Sippy Cup Use and Speech Delays

learn the recommendations for the next steps after breast/bottle feeds!
Sippy cup - Child drinking water
© Shutterstock / Ziggy Mars

In the 1980s, a mechanical engineer set out to create a spill proof cup that would prevent his toddler from spilling liquids throughout the floors of his home. Through multiple designs, perseverance, and determination to reduce the cleanups, the sippy cup was born! 

Sippy cup use and alternatives

Now, sippy cups are used regularly around the globe and they are often viewed as a developmental milestone by parents as the next step after the breast or the bottle. However, research demonstrates that sippy cup use does not support the healthy development of oral motor skills. In fact, the next transition recommended after breast and/or bottle is to learn to drink from an open cup with the help of an adult. Initially, parents and caregivers will need to help their child by holding the cup to their mouth. Fun fact — even newborns can master this skill! This will assist the child in developing a coordinated swallow pattern where they can pace their own intake and practice their hand-eye coordination.

Speech pathologist Melanie Potock states that if an open cup is not an option due to travelling or attending events, a straw cup can be chosen. However, she suggests "cutting down the straw so the child can just get his lips around it, but can't anchor his tongue underneath it" (as this can promote a suckling-like pattern that infants use for breast or bottle feeding). Children who practice drinking from a straw can improve the strength of their cheeks, lips and their tongue, which is very important for speech development. 

Promoting healthy speech development 

Parents  and caregivers can help speech development and promote dental health by reducing the amount of time a child is allowed to use a sippy cup. Meg Brannagan at states that "children who carry their sippy cups everywhere with them throughout the day, sleep with a cup at night, and continue to use it after the age of three may have some issues when their primary teeth erupt." This article continues to say that these children may develop an open bite, which occurs when the upper and lower teeth do not come together when the mouth is closed. Children with an open bite may also have a lisp when speaking or may mispronounce some sounds, including "s," "k" or "t."

When used in excess, the traditional sippy cup (with a valve) can lead to development changes in the tongue, which can further lead to speech sound production problems, a swallowing problem known as "tongue thrust" (which is when the tongue protrudes through the front teeth during speech, swallowing and when the tongue is resting) or early childhood tooth decay.  For these reasons, health professionals are encouraging parents to promote open cup drinking during meals and snacks as soon as possible.