Top left (clockwise) via Instagram: @n_and_cs_mom, @livvy_k.a, @tpaigemcintosh, @jackie_bosco
Updated May 2020
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, then a straw cup (see schematic and videos below).
Q: How do I know when to move on from an open cup to a straw cup?
A: When your baby can successfully swallow a small amount of water from an open cup that you assist in holding. (They don't need to be able to do it independently to learn a straw cup.)
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 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. We have a detailed Milk and Weaning eBook included in our Infant and Toddler online courses that addresses all of this. It can also be purchased separately here.
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 lactation specialist 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. 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 families 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. Please refer to our Milk and Weaning eBook in both courses or here for more details about choosing a milk for your child.
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 an order of cup introduction to help your baby progress through specific oral-motor skills.
Your baby only needs to learn to drink from two types of cups:
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 their mouth and swallow. We recommend avoiding hard spout sippy cups - the rationale is described in the final video.
What about Miracle 360 cups? Parents like the 360 cup, which is similar to an open cup with a silicone membrane lid, because it is less likely to spill. In the past we recommended it as the third cup type to teach your baby. However, recently many feeding specialists have expressed concern about how some kids use this type of cup. Please head to the 360 Cup section in this post for more details.
Step 1: Open cup with adult assistance
First, let's talk about how to teach your baby to drink from an open cup:
Why does Judy recommend open cups first?
When can my baby drink from an open cup without my assistance?
As your baby gets older and more experienced with an open cup, they will begin to hold it independently and drink on their own. Many of Judy's private feeding therapy clients are able to independently drink from an open cup by 10 months of age, but every baby is different.
To help your baby drink from an open cup on their own after they've practiced with you holding the cup:
To see our list of favorite open cups, click HERE in our Amazon Store.
When can we move onto a straw cup?
As soon as your baby successfully swallows from an open cup using your assistance, try a straw cup! We want your baby to be able to use both types of cups.
Step 2: Straw cup
While open cups are wonderful for drinking at home, reusable 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: Independent straw cup drinking
Handles can be easier for baby to use, but they're not required. Check out our favorite straw cups in our Amazon Shop HERE!
Step 3: Bigger kid cups - water bottles, heavier cups, etc.
As your child progresses, they may be ready for a "real" water bottle or "big kid" cup! These larger cups and water bottles are great for daycare, preschool or the diaper bag because they're less likely to leak and hold more liquid.
Some things to consider with heavier or larger water bottles:
If you've answered "yes" to these questions, it may be time for a "big kid" cup!
Our Straw Cup Amazon list has lots of water bottles for kids 16-18+ months, including our favorite brands Contigo, Hydroflask and Yeti. If you're looking for even bigger water bottles for kids 4+ years, head here.
Note: a hard or wider straw as found in the Contigo, Hydroflask and Yeti cups do not pose the same oral-motor concerns as a hard spout sippy cup. They are still straws and promote a normal suck pattern.
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.
What about the Munchkin 360 cup?
As we explained above, we used to recommend the Miracle 360 cup for parents who wanted a more spill-proof option that mimicked an open cup. However, recently some feeding therapists have noticed that the 360 cup can contribute to problematic drinking patterns in some kids:
But we love the 360 cup! Should we stop using it?
If your child cannot or will not drink from anything but a 360 cup, here are some tips:
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!