Mastering the art of sipping water or milk from straw and open cups is a significant milestone for babies to master starting from 6 months of age. This skill is important for nurturing their oral motor skills, setting the stage for future speech and chewing abilities. Furthermore, it empowers them with a newfound sense of independence.
Both straw and open cup drinking are essential skills babies acquire with time. As parents, we can provide them plenty of opportunities to practice and learn these skills!
Learning to sip through a straw contributes to the development of their oral motor skills, specifically honing their ability to execute the sucking motion. Conversely, open cup drinking teaches them the invaluable skill of sipping, a lifelong capability they'll carry with them as they grow.
In this guide, we'll explore the benefits of introducing straw and open cups to your baby and provide you with practical tips to make this transition smooth and enjoyable for both you and your little explorer.
The Importance of Open and Straw Cups
Open cup: Using an open cup teaches your baby the art of sipping. Sipping is a skill they will need for the rest of their life as they transition to drinking from regular cups and glasses as they grow older.
Straw cup: Using a straw cup helps advance your baby’s oral motor skills. Learning to drink through a straw involves mastering the sucking motion, a fundamental skill that sets the stage for speech development and effective chewing later in life.
When to Start Introducing Cups
Parents can begin introducing straw and open cups around the same time they start solid foods, usually at around 6 months of age. This is a period when babies are fast learners, thanks to their heightened reflexes, and they are eager to explore and master new skills.
Delaying the introduction of these skills can make learning more challenging for your baby later on.
The Ideal Cup for Your Baby
The best cups for your baby are both an open cup and a straw cup. Using these types of cups helps your baby develop a range of drinking skills that will serve them well throughout their life.
Our suggestion is to introduce open cups and straw cups at the age of 6 months or whenever your baby has started solid food. It's good to alternate between these two types of cups, allowing your baby to develop proficiency in both drinking techniques involving sucking and sipping actions.
But, don’t worry if they struggle; it’s only natural! If your baby is finding it difficult or feeling frustrated by the use of both cups, you can opt to introduce one cup at a time.
The Role of Breast/Formula Milk
It's important to note that introducing straw and open cups does not mean you replace your baby’s intake of breast milk or formula with large amounts of water or other liquids.
Breast milk and formula remain the primary sources of nutrition and hydration for babies below 1 year of age.
The goal is to gently ease your baby into the practice of drinking liquids from a cup and a straw while continuing to prioritize breast or formula feeds.
Encouraging Babies to Drink from an OPEN CUP
1) Choose a very small cup, not larger than 3 ounces (approximately 90 ml) in size.
2) Fill the cup with either water or breast/formula milk, depending on your baby's preference.
3) Ideally, fill the cup to the brim if it's a standard 3-ounce (100 ml) cup. For larger cups, add between 1 to 3 ounces (30 ml to 90 ml) of liquid.
4) Filling the cup to the brim is important because when your baby's lips touch the cup, they will also come into contact with the water or milk, providing sensory input.
5) Show your baby how to drink by modeling the action. Take the cup, sip a little (or pretend to sip), and then offer it to your baby. Make exaggerated sounds like "ahhh" to spark their curiosity. Display enthusiasm and excitement to make it a fun experience!
6) Present the cup to your baby by holding it in front of them. Avoid inserting the cup directly into their mouth. Let your baby reach out and grasp the cup from your hand.
7) Once your baby has taken hold of the cup, allow them to hold it, but use your hand to gently guide them in bringing it to their lips.
Common Issues Parents Face With Open Cups
As your baby begins to learn how to sip from an open cup, you might encounter a few common situations:
1) Spit it out or dribble: Babies might have difficulty keeping the liquid in their mouths. Sometimes, they might spit out the liquid or even cough. Don't worry, this is entirely normal. Babies require some time to master this skill, and the key is to keep practicing with them.
However, if you find that even after several weeks of practice and encouragement, your little one is still coughing or spitting out the water, you may need to switch from milk or water to a thicker, puree-like liquid, such as a smoothie. Thicker liquids are easier for babies to handle, and the chances of them spitting it out are reduced.
2) Deliberately spill: Parents, don't hesitate to let your baby use the cup independently once you are confident that they understand how to use it. It's perfectly fine for spills to occur; it's part of their learning process. Babies need numerous opportunities to learn these essential skills. If we, as caregivers, don't provide these opportunities, babies may struggle to acquire them.
Some babies tend to tip the cup towards themselves before it reaches their mouth, which can lead to accidental spills. Simply refill the cup and offer it back to them to continue their practice.
Other babies may realize it's fun to deliberately spill the liquid. In this case, don't refill the cup immediately; wait for another mealtime to offer the cup again.
If your baby keeps doing this while using an open cup (where spilling is easier), try switching to a straw cup and return to the open cup after a few days!
3) Explore and experiment: Babies are inquisitive and enjoy playing around with their food and drinks. Everything is new to them, and they're figuring out the correct way to eat and drink. Sometimes, babies may even put their food in their open cup or pour the water or milk from the cup onto their food. Don't be concerned or upset.
Babies are like little scientists, enjoying the process of discovery. You can gently guide your baby by using words or gestures like "food is on the plate" and "water/milk is in the cup" to help them gradually understand these concepts.
If you find that this behavior happens frequently during meals and adds stress to mealtimes, don't worry. Simply remove the cup and let them focus on their food. You can try offering the cup of liquid at a different time when they are not as focused or distracted by their meal.
