The Ultimate Guide to Transitioning From a Bottle to a Cup
April 8, 2020
As pediatric speech-language pathologists of Speech Sisters, we hear four common questions pertaining to the “bottle to cup” transition. Here is the WHEN, WHY, WHAT and HOW to make this transition easy and successful!
Question #1A: WHEN should I introduce my baby to a cup?
We recommend introducing your child to a side sipping cup (with your assistance) around 6 months of age, as this is the time that your baby will begin to eat food. Remember, at 6 months old a baby does not need more than an ounce or so of water. But, offering water around this time will help flush down solid food during mealtime and will allow your baby to become more comfortable with the act of drinking from a cup.
Question #1B: WHEN should I wean my baby off of the bottle?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you wean your child off of a bottle around 12 months old and completely eliminate the bottle by 18 months. You can obviously continue breastfeeding your child beyond this time frame if you choose, but if your baby is taking breast milk from a bottle we recommend that you offer it to them in a cup by 13 months.
Question #2: WHY should I wean my baby off of the bottle?
We make this transition to help our baby to move from using an immature swallow to a mature swallow pattern. Newborn to 12-month-old babies use an “immature swallow” pattern (also known as a “tongue thrust swallow”) to receive nourishment by sucking either a breast or bottle. However, as a baby approaches 12 months old, the immature swallow becomes ready to mature. This is why parents are encouraged to transition their baby from a bottle to a cup around 12 months of age.We do not recommend cups that contain a “sippy spout”. We prefer open cups and straw cups as they naturally create an elevated tongue posture, which often leads to a more mature swallow. A mature swallow involves lifting the tongue tip up to the alveolar ridge (the bumpy area behind the top teeth) and allowing the tongue to make a reverse wave-like motion along the roof of the mouth (front to back), which propels food or liquid toward the back of the throat and down the esophagus. Bottles do not promote a mature swallow, which is why it is important to transition toddlers to a cup around 12 months of age and definitely by 18 months of age. Another reason a timely transition is important, is because the longer a child continues this immature sucking pattern, the greater chance they have of developing a habitual tongue thrust pattern. Doing so can impact speech sound articulation (e.g. a frontal lisp).
Question #3A: HOW do I wean my baby off of a bottle?
We recommend slowly weaning off of a bottle. This slow wean may take anywhere between one to six months depending on when this process is started and how well your baby adapts to this transition.
First, eliminate the daytime bottle
Second, eliminate the morning bottle
Last, eliminate the nighttime bottle
Question #3B: How can I transition my baby from a bottle to a cup?
The best time to start introducing your baby to a cup is during mealtime! You should offer your baby little sips of water with breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can start this process around 6 months of age. Here is the way we guide parents on HOW to do this transition at each age:
6 months: Start by introducing water to your baby in an open “side sipping cup” (see recommendations below) a few times throughout the day (e.g. mealtime). You will hold the cup and offer your baby tiny sips from the rim. This will train your baby’s tongue to start to elevate to the correct, mature swallowing posture. At first this may be difficult for your baby, but with practice it will become more natural!
6-9 months: Introduce a straw cup. We like to start with a honey bear straw cup (see recommendation below). You can squeeze the honey bottle to help move the liquid up the straw. This will allow your baby to become comfortable with a straw and learn how it works.
8-12 months: Introduce a more advanced straw cup that your baby will suck independently (see recommendations below). More advanced straw cups are great because your baby will use that elevated, mature tongue posture while also strengthening the lip and cheek muscles too!
We recommend that you continue to offer your baby BOTH open cups and straw cups as your baby transitions off of bottles. This way your baby/toddler will be comfortable using various drinking cups while maintaining a mature swallow and proper tongue placement.
We do not advise using sippy cups with a “spout”. These cups are similar to bottle nipples, therefore they do not promote a proper tongue placement or a mature swallow pattern.
We recommend straw cups and traditional side sipping cups! Which leads us to our fourth most common question!
Question #4: WHAT kind of cups should I transition to?
(Here are the best cups for speech and language development!!!)
