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Introducing Sippy Cups and Leaving the Bottle Behind

Wondering if your little one is ready for sippy cups? There are a few milestones they should meet first and direct nursing should continue as long as you and your baby desire. Here's how to know if your little one is ready - and how to gradually introduce sippy cups into the feeding routine.

When and How to Start Introducing Sippy Cups to Your Baby

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your little one is likely ready for you to begin introducing sippy cups to him or her between 6 – 9 months old. Usually, if your baby can sit up by themselves in a high chair – meaning, he or she has good neck control, can sit upright unassisted for lengthy periods of time, and can move their head and hands independently – then you can start thinking about introducing sippy cups and moving away from feedings exclusively by breast and/or bottle. In fact, a recent Pediatrics study discovered that about 9 months old is the “ideal” age to transition babies away from the bottle (though direct nursing can – and should – continue for as long as both you and your baby desire); with 12 months being about when he or she should be drinking exclusively by sippy cup (and breast, if you are continuing to nurse).

There are some important reasons why introducing sippy cups around this time is beneficial to your baby, including:

  • Bottles may increase instances of tooth decay. This is simply because of the mechanics of sucking from a bottle versus drinking from a sippy cup. Sugar stays longer on the teeth this way, which can lead to cavities.
  • Kids who still use a bottle by age 2 have a higher risk of obesity later. Research indicates that toddlers who are still using a bottle at age 2 are more likely to be obese by the time they’re just 6 years old. This is often because these kids will learn to carry their bottle around with them and sip on it frequently, despite being on a diet of primarily solids by this time – which can lead to too many calories per day.  Conversely, the opposite could also happen – kids who grow too dependent on their bottle may not wish to eat many solids, with their bottle staying as their primary source of nutrition even as they transition into toddlerhood.
  • Prolonged use of the bottle may affect the positioning and development of adult teeth later. Evidence shows that the mechanics of constant sucking may affect the development of facial muscles, the roof of your baby’s mouth, and the eventual positioning of their adult teeth. This can result in an overbite, crooked teeth, and the eventual need for orthodontics later in life.  

With that in mind, it’s important to tread lightly and remember that your little one may still be very attached to their bottle right now. This can be a scary change for your baby, so be patient and start introducing sippy cups as a gradual transition – rather than a sudden, abrupt change in routine. Consider the following to help you slowly get your baby familiarized with this strange new contraption:

  • Let your baby look, touch, and hold. Chances are, your little one will be more interested in how the sippy cup looks, how it feels in their hands, and even what happens when they drop it before they’ll be interested in what’s inside and how to drink from it. Start by bringing out a sippy cup each day – empty, so as not to waste any of your precious liquid gold! – and let them play with it to become familiar.
  • Show your little one how to take a proper sip. Once he or she is familiarized with the look, feel, and mechanics of the sippy cup, start filling it with a small amount of your pumped breast milk and showing them how to take a sip. Try guiding their hands onto the handles and helping them lift the spout to their mouth, and then letting a drop or two dribble onto their lips.
  • Keep it slow and steady. If your baby is especially attached to their bottle and/or your breast, try replacing one feeding per day with feeding from their sippy cup. By gradually increasing the number of daily feedings by sippy cup, your little one has a chance to ease into the change.
  • Make it fun! Don’t forget to celebrate your baby and show him or her how excited you are each time they willingly accept and finish a feeding from their new sippy cup. This is a great way to help your baby learn that change isn’t a bad or scary thing, and that you are happy to support and encourage them as they continue growing. Once your little one has fully transitioned to sippy cups (with or without continued, occasional nursing sessions at the breast), celebrate this new milestone as much as you’d like, mama – this time is yours to enjoy with your baby!

Introducing sippy cups can be a process, and most babies won’t make a clean break from the bottle overnight. There may be some days when your little one will readily take feedings from their sippy cup and show a great deal of interest, and there will likely be some days when they’re just not that into it. Remember to be patient and don’t force things – the balance between going at your little one’s pace and providing strong encouragement as they grow and achieve these milestones isn’t always simple or linear. The most important thing is that your baby is well and growing just as he or she should!