Top left (clockwise) via Instagram: @n_and_cs_mom, @livvy_k.a, @rachelpolish, @jackie_bosco
Confused about cups?
You're not alone! One of the most common questions on our Facebook group and Instagram is "How do I introduce a cup?" We know you have questions about cups given your child's specific age and stage, so we want to break it down step-by-step so you know exactly how to introduce various cups and what cups are appropriate for your child's age.
Note: the images in this post were used with permission from parents in Feeding Littles Group. Thank you to everyone who contributed images - we wish we could use them all!
The big questions.
Before we get to teaching specific cups and how to progress to more advanced skills, we wanted to answer some important questions.
Q: When should I introduce a cup?
A: Around 6 months, when your baby starts food (Baby-led Weaning or Traditional Weaning/spoon feeding).
Q: What type of cup should I use first?
A: An open cup (see schematic and videos below).
Q: What are your favorite straw cups and water bottles?
A: In each section below after the video, look for the links to individual sections of our Amazon Store for specific cup buying recommendations.
Q: What should I put in the cup?
A: Water or breast milk/formula.
Q: What about juice?
A: We only recommend juice for constipation (prune, pear, peach juice diluted with water). Otherwise, juice isn't necessary for babies and young children - fruit is a much better option!
Q: How much water can a 6 month old have?
A: No more than 1-2 oz - we don't want it to displace baby's milk feeds.
Q: Why should I offer some water at 6 months? Aren't breast milk and formula perfectly hydrating?
A: Yes, they are! However, water in a cup has a few important functions:
Q: How much water can my baby drink?
A: In general, we recommend no more than 1-2 oz around 6 months and 3-4 oz max around 9 months. Around 12+ months baby can have as much water as they want but will likely still be drinking breast milk, milk and/or formula along with it (see last question about milk needs, below). Many pediatricians consider a water maximum (after 6 months) as number of ounces equaling baby's age in months; thus, no more than 7 oz of water for 7 months. For most babies this would be far too much water for them to also drink enough of their milk, but it's a nice maximum guideline if baby is sick or for some reason isn't drinking their milk.
Q: When should I ditch the bottle?
A: Start working on transitioning off the bottle around 11-12 months. It may take many months for your toddler to stop using the bottle entirely and transition to cups, but the biggest issue with prolonged bottle use is the potential effects on your toddler's teeth. If using a bottle before nap or bedtime, try to brush your toddler's teeth before they go to sleep.
Q: How much fluid do toddlers and older kid need?
A: Toddlers and kids need more fluid than you think! Below are averages recommendations of total fluid per day. Read more specifics about your child's needs - and how to calculate them if you'd like - here.
Q: How much breast milk or formula should my baby (under 12 months) drink?
A: Babies will vary wildly in how much their bodies need for adequate growth and development. Some babies drink 26 oz a day, while others need over 40 oz. Most babies need at least 24 ounces of breast milk or formula until they're closer to one. This equates to 6-12+ breast feeds depending on baby's milk transfer. Talk to your doctor, dietitian or IBCLC if you're concerned about how much milk your baby is drinking.
Q: How much milk should my toddler or child drink?
A: This is a tricky question and depends on your child's overall diet. If you have our Toddler Course, head to Step 16: Calcium, Milk and Beverages. We plan to write a post about milk in the future and won't go into many details here, but if your child is drinking cow's milk or an alternative milk, general guidance recommends no more than 16-24 ounces per day to allow your toddler or child to also eat enough food and not fill up too much on milk. Drinking too much cow's milk can increase a child's risk for iron deficiency anemia as well. Many moms continue to breastfeed far into toddlerhood, and some families choose not to use any milk after infancy. Feeding Littles firmly believes that there's no one right solution for every child - some kids thrive on cow's milk while others breastfeed far into toddlerhood. Some kids eat high-calcium, high-fat foods and get all of their calories from solid foods and no milk. Every child is different and will vary. If you have any questions about how to meet your child's needs, please talk with your pediatrician.