OPEN CUPS WE LOVE:First, we advise introducing your baby to an open cup. We like to start with the (#1st Open Cup) Tiny Cup and then move to (#2nd Open Cup Options)another small, safe and soft rimmed open cup. See some of our favorite open cups below! Other side sipping cups are ok too! These are just our favorites!Open Cup #1: (5-6 months old) The EZPZ Tiny Cup is a silicone training cup specifically designed for infants by a pediatric feeding specialist. The Tiny Cup is made to help a baby smoothly transition from a bottle to cup. The description of this cup says, “open cup drinking supports healthy oral and speech development, aids with teething, helps baby learn to have a strong swallow and can decrease tooth decay.” This cup is meant to be used with parent assistance. You will hold the cup to your baby’s mouth and allow your baby to take tiny sips from the rim.Open Cup #2 Option 1: (6 months old) Bambini Bear Elephant Mug is made from a soft and comfortable silicone material that is BPA free! This mug has “ a built-in handle that teaches kids to gradually learn to drink independently. This cup helps to improve fine motor skills and hand-arm coordination.” Additionally, this cup promotes proper tongue placement, so it is a great option!Open Cup #2 Option 2: (Any age) Olababy 100% Silicone Training Cup for Baby and Toddler. The Olababy Training cup is “gentle and flexible, specifically designed for little hands. The weighted base provides stability for toddlers trying to master fine motor skills and does not tip over easily. And the see-through measuring dots allow parents to monitor liquid consumption while doubling as a measuring cup.” And don’t forget it allows for proper tongue placement! Sounds like a win to us!STRAW CUPS WE LOVE:Straw Cup #1 (6 months old): Talktools Honey Bear Drinking Cup is the straw cup we like to introduce first. The description states, “a cute honey bear cup that teaches and helps transition to straw drinking. This cup is used by many speech and feeding therapists to teach tongue training, lip rounding, tongue retraction, and other oral motor skills.” You can squeeze the bottle of this cup to help push the liquid through the straw into your baby’s mouth. This will help your baby start to understand the purpose of drinking from a straw.Straw Cup #2: (8+ months old) We recommend introducing a weighted straw cup with handles. A weighted straw cup is spill-proof and allows a child to drink from any angle, while also being spill-proof! These more advanced straw cups will require your baby to engage those articulatory muscles (e.g. tongue, lips, cheeks) to gain access to the water inside. You have three great options here:
Straw Cup #3 Option 1: (12 months +). Thinkbaby Stainless Steel Thinkster Bottle was created by physicians and scientists. They state that, “Thinkbaby straw bottle has a soft silicone straw, making the transition from bottles to straw cups easier. Also, they sell replacement straws, which is AMAZING and unusual! It is also stainless steel so your toddler’s drink will stay nice and cold!”Straw Cup #3 Option 2: THERMOS Vacuum-Insulation Funtainer with a Pop-up Straw (and fun button for your toddler to push)! This straw cup is one of our favorites and will truly grow with your child. This cup is stainless steel which keeps drinks cold all day long! It has the perfect sized straw for proper tongue posture too! It keeps drinks cold with it’s insulation technology! And the bonus is that you can get almost any of your child’s favorite characters on this thermos! We put this one after Thinkbaby because although it is a similar design, Thinkbaby offers handles therefore it is easier to hold early on.MILK STRAW CUPS WE LOVE:Milk Straw Cup Options: (12+ months old) When it comes to milk cups we recommend using a straw cup that is EASY-TO-CLEAN! That is the number one factor (followed by proper tongue placement, of course). We recommend using simple straw cups (a simple valve or valve-free) so you can easily remove milk residue. You can absolutely offer your toddler milk in an open cup too! We just prefer serving milk in an easy-to clean straw cup. You have three great options here:
Playtex Sipsters Stage 3 Straws (12+ months old)
Housavvy Stainless Steel Sippy Cup with Lid and Straw (12+ months old)
The First Years Take & Toss Spill-Proof Sippy Cups (18+ months old)
Transitioning from a bottle to a cup is always easier than we anticipate. You got this! Your baby’s got this! Let’s say it together…. “BYE-BYE BOTTLE!” (a bitter-sweet goodbye).
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!