Why Parents Should Skip the Sippy Cup and Start with Straws

Cute little boy is drinking milk using straw while sitting at table
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When it’s time to say “bye-bye” to bottles, parents may think that giving their child a sippy cup with a similar spout is spill-free, natural next step to transition to. In fact, sippy cups have become somewhat of a staple in many households. But here’s the thing. While sippy cups may be convenient for parents to “grab and go” and avoid messes, they can actually impede your baby’s speech, language, and feeding development. Here’s the science behind why you should skip the sippy cup and the benefits behind your child using a straw instead.

Differences in the Development of Oral Muscles

Sippy Cups Can Delay Muscle Development

Did you know that the way a child sucks and swallows changes as they grow? Babies use what’s known as anterior-posterior tongue movement (from the front to back of the mouth) while breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle. Around 1 year-old, babies usually develop a mature swallow pattern. The tip of their tongue touches the roof of their mouth (just behind the top teeth) and makes the motion of a wave to propel liquids into their throat. If you think about the hard spout of a sippy cup in a child’s mouth, you’ll realize that this blocks his or her tongue from reaching up to that spot. Without practice learning and developing this more advanced way of using their tongue to swallow, a child can have trouble chewing and swallowing new textures of foods.

Straws Strengthen Oral Muscles

Drinking from a straw encourages your child to develop that more advanced way of sucking and swallowing. When using a straw to drink, he or she is strengthening the lip, tongue, and cheek muscles. Instead of using a “suckling” method of drinking (like with traditional sippy cups), little ones are able to practice using the mature pattern of swallowing that will allow him or her to safely drink and eat. More good news about using straws? It doesn’t mean you’ll have to clean up more spills! This Thinkbaby cup has a no-spill straw, and there are several other fantastic cups like this on the market.

Helping vs. Hindering Speech Development

Sippy Cups Can Impede Proper Speech Development

When a child uses a pacifier or a sippy cup with a hard spout frequently or for an extended amount of time, he or she can start to show signs of a speech delay. That’s because the muscles in the mouth that he or she might not be strengthening and developing while drinking from a sippy cup are the same ones that are used to speak. Children who often drink from sippy cups might rest their tongue more forward in their mouth at other times throughout the day. Doing this instead of “tucking” it on that bumpy ridge (known as the alveolar ridge) behind the top front teeth can stop speech and language skills from advancing. The tongue has to be strong and coordinated enough to make sounds like “T”, “D”, and “L”. Research tells us that there’s a correlation between where the tongue is positioned during swallowing and a child’s articulation of speech sounds.

Straw Drinking Supports Speech Abilities

Around the same time parents transition their child from a bottle to a cup (about 1 year-old), they’re also likely to be anticipating his or her first word being spoken! When a child drinks from a straw, he or she develops strong lip muscles by sealing them around the straw. These lip muscles are also needed for little ones to produce early consonant sounds like “M”, “P”, and “B”. To prevent your little one from putting the straw too far into their mouth or biting it, consider cutting the tip of the straw so it’s shorter or use a lip block. Reusable silicone straws are convenient and easy to stick in your child’s cup, wherever you might be. By drinking from a straw, which encourages your child to keep their tongue in the right position, you can prevent him or her from the negative effects of becoming a mouth breather.

Consider Consulting a Speech-Language Pathologist

A Speech-Language Pathologist (also known as a “Speech Therapist”) can assess your child’s speech, language, and feeding skills. If you feel like your child is having trouble transitioning from a bottle to a cup, drinking from a straw, or is delayed in speech and language development, consider scheduling an evaluation. After an initial assessment, the Speech Therapist can provide you with recommendations and strategies for helping your child in these areas. Additionally, regular therapy sessions may be recommended to continue improving your child’s feeding and speech skills. TherapyWorks provides Speech, Occupational, Feeding and Physical Therapy Services in-home and via teletherapy – a safe, convenient, and effective option.

Therapyworks Erin Michelle

Are you interested in services for your child? Founded by Michelle Worth and Erin Vollmer, TherapyWorks provides in-home speech, occupational and physical therapies in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois and teletherapy nationwide.

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