Mommy Minute Monday: Why Straws Cups Rock

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Often when I tell people I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist the person will say, “Oh, I had speech therapy as a kid. I couldn’t say my (insert speech sound here).” My husband jokingly calls me a pirate doctor, because I teach people how to say their arrrs. I usually follow up with a sarcastic eye roll. What most people don’t know is that there are many different areas of Speech-Language Pathology, including speech, language, cognitive-communication, swallowing, fluency and voice.

One of the areas I focus on is feeding and swallowing disorders in children. As part of my job I evaluate children who have mild to severe feeding disorders. Often these children have problems organizing their oral motor skills to effectively chew or coordinate bottle, cup or straw drinking. After an in-depth evaluation I work with the child to help develop the oral motor skills for them to become a successful eater. One of the goals we often target is straw drinking.

All typically developing children progress through certain oral motor skills as they grow during their first few years of life. There are critical periods of development that occur for certain feeding skills. Today I want to focus on the first year of life in relationship to the development of straw drinking. Now lets step back and talk a little bit about oral motor development.

Newborn to 4 months- Suckle reflex is present. A baby uses the buccal sucking pads to express milk from the breast or bottle and the tongue moves the milk to the back of the mouth for swallowing. The lips are not active in feeding. Sucking is a reflex.

4 months to 6 months- The suckle and suck reflex is lost and sucking becomes an intentional act. As the reflex diminishes, so does the forward tongue thrust motion. As the tongue thrust diminishes a baby is able to accept puree spoon feedings. The lips slowly become engaged in the feeding process.

6 to 7 months- A baby uses a primitive bite and release pattern when given a soft cookie; however, mostly sucks the cookie to break it down.

7 to 8 months- As a baby begins to accept thicker puree foods, the tongue movements are becoming more precise with up and down movements. By the end of eight months the tongue begins to move from side to side. Cup drinking may be introduced at this time, although larger mouthfuls of liquid may cause choking or coughing due to poor coordination of sucking, swallowing and breathing.

9 to 12 months- As a baby begins to finger feed the bite becomes more refined and chewing begins to transition to a circular (rotary) chew. The rotary chew is not fully established until 48 months. At 10 months the lips move to remove food from the spoon. Straw drinking may be introduced.

12 to 14 months- An infant can tolerate ground, mashed and coarsely chopped foods including small pieces of meat. The lips are active during chewing and are coordinated to drink from a straw. Some coughing may be present while drinking from a cup, if the liquid is flowing too fast.

So what does that all really mean when it comes to teaching your child to wean from the bottle?

1. A baby begins to develop the oral motor skills necessary to learn how to drink from a straw at nine months. In the next three to four months, he or she develops a coordinated sucking and swallowing pattern to drink from a straw without difficulty.

2. There is no reason to give your child a sippy cup other than for convenience. Sippy cups were first introduced into the market by Richard Balanger in 1990 as a “dripless liquid feeding container”. He later sold his design to Playtex. Today you will find an entire wall full of different brands of sippy cups at the big department stores. I remember how confused I was when I went to buy my first round of sippy cups. I too fell into the trap that many new parents make. The coveted search for the perfect sippy cup my developing little one year old would drink happily from. Guess what? I never found it! More on that later.

Do sippy cups cause speech sound errors?

The field of Speech-Language Pathology continues to move toward evidence based research to support our therapy techniques; however, I am not aware of any research that supports or refutes the idea that the prolonged use of a sippy cup, pacifier, or thumb-sucking causes speech sound (articulation) disorders. However, we do know that the use of a straw and open cup promotes the appropriate tongue position for certain speech sounds and swallowing patterns. I have treated many, many children with articulation errors such as lateral “s” (known as a lisp),who used a sippy cup and/or pacifier for prolonged periods. Often these children also have a reverse swallow tongue pattern that can impact dentition, as well. Children suck a sippy cup just as they would a bottle, so I like to call them glorified bottles. I will say that not all children who use a sippy cup (or a pacifier beyond a year) have articulation errors or a deviant swallow pattern. I have found that many of the children I see have very poor oral muscle tone. Using a straw over a sippy cup promotes appropriate oral muscle strength for the development of speech sounds.

Next week I’ll be discussing my two totally different experiences weaning the boys from the bottle to a straw cup. I’ll also cover strategies to use to teach your child to use the straw and review a few of my favorite straw cups. Please leave a comment or contact me through Twitter or Facebook if you have any questions regarding this or any other topic in speech, language or feedings/swallowing disorders. I love feedback!

