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So Long Sippy Cups, Hello Straws

Sippy Cups, Thumb Sucking Can Cause Speech Problems in Tots, Doctors Say
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 11, 2008 (New York) -- Toddlers could develop lisps and other speech problems from use of sippy cups, says a speech pathologist.

Sippy cups -- the often character-themed training cups that come with a snap-on lid and hard spout -- and/or thumb sucking can cause difficulty with articulation and clarity of speech in some children, says Sandra Holtzman, MS, a speech pathologist and certified orofacial myologist in Coconut Creek, Fla.

"When a child sucks their thumb, it's placed on the roof of their mouth, so the tongue is misplaced," Holtzman tells WebMD. "They keep their lips apart, which encourages open-mouth breathing, and their teeth are pushed forward or outward." When the tongue is misplaced, she says, a child also can't properly suction saliva or swallow food or liquid.

"The most common issues are types of lisps," she says, "but it can also cause imprecise articulation," such as slurred or difficult-to-understand speech.

But parents can make simple changes that will prevent these speech issues, says Holtzman, who spoke at a conference on orofacial myology, a field of study that looks at how certain structural or functional factors in the mouth can cause speech and swallowing issues.

(Does your toddler use a sippy cup? Will you change to a straw? Talk with others on WebMD's Parenting: 1-Year-Olds message board.)

Straws an Alternative to Sippy Cups

Thumb sucking and sippy cups can cause similar problems, Holtzman says.

"If a child goes from the breast or the bottle to a sippy cup, they tend to drink it as if it were a bottle. They lie back or tip their neck in the usual manner, so it's almost like drinking a bottle," she says. "They have a hard object or spout with various shapes depending on the type of cup, and their bodies are tipped back. This hard object or spout misplaces the tongue and pushes the teeth out as the thumb can."

Steer clear of sippy cups and use straws instead, she urges.

"Today, we are kind of spoiled and not as used to a mess when a cup spills, but that's a mistake," Holtzman says. Instead of cups with spouts, use cups with straws or simply place a straw in a paper or plastic cup, she says.

New York City speech pathologist Joslin Zeplin agrees. "A sippy cup can serve a function, which is to transition off of the bottle, but it should only be used for a brief time," she says. "It can be used for approximately a month and should never be used as a substitute for a bottle and it should not be treated like a bottle."

Transition to a straw cup after a month, says Zeplin, who helped organize the conference.

Thumb sucking is another habit that parents should nip in the bud, she says.

"Sucking the thumb places unnecessary pressure on the palate and can deform it," she says. "If a child's palate is misshapen, the tongue may not have place to rest, and this can lead to articulation issues," she says.

"Using a pacifier is better because at least you can take it away, unlike the thumb," she says.

Holtzman suggests dressing infants in outfits with mittens as a way to prevent thumb sucking.

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