There are so many things to consider when helping your baby learn how to eat and drink on their own. They start out completely dependent on you! Whether your baby is breastfed or bottle-fed, they don’t do it on their own for a long while. But as they get older, you have to figure out answers to questions like “When can babies drink from a straw?”.
Well, you have come to the right place! As a pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom of three littles, I want to share all you need to know about straw drinking and when it’s a good idea to introduce it to your sweet little one.
In this article, I’ll talk about the progression of the suck reflux, when to introduce straw cups, why your toddler should try a straw cup, and my favorite straw cups.
When Can Babies Use a Straw Cup?
The short answer is that babies can generally start using a straw cup between 6 and 12 months of age. The Speech Therapist from EZPZ suggests starting straw drinking closer to 9 months.
You should give your baby different types of cups around 6 months for several reasons. Let’s talk about the why!
The Development of Sucking and Swallowing Skills in Babies
Newborns are cute and cuddly, and relatively helpless. But they are born with a few reflexes that help them to survive those first few months of life.
One of the most helpful is a strong sucking reflex. Have you ever noticed that if you put your finger in a small baby’s mouth they will start sucking on it? That’s because babies are born with a strong sucking reflex! Another reflex is the swallow reflex. When something (breastmilk, formula, solid foods) hits the back of the throat, the swallowing reflex is triggered.
The combination of reflexes allows for bottle use and breastfeeding without much learning or teaching. Although some premature babies may need extra help with this step.
By the time your child is around 6 months, their tongue becomes more mobile, allowing for a more efficient suck-and-swallow pattern. This also helps babies as they begin to eat more solid foods and manipulate different kinds of cups.
By one year of age, your child will have a mature swallow pattern, allowing for drinking from straws.
Want another step-by-step guide like this one? I have a great article about when babies can start using bibs.
Why You Should Get Away From the Bottle: Sooner Rather Than Later
Did you know that using a straw cup is actually a great way to help your child stay healthy and develop important skills? If you thought straw cups were just for fun, you’re wrong! Regular sippy cups can be introduced around 6 months of age, and bottle feeding should be faded out completely between 12 and 18 months. By the time your child is 2, it’s best to be drinking out of an open cup.
The American Dental Association notes that prolonged use of sippy cups with high-sugar liquids (milk and juice) can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay. By switching to straw cups, the liquid does not “bathe” the child’s teeth in sugar, leading to a healthier mouth!
When children stay on the bottle for too long they can have difficulty eating enough solid foods. Some children become too attached to their bottles and miss out on important nutrients not found in milk.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drinking breast milk or formula from a bottle for too long can increase a baby’s or toddler’s weight to unhealthy degrees. Milk can be a high-calorie food, and if that is all that children are eating or drinking, they can become overweight at an early age.
The truth is, toddlers just can’t keep drinking from bottles forever. It’s a good idea to help your baby drink out of something other than a bottle sooner rather than later! The longer you wait to get your baby off the bottle, the more difficult the transition will be. Your best option is to introduce a cup (straw or otherwise) as early as 6 months but at least before their first birthday.
If your child constantly has a sippy cup in their mouth (or a pacifier), their speech and language can be affected negatively. When children have one of those things in their mouth a lot (especially after one year of age), the tongue tends to rest too far forward in the mouth.
By introducing straw cups, the tongue is in a different position, and not impeding speech and language development.
Additionally, straw cups help your child work on oral motor development. When babies use straws, they have to strengthen their mouth muscles to be able to drink. Lip rounding is an important skill for drinking and for producing a variety of speech sounds.
How to Introduce a Straw to Your Baby
Whether your child typically uses a bottle or is only used to breastfeeding, it may take some practice to get used to something new. Some babies may have a hard time when they first start to use different types of cups, while others may seamlessly transition.
But here are some ideas on how to make this new skill a little easier to learn.
Gradually Ditch the Bottle
Going cold turkey with drinking might work for some people but most children will do better with a gradual decline of bottle usage.
Start by cutting out the bottle at naps and bedtime. This will likely mean that your bedtime routine will need to change, but it’s best for your child. Try offering more snuggles, singing songs, or longer story times. (If you want a great bedtime routine, check out my article about them here.)