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  1. Jenny says

    Mindi, You always seem to post something at the right time, that I can apply to our household. I was just talking to a fellow mom, about this over the weekend! Thank you for sharing, heading to the store now…

  2. says

    I love this post. I’ve also read that there’s no research based evidence that supports/refutes that pacifiers/sippy cups/bottles cause speech sound disorders, but I have heard it in my life with kids on bottles or pacis too long. Braden’s been on a straw sippy since before he was 1 and an open cup at the table since just before he turned 2. One of my BIGGEST parenting pet peeves is toddlers with bottles. I just do NOT get it and IMHO it is so bad for their speech and dental/oral development. I’d never say that to a mom, but it just drives me bananas!
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    • says

      Yay B!! Your super on top of him and his skills so I am not surprised! :) Oh it drives me nuts when 3 and 4 year olds are still using a bottle! Really??!?! How or why is this ok to some parents??

    • Brittney says

      My twins just turned two yesterday, and they are still on bottles. My son cannot put his mouth around anything else, believe me I tried, and if I only give him a bottle my daughter will come and take it from him, and then its a huge fight and we have very upset twins. Maybe you shouldn’t judge how other people parent their children.

  3. says

    wow, this is super interesting. i have a friend who’s a speech therapist and she was giving me tons of play strategies to use to promote language development. i think posts on that (once you’ve wrapped up straw and sippy cups) would be really helpful from your perspective as a speech therapist as well!
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  4. says

    oh i love reading these things because… NOT ONE OF MY 4 KIDS EVER DRANK FROM A SIPPY CUP and i always secretly felt like they were better for it. we went from nursing to a cup and/straw. we had a lot of messes while learning that art… but it was always water and an easy clean up. i think that sippy cups are a curse to unsuspecting parents. they think that a sippy cup won’t spill, so “YAY!”. BULL. that sippy cup will drip little tiny drips of milk/juice all over your floors when your child throws/drops it all day long. how about, when we want a drink we come to the kitchen and ask for one. then… we will drink it there and head back out to the rest of the house to play… without a drink in our hand!!!

    this has NOTHING to do with speech at all. i know. but… my kids are INCREDIBLE talkers from an early stage.

    wait, i just realized something. my youngest who is 2.5, can’t say his arrrrs… and i’ve allowed him to use a bottle (for milk once a day) for WAY too long. wondering, wondering, wondering… on the other hand he drinks from cups and straws like a pro.

    anyway, this is a novel-length comment. sorry :-)

    have a great easter morning!

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  5. Jamie Maier says

    So glad I found this article you wrote! My daughter has been drinking from a straw since she was between 3-4 months old (water only) as she was still breast fed but I had several people tell me ow bad a straw was but they couldn’t tell me why! Nice to hear that not only is it pt bad but that it is actually good for oral strength! Thank you.

  6. Kimberly Santana says

    Hi there! This was such an insightful post! I’ve been running in circles between specialists with my 7 month old! We first noticed an issue when we started purees at 5 and a half months and my daughter was gagging and vomiting. She also has reflux so we started at the GI who requested a swallow study. Then we tried the ENT who did a scope. I’ve asked twice for a referral to a feeding specialist/ oral motor eval and our pediatrician doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary. She’s refusing a bottle and has stopped sucking on a pacifier. When she eats so pushes her tongue out and won’t open her mouth to accept a spoon properly. She had a tongue tie that we got revised so I can’t help but think it’s a tongue/oral motor issue. At this point, we’re starting a straw cup with breastmilk so I can return to work (hopefully). Thank you for pointing out a few cups to try! I feel like I’ve tried them all!! I’m at a loss and this gave me a renewed sense of hope that we’ll make progress soon! Fingers crossed.

    • says

      She is still super young in terms of oral motor development. Forward tongue thrust motion you mentioned typically begins to dissappear at 6 months but every baby is different. It can hang on for at least 9 months in other babies. I would recommend continuing to let her explore textures, teething rings, perhaps putting different flavor foods on teething rings and helping her gently bring to her mouth. At any sign of displeasure (gagging) pull back and let her take the lead. She may have some oral sensitivity since she has some negative experiences (tongue tie revision), but again it’s a bit too early to fully determine that. Babies will sense that you are stressed about their eating/feeding, so that will not help them feel at ease. I would recommend trying to let her take the lead fully. Is she breastfed? I have had several friends whose baby never took to a bottle or pacifier, yet mom worked. They ended up reverse cycling (eating multiple times at night to make up for missed calories during the day). I recommend the resource for that topic.

  7. Vanessa says

    Hi mindi,

    I am transitioning my 4 yr old to drinking her milk from a cup. She has been well aquainted with cups since she was 16 months old, but still enjoys the convenience of a bottle. Are straws ok at her age for a bit, or better to bypass them altogether ?


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