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How Sippy Cups Can Affect Your Child’s Speech Development


Which Cups Are Great To Use AND Which Ones Should Be Avoided

Oh sippy cups, how you have become a parent’s best friend. Who wants to clean up spills on the floor, in the car, and well….everywhere? As a parent, we totally understand that it’s easy to grab a sippy cup and get out the door.

Unfortunately, as convenient as sippy cups are, some sippy cups can actually be detrimental to your child’s speech and feeding development. GASP! I know some parents are having heart palpitations just thinking of getting rid of some of their beloved sippy cups, but let me explain why some cups can be damaging. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of information for parents regarding what kind of cups a child should transition to after the bottle but tons of marketing telling our parents they need get a sippy cup for children to learn cup drinking. What marketing doesn’t show is that SOME sippy cups are actually harmful, just ask any speech language pathologist (speech therapist). Don’t worry though, we can help you make a better choice for your child’s development.

Let’s start off by defining “sippy cup”. A sippy cup is defined as a “training cup-usually plastic-with a screw or snap on lid and a spout that lets your child drink without spilling.” Traditional sippy cups have a hard plastic spout that the child would suck on to retrieve liquid from the cup.

So what’s the big deal with traditional sippy cups? Let’s start with typical child development. When babies begin to feed, whether bottle or by breast, they do so using a suckling reflex. The suckling reflex consists of the tongue compressing the nipple and rolling back and forth to obtain milk. The tongue, jaw, lips and palate are all part of this process. Babies should transition from this suckling reflex to a more mature sucking pattern within the first year of life. If a child goes from the breast or bottle to a sippy cup, they tend to drink out of a traditional sippy cup as if it were bottle. In other words, they tend to continue the infantile sucking pattern by protruding and placing their tongue under the hard sippy spout and suckling vs. a more mature sucking pattern in which the tongue retracts (pulls back) in the mouth and the lips contract (tighten) to support a straw or cup without the use of the tongue. Children should be encouraged to transition to an open mouth cup (regular cup), cup with a flexible straw (so that the straw compresses vs. a firm plastic spout), or a cup with a recessed lid to promote lip pursing (puckering) and pulling the tongue back to a more normal resting position. Some great examples of Speech Language Pathologist (aka Speech Therapist) approved transitional cups from a bottle are:

Munchkin Miracle 360 sippy cup

EIO Kids Cup Glass

Recessed Lid Cup-Talk Tools

Sassy Grow up No Spill

Kid Basix Safe Sippy™ Stainless Steel Cup

Playtex Sipsters with Pop Up Flexible Straws

Why is choosing a better cup important?

The development of a more mature sucking pattern is vital in overall tongue positioning. Traditional (hard plastic) sippy cups can encourage the tongue to sit more forward in the mouth. See example picture below:

Similar to what happens with thumb suckers, the development of a more forward tongue positioning can affect dentition AND speech development, most commonly seen as a frontal or lateral lisp. For younger children, they may have issues with tongue tip elevation (lifting the tip of the tongue) due to constant posturing of the tongue tip being held down while suckling from a traditional sippy cup. Difficulty with tongue tip elevation affects the ability to make the /t,d,l,n/ sounds appropriately.  In addition, when the tongue tip can’t elevate (lift up by itself) it can also affect how your child properly swallows their food or saliva.  When toddlers continue to use the infant swallow pattern, it can affect their ability to chew and swallow effectively which could make trying new foods more challenging.

*For more information please refer to or

As Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), we’re not the only ones trying to guide parents away from using traditional sippy cups. In case you still need persuading, pediatric dentists would also agree with our SLPs regarding the harmful effects of using traditional sippy cups.

From a dental perspective, according to Dr. Mark Burhenne

Sippy cups prevent normal development of the mouth. Sucking from a sippy cup, bottle feeding and suckling a mother’s breast are not all equal. The motor activity of suckling a breast allows the child’s oral cavity to develop properly.

A nipple is soft and deforms when the child sucks on it — it takes a different shape inside the mouth of the child and helps promote proper development of all the oral structures, including jawbone, palate, teeth, and oral cavity. It has the child learn the proper motor function of the tongue.

Sucking on a rigid piece of plastic doesn’t allow for this and can actually misshape the oral cavity and result in problems later in life like speech, airway, sleep quality, and facial form and aesthetics.”

*Read more at Ask the Dentist:

For more information on feeding and oral development OR If you are concerned with your child’s development, please contact our office to speak with one of our licensed therapists at (704) 821-0568 or email us your questions at

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8 thoughts on “A Speech Therapist’s Guide to Sippy Cups:”

    1. Most of the recessed lid cups or flexible straw cups are available at Walmart, target or online via Amazon for purchasing. As far as your comment about your grandson having a “lazy tongue”, I’ve not heard that description before and I’m intrigued at what you may be seeing to refer to his tongue as “lazy”. Clinically, low muscular tone of a tongue would present as a tongue sticking out or an open mouth posture at rest with the tongue protruding forward in the mouth to the edge of the lower lip. Children with low tone may drool, have difficulty drinking from regular cup or even with chewing foods. If it is speech sounds that your grandson has difficulty with or speech clarity, that is typically caused by motor planning issues. Both are treatable with skilled speech therapy by a licensed speech language pathologist. I hope that helps.

  1. Thanks for the great article! Which would you recommend for pumped milk? The 360? And for the crib? What I really need is something for my son to use while lying down (it’ll have pumped milk). I’m stumped. Thanks!

    1. Cup selection should not be an issue with pumped milk vs. formula/whole milk. The 360 cup may require that your child bite down or draw liquid using tightly pursed lips so that is something to consider. As with any baby going from a bottle to a cup, there is a typical transition period from the nipple of a bottle or breast to a cup. Initially, it may be tough for your child to transition, but often with encouragement children do well. Also keep in mind, just as in bottle selection, you may need to try a variety of cups including those with flexible straws to see what your child seems to respond to best. It is also generally recommended that a child not have a cup or bottle in bed as even the natural milk sugars present in breast milk can occasionally cause tooth decay from night nursing. Understandably, There will be a transition period if you child is used to taking a bottle before bedtime to soothe and it may not be an overnight process for the transition. You can slowly transition your child to using a cup during the day and taper use of the bottle throughout this transition if needed. In addition, initiating a nightly routine focused on bath time and reading a book (or two) together before bedtime may help to soothe your little one before bedtime.

    1. Typically, the hard palate is shaped during infancy and toddler hood by the tongue lying in it’s normal resting position; however, use of a hard plastic sippy cup spout, prolonged pacifier use and/or thumb sucking, may alter the natural curve of the hard palate. Palate height should not directly affect the use of a soft/flexible spouted sippy cup, straw cup or open mouth cup; therefore, any type of the cup selections noted above could be a great choice. If you child has difficulty transitioning to a cup, it may be due to immature tongue movement (lingual movement/control) which may affect the transfer of the liquids from the front of the mouth to the back to swallow the liquids effectively. If your child is struggling with this transition from bottle to cup, a speech/feeding evaluation would be beneficial to evaluate the underlying oral motor pattern to see if there are any underlying immature motor patterns affecting the ability to transition to a more age appropriate cup.

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