4) Refuse to drink: Some babies might simply refuse to drink from a cup, but there's no need to worry because every baby is unique. To encourage them, try introducing the cup at a different time, away from meal times. For instance, during bath time, you can give your baby an empty cup to play with and hold. Gradually ease them into this experience to prevent overwhelming them.
During the day, you can fill the cup with water and pretend to drink from it while making the activity seem enjoyable. Ensure your baby is watching, and you can exaggerate the sipping action to spark their curiosity and make them want to join in. Remember to act as if you're thoroughly enjoying this activity. If you notice their interest, offer them the cup and gently guide them if they appear willing.
With time, most babies will acquire these skills. Maintain your patience and be an enthusiastic teacher, even if you may feel frustrated internally.
Encouraging Babies to Drink From a STRAW CUP
The sucking reflex: Straw cups are typically easier to introduce to babies around 6 months because they still have a strong sucking reflex. Delaying the introduction of straw cups after 8 or 9 months may require more effort, as the sucking reflex tends to fade around that time.
Two Methods to Teach Straw Drinking
Method 1: Using an open cup and straw
1) Take a regular open cup and a straw (paper, plastic, or silicone).
2) Place the straw in a cup of water, and cover the top of the straw with your finger. This creates a vacuum, and some water stays inside the straw.
3) Remove the straw while keeping your finger on the top end.
4) Hold the straw in front of your baby, but don't put it directly in their mouth. Wait for them to open their mouths.
5) Once their mouth is open, gently place the straw in it and slowly release your finger. This allows the water from the straw to enter their mouth.
6) Control the water flow to avoid giving too much at once, as babies may not handle it well and may spit, cough, or have water come out through their nose
7) When your baby starts closing their lips around the straw, it's a sign of progress. If they don't, gently stroke their cheeks or show them how to close their lips by demonstrating.
8) Gradually increase the time you keep your finger on the straw, making it a bit harder for them to suck the water out. This encourages them to try harder.
9) Release the water slowly and gently since your baby is new to this experience.
10) Once they are comfortable with sucking water through the straw while you hold it, you can gradually put the straw in the cup and encourage them to suck directly from it while you keep the cup and straw steady.
Method 2: Squeezy bottle with straw
1) Instead of purchasing the popular but expensive Honey Bear straw cups, you can create your own training cup using a regular squeezable bottle, like those used for honey or sauce, which has a similar mechanism.
2) Ensure the bottle and cap are thoroughly cleaned to remove any residues of previously held contents. This is especially important if the bottle contained honey, which is not safe for infants under 1 year.
3) After cleaning, insert a straw into the bottle.
4) Fill the squeezable bottle with water and hold it in front of your baby. Avoid forcing the straw into their mouth or at their lips. Allow your curious little one to explore and reach for the cup.
5) Once they open their mouth, gently introduce the straw into their mouth.
6) With the straw in their mouth, gently squeeze the bottle to release a small amount of liquid, allowing it to enter their mouth. Be sure to squeeze gently to avoid overwhelming your baby.
7) Typically, babies will naturally seal their lips around the straw as soon as the liquid enters their mouth.
8) Once your baby can easily swallow the liquid, stop squeezing the bottle and let them suck the water through the straw independently.
9) Observe whether your baby can manage without your assistance. If they need more practice, repeat these steps until they become proficient. If your baby struggles to keep the cup or bottle steady, provide support.
10) Once your baby becomes skilled at using the DIY squeezy bottle, transition to a regular straw cup. The squeezy bottle serves as a temporary tool for learning. Prolonged use may result in your baby squirting too much liquid into their mouth or even creating a watery mess around the house!
Common Issues Parents Face With Straw Cups
Remember, each baby learns at their own pace, so stay patient and maintain an encouraging attitude. Learning to drink from a cup is a skill that takes time, practice, and a little bit of playful experimentation.
Here are some common issues parents face when their little one is learning to drink from a straw cup:
1) Struggle to swallow: Some babies may suck on the straw but struggle to swallow the liquid, leading to dribbling, spitting, or holding it in their mouths.
What to do: Opt for a thinner straw, which encourages them to wait longer for the liquid to enter their mouths. Thinner straws also allow smaller amounts of liquid to flow in, making it easier for your baby to manage.
2) Unable to handle the liquid in their mouth: Babies might find it challenging to handle certain liquids like water or breast milk.
What to do: Instead of water or milk, offer purees or thicker liquids with a smoothie-like consistency. These are easier for babies to control in their mouths and swallow comfortably. Begin with purees, and as their mouths adapt, gradually transition to thinner liquids.
3) Cough while drinking: Babies may cough when they start drinking because they get excited and ingest more liquid than they can manage due to their developing ability to gauge the quantity their tiny mouths can hold.
What to do: Occasional coughing is normal during this learning process. However, if your child is over 15 months old and continues to cough while using a straw cup, consider seeking guidance from your doctor or healthcare professional.
Learning to drink from a cup is a skill that requires time, patience, and practice. Stay composed, offer your baby numerous opportunities to learn, and infuse enthusiasm and excitement into their learning experiences by demonstrating the actions with animation.
Remember that each baby progresses at their unique pace, so persist in your efforts and don't hesitate to consult your doctor if you have concerns about any aspect of this journey.