They’re called “sippy cups” for a reason: they help toddlers learn how to sip from a cup—a uniquely different skill than sucking from the breast or bottle. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that any 1 year old using a bottle be weaned from the bottle to a cup. The reason? Tooth decay, which can occur once a baby’s teeth begin to emerge.
One of the major risk factors for childhood tooth decay is frequent and prolonged exposure to sugar sweetened liquids—formula, milk, juices. The ADA acknowledges that at-will, frequent sips of sugary liquids can increase the risk for tooth decay and recommends parents offer these drinks only at mealtime—and only in a cup. In between meals, parents should offer water in a cup.
Most training cups have a snap-on or screw-on lid with a spout. The ADA cautions parents to avoid cups with a no-spill valve (despite their popularity). A cup with a no-spill valve requires a child to suck as if he were drinking from a bottle and does not teach the child how to sip.
Once your baby can sit up and hold an object with both hands, she is ready for a cup. Many parents offer a sippy cup or training cup before moving on to a lidless cup. Begin by placing an empty cup within your baby’s reach at mealtime. A cup with two handles and a weighted bottom that is less likely to tip over works best. Babies often mimic others, so while you drink from your cup, your baby will try to do the same. Start with small amounts of water in the cup, so there is less to spill and wipe up.
Some children forgo a training cup altogether and go directly from breast or bottle to a lidless cup. If you opt to use a training cup, use it only until your child has learned to sip and has developed the ability to control a lidless cup, usually around 1–2 years of age.