates behind the top teeth to push the liquid back to swallow. When drinking from a sippy cup, the spout is in the way, impeding the tip of the tongue from elevating. This creates an abnormal swallowing pattern, rather than a correct one (Bahr, 2010).
When a toddler is drinking from a sippy cup, it is immersing the front teeth in the liquid. Even if a child isn’t drinking sweetened drinks, milk and juice still contain some sugar. Children that drink sugary drinks out of sippy cups throughout the day have a higher risk of developing tooth decay (Dyer, 2004).
As a speech pathologist, I want children to have great oral motor skills, and if a child has great oral motor skills, they are more capable of imitating speech sounds, words and sentences correctly. If a child uses a sippy cup excessively and doesn’t develop a mature swallowing pattern, then oral motor skills are not well-developed. Poor oral motor skills places a child at a greater risk for having difficulty saying certain speech sounds. Does this mean every child who has used a sippy cup has poor oral motor skills and poor speech skills? No. Does this mean that if your child isn’t talking, the sippy cup is causing the problem? Most likely, no.
So, what does this mean for a parent who wonders if a sippy cup is impeding their child’s oral motor development? My suggestion is to limit the use of the sippy cup or completely eliminate it.
Can your child drink from a straw? There are some great options for spill-proof straw cups that are available at department stores. Can your child drink from an open cup? Encourage the use of open cup drinking during mealtimes. Give your child a little bit of liquid in a Dixie cup – this is a great size for children to practice on. Place small Dixie cups by the sink to drink water from before teeth brushing or at bath time (spills are ok in the tub!).
Sippy cups are convenient for on-the-go, all around the house, and preventing messes, but a great alternative is a straw cup which provides the same convenience while also promoting better oral motor development. Don’t forget the open cup either – it also promotes good oral motor development! Cheers!
Bahr, D (2010). Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That! Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development. Arlington: Sensory World.
Dyer, L (2004). Look Who’s Talking! Minnetonka: Meadowbrook Press.