Drinking from a cup – When? How?

Posted by in No-Cry Parenting

When should you teach your baby to drink from a cup? Does using a cup mean weaning from breast or bottle? What should your baby drink? Let’s talk about it.

Learn about it

You can introduce your baby to a cup any time after his tongue-thrust reflex disappears and he is able to handle sipping as opposed to sucking. Most often, however, there is no rush to get a baby to use a cup at a young age, so use your baby’s interest and your desire to teach him this new skill as guidelines. Most babies begin to use a cup when they’re somewhere between five and 10 months old.

Does drinking from a cup mean weaning?

While cup-drinking is an important key to successful weaning, the opposite isn’t always the case. Many babies continue to breastfeed, or use a bottle, long after they begin to use a cup. A young baby, however, can develop nipple confusion or begin early weaning if you use a sipper cup extensively. The way in which you handle the issue will determine how your baby sees the cup’s role in his life. In other words, you can use a cup as little or as much as you’d like; if your goal is to wean your baby from the breast or bottle to the cup, you can move things along in that direction. But do examine your goals. If you have no compelling reason to start your baby on a cup, wait.

Keep in mind that sipping from a regular cup (without a sipper spout) doesn’t cause nipple confusion or affect weaning in the same ways that sipper cups do. Sippers require sucking, while regular cups do not. So, if weaning isn’t your immediate plan, try experimenting with a regular cup first.

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Signs that your baby is ready to use a cup

Is your baby ready for a cup? She may be, if she:

  • Can sit without support
  • Can hold objects easily in both hands
  • Is interested in playing with a cup
  • Watches you drink from a cup
  • Is curious about drinking from a cup
  • Is willing to try drinking from a cup

What kind of cup to use

Of the many cups made especially for babies, many people feel that the best choice for a young, new “drinker” is a sipper cup (also called a sippy cup or trainer cup). The sippy:

  • Is small enough for your baby to handle
  • Has a tight-sealing lid with a spout for drinking
  • Has handles on both sides
  • Is spill-proof

A sippy cup is a busy parent’s best friend, allowing a baby to bring a drink along on car trips, or to walk about the house without risking a spill on the carpet. As a learning tool, it’s great for little ones. If you wait to introduce a cup to an older baby, you can either use a special baby cup or move right on to a regular cup. And remember: Patience, please! Some spilling is only natural.

As for cleaning, I’ve found that a baby-bottle brush works best. Be sure to pop off the plastic stopper after each use and clean it out thoroughly. Lots of icky germs can live in those hiding places!

Graduating to a regular cup

Many babies use sippy cups until they reach pre-school age, and your baby can continue to use one whenever it’s handy. However, there are two important reasons that you also should teach your baby how to use a regular cup.

While scientific research on the use of sippy cups is rather new, two problems have been noted with excessive and long-term use of these handy cups. The first is that children who walk around with a cup filled with juice all day are continually bathing their teeth in sugar and run the risk of early tooth decay. (Even juice diluted with water can activate these sugars in your baby’s mouth.) The solution? Give your baby a cup with meals and snacks, and don’t allow it to be a constant accessory. Alternatively, put fresh water in that walk-about cup. Many babies enjoy water, and our own bias or lack of knowledge probably leads us to offer juice in the first place.

If your baby has just learned to walk, beware of letting him wander around with a sippy cup: He could take a spill (pardon the pun) with it in his mouth and damage his teeth. Also, be careful about leaving glasses of alcohol or hot beverages within your little one’s reach. If he’s like most babies, he will try a sip from any cup he sees.

The second possible problem with over-use of sippy cups is that it requires mouth and tongue movement similar to sucking a bottle or thumb, rather than the more complicated sip and swallow action required by drinking from a regular cup. New research suggests that excessive use of these cups causes difficulty producing “th” and “st” sounds. The solution here is to teach your baby from a young age how to use a regular cup, which balance the use of a sippy cup. Try using the sippy cup when on the go and a small, plastic regular drinking cup when at the table.

What to put in your baby’s cup

You can put any liquid suitable for baby in her cup — breastmilk, formula, juice, water…anything your baby likes. (Don’t give cow’s milk, of course, to a baby less than a year old; wait longer if your baby is allergic to dairy products.) And remember: Whatever you put in the cup counts as part of your baby’s daily calorie and nutrient intake. Losing track of how much your baby is taking in is easy when you’re refilling sippy cups all day long.

What about juice?

According to research by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition (www.aap.org/polity/re0047.html), you should not give juice to your baby until she is at least six months old. Even when she’s older, remember that whole fruit delivers more nutritional benefits than juice, so whole fruit is the better choice for children of any age. Relatively speaking, juice contains few nutrients but many calories, so it tends to fill your baby up in place of healthier choices.

When you do give your baby fruit juice, limit the amount to just four to six ounces once a day. Choose 100 percent juice in a variety of flavors, and mix it with some water. Avoid fruit “drinks” — these are mostly sugar and little real fruit. Most babies, especially when encouraged early on, will happily accept a healthful substitute of fresh, cold water.

Weaning from the breast or bottle to the cup

Many parents are interested in introducing a cup to their babies as a first step in weaning from breast or bottle. This works best gradually, over a period of several months. The easiest way to begin is by replacing your baby’s least favored feeding of the day with a cup of formula or breast milk.

Does my baby need water?

If your baby is breastfeeding as the main source of his calories, you don’t need to worry about water; since breastmilk contains plenty for baby. In addition, giving water may fill your baby up and replace necessary breast milk feedings. A thirsty breastfed baby can just be given extra nursings to quench his thirst and to meet his body’s needs for water. However, once your baby weans and gets his calories from solid food, he will need extra water.

Formula fed babies benefit from some daily water, since the concentration of salt and minerals in formula could put a strain on your baby’s kidneys, and a small amount of daily water will help his body’s processing system.

Tap water may or may not be suitable for your baby. If your neighborhood drinking water has been tested for lead, and if you live in a newer home, your tap water is probably safe for your baby. However, if you are unsure of the lead content in your water, either from the source or from older pipes in your home, consider purchasing a water filter (the type that’s able to filter lead) or buy bottled water.

Since your baby is still tiny and gets water from his foods as well as beverages, a few ounces of water a couple of times a day is usually enough. If the weather is hot, or your baby is sick, increase the amount of fluids, including water, that you give to your baby.

The best fluid for a breastfed baby when she’s sick is breastmilk. Even if your baby is well on the way to solid food, experts recommend stepping up the frequency and duration of breastfeeding when your baby isn’t feeling well. When my own children were sick as toddlers, they naturally moved toward more frequent breastfeeding as they sought comfort. This worked beautifully to help them recover more quickly and allayed my worries about dehydration.

These tips are from The No-Cry Solution books

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