Are you starting to think about how to transition your baby to a sippy cup? Some babies easily take to the sippy, while others still cling to their bottle well past their third birthday.
When my kids were babies, I tried to do everything right. I knew there were health repercussions from bottle-feeding too long, so I wanted to make sure my kids were weaned appropriately.
Turns out, they weren’t on board with my plan. They flat-out refused, and no matter how much I persisted or cajoled or got “creative” in my parenting, they wanted absolutely nothing to do with cups.
So I did what every mom does. I panicked. And then I educated myself. And before long, my kids were sippy-cup professionals and relinquished their bottles without a fight.
So if you’re ready to introduce the sippy to your kids, here’s what you need to know to transition without tears.
What Are the Parts of a Sippy Cup?
All sippy cups have similar parts — though they look different depending on the design.
- Spout: This is where a child suckles to get liquid from the cup. It is similar in function to the nipple of a bottle.
- Lid: The spout is often built into the lid; this is the top of the sippy cup.
- Valve: Sippy cups have a valve that helps prevent the release of liquid when the child is not sucking. This is what makes them spill-proof. They are often a removable plastic piece inside the lid, though some are built directly into the spout.
- Cup: This is the main part of the sippy cup — the reservoir where the liquid is held.
- Handles: Some sippy cups have handles, others don’t. Whether you use a cup with handles is entirely a personal preference. Some handles are removable, while others are built into the cup or lid.
What Types of Sippy Cups Are There?
When you’re ready to wean from the bottle, you have several cup options available to you. The greatest difference between sippy cups is in the spout. Here’s what you need to know about your choices.
These are basically wide, sippy-shaped spouts made out of the same material as a bottle nipple. They are flexible and feel familiar to the bottle-fed baby.
- Bottle-fed babies.
- Babies who refuse the hard spout.
- Babies who are reluctant to give up the bottle.
Not ideal for:
- Older toddlers.
- Babies with teeth that will chew on the spout.
These are what you envision when you picture a sippy cup, but the spout is a soft plastic. It is not fully flexible and pliable, but has some give to it.
- First-time sippy cup users.
- Younger babies.
- Babies with teeth — it is softer on their teeth and therefore more comfortable.
Not ideal for:
- Toddlers and preschoolers.
- Babies who will chew the spout.
These types of sippy cups appear the same as the soft spout, but are made of hard plastic.
- Toddlers and preschoolers.
- Babies who are accustomed to using the sippy.
Not ideal for:
- Younger babies.
- Introducing the sippy cup.
Kids drink from these spill-free sippy cups at any point on the rim, helping them develop the skills and muscle control to eventually drink out of a regular cup.
- Any age.
Instead of a spout, these sippy cups have a silicone straw. Because they also have a valve, they are spill-proof, which makes them different than regular cups with a straw.
- Kids who like to suck (particularly breastfed babies, who have to suckle harder).
- Kids who have refused regular sippy cups.
Not ideal for:
- Young babies.
- First-time sippy cup introduction.
When Should I Introduce a Sippy Cup?
It’s a good idea to introduce a sippy cup of water (with the spout removed for easy drinking) at the same time you begin to introduce solid foods. At this age, your baby will not really drink anything, but instead will begin developing familiarity with the sippy, and start to associate it positively with meal times.
Introducing, but not forcing, the sippy cup early can help make your transition easier. However, if you’re parenting an older baby and still haven’t started with a sippy, don’t worry — we’ve got some tips and tricks for you.
What Developmental Considerations Should I Be Aware Of?
After age one, babies can develop habits. After age two, they start to develop really strong opinions. For this reason, it’s strongly recommended to drop the bottle completely by your child’s first birthday (source).
If you wait longer than that, your child can develop an attachment to their bottle that is difficult to break. The transition will likely be much easier if you wean from bottles before age one.
Prolonged bottle usage is associated with several negative health outcomes, including (source):
- Tooth decay.
- Picky eating/poor nutrition.
- Misaligned teeth.
- Ear infections.
