What to Know About Sippy Cups

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 07, 2022
5 min read

What are sippy cups? They are a popular option for a transitional cup after your child stops using a bottle but before they are ready for an open "big kid" cup. They are a cup with a lid that has a small spout your child can drink out of. Sippy cups are a good option for young kids who might throw their cups or spill liquids. 

However, some experts also say that sippy cup usage should be limited in many cases.

Using a sippy cup can help with the process of weaning your child off of their bottle. Bottle weaning should happen between the ages of one and two years old. During this short period of time, a sippy cup may be a useful tool when used in moderation. According to experts, you should then start transitioning your child to a regular cup after they turn two. 

If you wait too long to transition from either a bottle or a sippy cup, your child can be at higher risk for tooth decay and obesity.

There are some downsides to be aware of with sippy cups that have hard spouts for drinking. Many experts say sippy cups should be used in moderation, if at all. If you do use sippy cups, it's important to be aware of the following considerations.

May delay mature swallowing. Due to the positioning of the tongue, drinking from a sippy cup is similar enough to drinking from a bottle that your child may have delayed development of swallowing skills appropriate for older children who eat solid foods. This can make it harder for them to try new foods as they get older and may make eating solids messier.

May alter speech patterns. Using sippy cups for too long can cause tongue thrust. Children with this condition are accustomed to having their tongue rest farther forward than its natural position. This may cause a lisp to develop. Using a sippy cup for too long can consequently delay proper speech development.

Can cause teeth problems. When children drink juice or milk out of a sippy cup, the sugar stays on their teeth and can lead to cavities and tooth decay. Additionally, tongue thrust, the aforementioned forward positioning of the tongue that can develop from prolonged sippy cup usage, can cause the front teeth to grow outwards. Thrust can also affect bite patterns, preventing the upper and lower teeth from touching when the mouth is closed. Your child may need braces or other dental care in the future to fix these issues.

May lead to drinking too much. Kids only need to drink when they are thirsty and when they are eating. Children who carry around a sippy cup, though, may come to see it as a security object and drink too much liquid, leading to a greater need for diaper changes.

Plastic sippy cups may contain harmful chemicals. In 2012, the FDA banned bottles and sippy cups that contain the chemical bisphenol-A, a chemical that can cause:

  • Cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth defects
  • Early puberty
  • Low sperm count
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggressive behavior

Other sippy cups may contain phthalates, chemicals used to make plastics softer. Ingesting phthalates can cause:

  • Developmental problems
  • Reproductive issues
  • Asthma
  • Early puberty
  • Low sperm count
  • Undescended testicles & other genital malformations
  • Early puberty
  • Cancer

Experts recommend checking the recycling symbol on plastic products that you give to your children, including sippy cups. Avoid products that have #3, #6, or #7 written on them. Those products are most likely to contain harmful chemicals found in plastics. Additionally, look for products that specifically say they are phthalate-free.

Some parents decide to skip plastic bottles and sippy cups altogether, and there are glass and stainless steel options. 

If you do decide to stick with plastic, follow these tips to use them safely:

  • Avoid heating the cups. Wash them by hand instead of the dishwasher and never put them in the microwave.
  • Only buy brand-new plastic sippy cups so you can read the information on the original packaging.
  • Throw out or recycle plastic sippy cups that are worn out, broken, or scratched up.

There are a few types of sippy cups out there. In addition to the traditional hard spout design, there are some newer options that may offer less mess than an open cup while avoiding the aforementioned issues.

Hard spout. A traditional sippy cup is a covered cup with a hard spout to drink out of. These cups often have a valve so nothing comes out unless your child sucks on it. This helps to avoid spills but can lead to issues like speech and tooth problems.

Straw cups. This type of cup is a safer alternative to sippy cups. Most kids can use a straw as early as nine months old. There are now no-spill options for straw cups. Some experts recommend cutting the straw down so only your child's lips go around it, not their tongue.

360 cups. These cups have a lid, but they also have a flat edge, and kids can drink out of them at any point along the edge. These are great training tools for learning how to drink out of an open cup.

Weighted cups. These are usually open cups with a weight in the bottom. They are designed to be very hard to tip over, preventing spills.

Two-handled cups. These are also often open cups, but they have two handles to help kids hold them steady and get comfortable using a "big kid" cup.

Transitioning from using a sippy cup can be a hard time for a child, especially if they have come to see it as a comforting object. Try these tips to make this time easier.

  • Start by removing the sippy cup for just one meal and replacing it with a regular cup. After your child is used to that, use a regular cup at two meals, and finally, at all three.
  • Have your child practice drinking from a cup by using small amounts of thick liquids like yogurt or a smoothie.
  • Get your child fun "big kid" cups with their favorite characters on them so they will be encouraged to use them.
  • Tell your child why they no longer need a sippy cup. For example, try explaining to your child that they are too big for sippy cups and it's time to give the cups to a younger child who needs them more.
  • Give your child a small celebration for "graduating" to using regular cups.
  • Make sure your child is thirsty before giving them the sippy cup. They may simply be looking for comfort.
  • Fill your child's regular cup with milk or juice and only give your child water in their sippy cup.

Some children who have special needs do best when drinking from a sippy cup. When in doubt, talk to your child's doctor to find the best drinking cup option.