Q: What about smoothies?
A: Smoothies are OK as of 6 months in small amounts, as long as they don't contain artificial sweeteners or herbs (found in protein powders). Most straw cups made for thin liquids are too narrow for smoothies and the thicker smoothie consistency gets stuck. Check out our smoothie cup video and product recommendations at the end of this list!
How do I introduce cups to my baby?
We recommend a specific order of cup introduction to help your baby progress through specific oral-motor skills. Above all else, make sure to start with an open cup first. It really helps your baby learn how to take a small bolus of liquid in her mouth and swallow. We recommend avoiding hard spout sippy cups - the rationale is described in the final video.
Step 1: Open cup
First, let's talk about how to teach your baby to drink from an open cup:
Why does Judy recommend open cups first?
We see so much more success in straw and other cup drinking when babies master an open cup first! To see our list of favorite open cups, click HERE in our Amazon Store.
Step 2: Straw cup
While open cups are wonderful for drinking at home, straw cups are preferred by parents for water drinking while on the go because they're oftentimes leak-proof (or at least leak-resistant). Some people are moving away from disposable straws for environmental reasons, but it's still important to teach straw usage because most kids' cups utilize a reusable straw, and as you'll learn later that we don't want to use hard spout sippy cups for oral development and speech reasons. Straws also strengthen muscles in the mouth that are important for eating and talking.
Some babies learn how to use a straw simply by placing one to their lips or by capturing some liquid in a straw with your finger and placing the other end in baby's mouth. Many babies, however, need a little help figuring out the straw. Below Judy will go through how she teaches straw usage with her clients. If your baby figures out a straw cup without issue, you can skip the Mr. Juice Bear/Honey Bear step, but it's very helpful for babies who don't figure out straws right away.
Straw cup video 1: Mr. Juice Bear / Honey Bear
Find Mr. Juice Bear and the Honey Bear in our Straw Cup HERE in our Amazon Store.
Straw cup video 2: Take N Toss and assisted straw skills
Check out the Take N Toss cup HERE in our Amazon Store!
Straw cup video 3: Handled straw cups and independent straw cup drinking
Check out our favorite handled straw cups in our Amazon Shop HERE! Look for cups with handles first; eventually your child will be able to manage cups without handles.
A note about the Zoli Bot cup: some clients have recently noticed that the Bot straw was hard to suck out of. We contacted Zoli and after doing some research, they realized that in switching to a thicker silicone so that babies don't bite through the straw, the flow of the straw is slower. Watch this video to modify the Bot cup straw until a more permanent solution is found.
Step 3: Munchkin 360 cup
After your tot has mastered the open and straw cup, try a Munchkin 360 cup! The 360 cup mimics an open cup but is leak proof and portable (it can be put in a diaper bag).
Take a look at the wide selection of Munchkin 360 cups in our Amazon store HERE!
We just love this photo from follower @skipsrunsplays - sometimes learning to drink from a cup can be exhausting!
Step 4: Bigger kid cups - water bottles, Contigo, etc.
As your child progresses, he may be ready for a "real" water bottle or "big kid" cup! Learn how to navigate this next phase.
Find the Contigo cup and other "bigger kid" (non-handled, larger) straw cups HERE. Larger Munchkin 360 cups without handles can be found HERE.
What about smoothie cups?
Parents in our Facebook Group always ask about smoothie cups. Check out what Judy recommends, below.
Check out our favorite smoothie cups HERE.
Why do we avoid sippy cups?
Learn why Judy doesn't recommend hard spout sippy cups. With all the cup options available there's no need for traditional sippies!
As you can imagine, this post took us a bit of time to create, so we decided to have a little fun with it. Feeding Littles presents: "The Most Important Cups for Your Kitchen."
For the record, this was a joke...we do NOT recommend teaching your kiddo to drink from a flask. Or a wine glass. Joke. Seriously.
We hope this has helped you decide what cup to use for your kiddo! Cheers!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!