How to Transition from a Bottle to a Sippy Cup
Sometimes it can take trying several things to figure out what will work. But to increase your chance of transitioning without tears, try the following:
1. Start Early
Introduce your child to a sippy cup at the same time you start to feed them solid foods. Simply set a sippy cup of water on their tray every time they eat, so they begin to associate the cup with meal times. Occasionally during their feeding, tip the spout of the cup to their mouth so they learn what it’s for.
Don’t expect your baby to drink any measurable amount or that they’ll satisfy their thirst with the sippy cup, since in the beginning, it’s more about developing skills and habits than the actual function of the cup.
If you wait until your child is older before yanking the bottle, this will be your life for a while. No one wants that, so do yourself a favor and start early.
2. Remove the Valve
Whether you’re working with an infant or an older baby, until your child gets the hang of drinking from a sippy, remove the valve. While it prevents spills, it also makes the liquid harder to extract from the cup, potentially causing your child to get frustrated with the sippy. Allow the water to flow freely — and, yes, messily — until they understand how the cup works.
Then replace the valve when they’re ready.
3. Start with a Silicone Spout
The flexible feel of a silicone spout is familiar in the mouth of a bottle-fed baby, so it may make the initial transition easier. The magic product that worked for my kids was the Nuby, but these days many manufacturers make compatible sippy spouts that work with their bottles to aid in the transition.
For my kids — who rejected every single sippy known to man and had me in a near-panic that I’d be packing bottles in their school lunches one day — the silicone spout was the magic bullet. They accepted it the first time they tried it, and after they got the hang of it were happy to accept any other spout available, whether soft, hard, or straw.
4. Offer Something Besides Water
Yes, water is best for your baby. But it’s also boring and flavorless, which makes it difficult to entice a baby who is seemingly uninterested in the sippy. For their initial introduction to the cup, fill it with diluted juice, and rub a little of the sweet juice on the spout.
Bring the spout up to their lips, allowing them to taste the sweetness. More often than not, they’ll be interested enough to try and figure out how to get more. After they get the hang of using the sippy, revert to only offering water with meals.
5. Offer it in Place of a Bottle
Once your child has physically mastered the sippy cup, start to use it as a replacement for bottles at regular bottle-feeding times.
Fill the cup with formula and feed it to them instead of their bottle. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, just offer the cup at mealtimes along with their solid food and don’t worry about feeding your baby milk in a sippy cup unless you are specifically trying to wean them from nursing.
6. Reduce the Volume of the Nighttime Bottle
Once you’ve effectively replaced all of your child’s bottles with sippy cups, you still need to get them on a “big-kid” eating schedule. If your child is accustomed to a pre-bedtime feeding, start to gradually reduce the volume of their nighttime bottle (now cup), and feed them a protein-rich snack immediately prior to fill their belly.
You can also start to create some time and space between the final feeding and bedtime. If you typically give them their last milk in their nursery, feed them in the living room instead. This can help you slowly break the bedtime association your child has with milk, while still making sure they go down with a full belly.
7. Quit Cold Turkey
As an alternative to slowly replacing bottles with sippy cups, you could simply get rid of all bottles at once and make the complete transition to sippy cups overnight. While it may create some initial stress, the transition will be much quicker.
8. Follow Through
Get used it to it, because “follow through” will be your number one parenting rule, so you might as well start now.
9. Quit All Bottles By Age One
If your baby hasn’t reached the one-year mark, strongly consider getting them off the bottle before their birthday arrives. After that time, they can develop stronger attachments to items, including bottles, and breaking the habit can be much more difficult — for both you and your baby.
You may have heard horror stories about trying to wean babies from the bottle, but the truth is if you time it right, it can be done with minimal drama. Add that to the health risks from bottle-feeding too long and it’s enough to motivate any mama to transition to the sippy.
You can do it by:
- Starting early.
- Introducing it without the valve.
- Starting with a silicone spout.
- Offering something besides water initially.
- Offering a cup of milk at regular bottle-feeding times.
- Offering protein-rich snacks at bedtime.
- Quitting cold turkey — though this is optional.
- Following through with your decision to quit bottles.
- Eliminating all bottles by age one if possible.
What’s your best tip to wean a child from the sippy cup? Tell us in the comments — and share this information with a mama who needs to know.