Let your child know they can still have bottles during mealtime (at least for now). During snack times, start offering water in the bottle, and gradually move to a small amount of water in a cup (straw cup, sippy cup, or open cup).
After they get used to the training cups, at bedtime, naps, and snacks, you can get rid of the bottle all the way!
Introduce It in a No-Pressure Way
Start by putting a regular cup out at meal times next to the bottle. Let your child try it out if they want to. Put a bit of breast milk or formula in the cup to start, to make the transition easier. Instead of having a new cup and a new liquid, they only have to get used to the new cup.
Try Open Cups First
Move to an open type of cup before you try the straw. It may sound counter-intuitive, but your long-term goal is that they can use an open cup a majority of the time, and a straw sometimes. (As grownups we use open cups far more than straws, but we need to be able to do both!)
Use a Thicker Liquid When Introducing the Straw Cup
Water and other fast-flowing, “thin” liquids are the most difficult things for a baby to swallow safely. Try using a pureed or thickened liquid when you first introduce the straw. When choosing a puree, think milkshake consistency, or even a creamy soup. This makes it easier to sip.
Gradually use a slightly thinner liquid, like formula or breastmilk, and finally, offer water.
- Take the straw and dip it in the puree. Then, place your finger over the tip of the straw. This will get a bit of the substance into the straw.
- Put the open end of the straw close to your baby’s mouth (but not all the way in), encouraging them to lean toward it.
- Then lift your finger off the end gradually, allowing your child small sips of the drink.
- Repeat these steps, until your child gets the hang of it. Once they are actively sucking, you can put the straw in the cup, like normal.
- Encourage your child to take a drink!
Praise Small Wins
Your child might not be so sure about drinking from something new, but these are important skills to learn! Encourage small progress, even if they aren’t all the way there yet.
Even if they pick up the cup and put it to their lips, but don’t drink, celebrate! They tried something new! When your child drinks from the cup for the first time, make it a big deal or say “Wow! You did it!”. These small things make a big difference for your child!
Components of a Good Toddler Cup
There are SO MANY options when it comes to picking out the best sippy cup or the best straw cup. But experts agree, that a good cup to use after the bottle has these features.
The most important feature of a good sippy cup is the LACK of a valve. The valves are the portion that makes spill-proof cups not leak. But the valve that makes the cup mess-free also requires that your baby suck on the cup to get a drink. The sucking action is the exact motion we are trying to get away from, as your child transitions away from bottle use.
If you choose a straw/sippy cup combo, the spout of the sippy cup should be a soft spout, not a hard one. The hard spout of a sippy cup (and bottle nipples) can minimize the tongue movement necessary for developing a mature swallow. Soft spouts allow for more movement and a better swallow.
A cup with two handles helps your child grip the drink with more ease. Some cups even have removable handles to help with the transition from bottle to cup. Little hands benefit from those handles, as it gives them something to hold on to.
The best way to prevent spills without a valve is a weighted cup. Weighted cups help right themselves if they get tipped over, decreasing the amount and number of times your child spills their drink.
Toddlers throw cups, drop cups, and generally treat cups pretty terribly. Getting a cup that is durable will help your cup last longer. Cheap cups break easily under the pressure of toddlerhood.
Is your baby ready to move to a high chair? Check out my guide about it here!
The Best Choice for Straw Cups
There are so many great options when it comes to picking out a straw cup for your baby!
Dr. Brown’s is a trusted baby brand, that makes great straw sippy cups! The cups feature two handles that can be removed as your baby grows. There is a straw lid that keeps the liquid from spilling when not in use.
This Munchkin Straw Cup is the most affordable option on the list, all while having great features. These cups include weighted silicone straws, a spout cover, and two handles.
This great spill straw cup comes in a two-pack because honestly, you will need more than one! With all the right features: 2 handles, a soft straw, and a cap to go over the straw. This is a winner!
This cup has it all! If your child is having an especially hard time transitioning away from the bottle or breastfeeding, this just might be your answer! There are multiple spouts to help ease your baby into straw drinking. It’s made out of tough materials, and grows with your baby!
This fun sippy cup grows with your baby into their toddler years. It is made with stainless steel and has a great flip-top straw. The insulated, double walls keep your child’s drink cool for up to 15 hours.