It’s amazing how quickly a baby transitions from being completely dependent on their caregivers to learning how to do things independently. Before you know it, your baby will be ready to attempt drinking from a cup on their own.
Babies have an innate drive to gain independence and it is beneficial to encourage this early on.
Allowing your baby opportunities to do things for themselves will be fun and build their confidence. Plus, it will make life easier for you once they really master these skills!
Why Should a Baby Drink from a Cup?
Drinking from an open cup requires the highest level of oral motor skills (how a person uses their lips, tongue, cheeks, and jaw), so it is the ideal type of cup to use whenever possible.
It is best to try to wean baby from the bottle by 12 months of age. Introducing cup drinking early on can help speed up that process and make it a little easier.
Signs Your Baby is Ready to Drink from a Cup
Babies can start to learn the skill of drinking from a cup around 6 months of age. Of course, every baby develops a little differently, so it is better to look for developmental readiness rather than strictly considering their age.
Look for the following skills before introducing cup drinking:
• Very good head control
• Able to sit with minimal to no support
• Able to pick up toys of various shapes and sizes
• Brings objects to their mouth
Once your baby has achieved all of the above milestones, they are ready to start drinking from a cup.
How Do I Teach Baby to Drink from a Cup?
It is common for parents to start by offering sips of water from their own cup. This can be a good way to introduce the concept, but it is a good idea to soon move on to a cup that your baby can hold onto on their own.
Once they’re holding onto their own cup, follow these steps to getting them drinking on their own.
1. Start by filling up a small cup close to the top with the liquid of choice. I know this seems counterintuitive to give a baby a huge cup of liquid (hello, mess?!), but it’s a great way for them to practice.
2. Place their hands on the cup, but put your hands over theirs. This will allow them to feel like they’re feeding themselves, but you’re still fully in control.
3. Let them tip back the cup just a little bit until they feel the liquid on their lips and tongue. They will taste and feel it and start learning how to drink this way.
The reason that I feel this method is effective is because it gets the liquid to them as soon as possible. When you only use a small amount of liquid in a cup, the baby has to tip it all the way back, and they may not know when to stop until they pour it all over themselves.
Once your baby has begun to understand how to sip the water this way, you can reduce the amount of liquid and have then practice tilting the cup back further and further to get water from the bottom of the cup.
Then you can start with a very small amount of liquid such as 1-2ozs. You can offer water, formula, or breast milk in the cup.
If your baby is hesitant, offering their favorite liquid may help the activity feel familiar. If they are not very interested yet in drinking water, for example, start with formula or breast milk to help motivate them to give the new cup a try.
You can help baby at first by holding the cup for them or by placing your hands over their hands to help guide the cup to their mouth. Let them take one small sip at a time, lowering the cup between sips to give them time to swallow.
Once they start to understand the concept, let them give it a try on their own. They won’t get it right away, but that’s okay!
Minimize Spills and Messes When Drinking from Open Cups
It is inevitable that babies will sometimes (okay, often!) make a mess when they eat or drink. However, there are some things you can do to minimize the mess. Try the following ideas to make for easier clean-up.
• Once you’re done with the initial demonstration of giving your baby a full cup of liquid, decrease the amount to only a little bit. Keep a larger container close by with more liquid to provide refills as they drink.
• Use clear liquids, such as water, coconut water, or broth (if baby has previously had the ingredients in the broth).
• Offer the cup at the end of the meal and keep the time spent practicing short. If they begin playing and splashing with the water, take the cup away and let them know the cup is only for drinking and is not a toy.
• Keep them naked so you’re not constantly changing their clothes.
- Never leave a cup with liquid unattended with any baby. Even if you think your baby doesn’t really like drinking from it, they’ll probably end up picking it up and dumping it out.
What to Look for in an Open Cup
There are a lot of options out there for cups for babies and it can be overwhelming if you don’t know what to look for. Here is a guide to help you when picking an open cup:
• The cup should be small and able to easily fit in their hands.
• Find a cup that holds between 2-5 ounces.
• The rim of the cup should be about the same width as their mouth.
• A soft material such as silicone may be the most comfortable for your baby when drinking from a cup is first introduced.
The Best Open Cups for Baby
You probably already have something at home that you could use if you don’t want to buy something new right away.
Options you may already have in your kitchen cabinet, include:
Baby bottle caps, glass baby food jars and small mason jars (usually used for jam/jelly).
Eventually though, you will probably want to buy a special cup just for your baby.
My top two favorite open cups for babies are the Brave Justice cup set and the Ezpz Tiny Cup. The Olababy Cup comes in a close third. Both are small, made of silicone, and are bottom heavy to help prevent spills.
I love the Brave Justice cup set because you can choose between the cup with handles or the standard cup. Some babies may find it easier to hold onto handles while drinking.
If you are worried about spills, you can also start by trying partially open cups for drinking. They provide a slower flow which can make learning a little easier.
The Grabease Spoutless Sippy is a really unique 4oz cup that has a very small opening, which significantly reduces the amount of liquid that baby has to manage. This can decrease spillage while also making it easier to swallow.
If your baby is able to remove the lid of the Grabease cup too easily or you want a larger cup, try the Munchkin Splash Toddler Cup with Training Lids, which is 7ozs.
For an even bigger cup for an older toddler, the Reflo Smart Cup is a great option. It is 10ozs and has an insert that reduces the flow.
All of these options can also be used as a regular open cup when your baby or toddler is ready.
When You Need a Spill Proof Option
It is generally not recommended to use traditional sippy cups with a spout. These cups were created for parent convenience, rather than for the oral skill development of their children.
Feeding specialists discourage them as they prevent children from developing a mature swallow pattern. Sippy cups use the same oral motor skills a baby uses when drinking from a bottle, so they are really not advancing to anything new with this type of cup.
For mature swallowing, the tongue must touch the roof of the mouth. Anything between the tongue and roof of the mouth (such as the spout of a sippy cup) will prevent the tongue from elevating, therefore preventing the development of a mature swallow pattern.
Of course, there will be times when you need a spill or leak-proof option. Parent convenience is is a valid need after all!
If you are on the go or sending your little one to childcare, straw cups are a great option. There are many straw cups, including one of my favorites, Lollaland’s Lollacup, that have a snap lid on top to prevent leaking.
The Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Straw Cup is another popular option that parents love.
Learning to drink from a cup is not an easy skill that baby will learn in a day. Like many other skills, it may take weeks or months of consistent practice before they really get it.
Keep working on it and before you know it, they will be drinking from a cup like a pro!
About the Author
Marielle Marquez is a wife, toddler mom, and pediatric occupational therapist. She specializes in feeding and development for young children. She is passionate about educating and empowering parents. She currently lives in a suburb outside of Los Angeles with her family. Find her online at thrivelittle.com and on Instagram @thrivelittle.