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Sippy Cup Safety Tips: 7 Things You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Sippy cups may seem harmless, but there are 7 things you should know.

If you’re like most parents, you haven’t given much thought to your toddler’s sippy cup other than whether it’s leakproof and will prevent stains on your child’s clothes, your carpet, and the interior of your car.

But there are several safety issues associated with sippy cup use, ranging from improper cleaning to oral injury to long-term dental problems. Here’s what you need to know to ensure the sippy you’re handing your toddler is as safe as possible.

Key Takeaways

  • Risks associated with sippy cup use include mold, mouth injury, improper development, and increased health risks.
  • Proper cleaning of sippy cups is important to prevent mold and mildew growth.
  • Children should use sippy cups while seated to prevent injury.
  • To minimize risks, avoid prolonged use of sippy cups, and limit usage to mealtimes only.

Do Toddlers Need to Use a Sippy Cup?

A sippy cup isn’t technically necessary, but it sure is convenient. It’s best to wean your child off of bottles by the age of 18 months as shortly after that, they may develop an attachment to it that is much more difficult to break (1).

But if you wean your young toddler and go straight to regular cups, you’re bound to have some serious messes on your hands.

So, while sippy cups may not be necessary developmentally, they sure are helpful practically.

Risks Associated with Sippy Cup Use

While sippy cups don’t pose the same overt threat to your child as the chemicals under your sink or a flight of stairs without a baby gate, there are little-known hazards associated with using them.

Here are some things to be aware of:

  • Mold: Thanks to moisture from your child’s mouth, food remnants that get trapped in the spout, straw, or valve, and the general complexity of cleaning some types of sippy cups, it’s not uncommon for mold or mildew to grow in your child’s cup. If you don’t thoroughly clean your sippy cups after each use, you risk mold growth that can cause illness or other symptoms in your child.
  • Mouth injury: Children frequently visit the emergency room for injuries to the mouth related to sippy cup use (2). Most of these injuries occur when a child falls while using their sippy, and that’s why children should only use sippy cups while seated.
  • Improper development: Constantly sipping on a rigid spout can change the way a child’s oral cavity develops (3). While breast and bottle nipples change shape as a child suckles, traditional sippy cups do not, causing their mouth to develop improperly. This can impact a child’s speech development, increase the need for orthodontia, and even affect their quality of sleep and facial aesthetics in the long term.
  • Increased health risks: Sippy cups can help kids develop poor habits resulting in negative health outcomes, including cavities and obesity. Because you can remove sippy cups from your child’s eating space without risking a mess, many parents tend to rely on them heavily to pacify their children and keep a sippy cup readily available at all times. Unfortunately, both milk and juice contain sugars that remain on the teeth and cause decay. This also builds unhealthy habits, causing a child to believe that a food source should always be available for comfort rather than only available at mealtimes.

Sippy Cup Safety Tips

To minimize safety risks to your little one while using a sippy, do the following:

1. Always Clean Them Properly.

To prevent mold and mildew growth, always clean your sippy cups thoroughly. You can do this by:

  • Rinsing your child’s sippy cup immediately after use.
  • Completely disassembling your child’s sippy cup prior to washing, including the valve.
  • Soaking your child’s sippy cup in hot water for 15 minutes to loosen any dried food or milk.
  • Washing all parts with soap and hot water.
  • Allowing the sippy cup to completely air dry before re-assembling and putting it away.

2. Don’t Let Your Child Walk Around with Their Sippy Cup.

While it’s convenient to allow your child to toddle around with their cup in hand, it increases their risk of injury. Most sippy-cup-related mouth injuries occur due to falls while walking around, so make sure your child is seated whenever they need a break to rehydrate.

3. Consider a Silicone Spout or Straw.

Hard spouts are popular, but they pose the biggest fall hazard — and they also don’t have the flexibility of a regular silicone spout or nipple that’s essential for proper oral development.

So if you’re picking a sippy, go for one that is pliable and not rigid even though it’s not as durable and long-lasting as hard plastic. Not only can it keep your child safer, but it is healthier for them, too.

4. Don’t Make Sippy Cups Available Around the Clock.

To prevent constant eating and comfort feeding, limit sippy cup use to mealtimes only. This can help your child learn they need to ingest the bulk of their calories during meal and snack times, and it may prevent them from developing poor habits around appetite regulation and eating for comfort.

It will also limit the frequency of your child’s teeth being exposed to sugars in their drink, which can eventually lead to tooth decay on their baby teeth — and may also harm their developing permanent chompers.

5. Skip Straight to a Regular Cup.

If you can handle it, go straight to a regular cup, and skip the sippy altogether. You’ll likely have to clean up frequent messes, but your child will learn quickly how to manage a cup, and you’ll avoid the health and dental problems that can come from using a sippy cup as a crutch.

You Could Try This

To teach your child how to use a lidless cup at a young age, consider introducing a rimless cup for a brief transitional period, or just put an inch or two of liquid in their cup at a time to minimize the mess until they get the hang of it.

6. Wean Them From the Sippy Cup by Age Three.

If you choose to use sippy cups, limit their use, and make sure to wean your child from them by their third birthday. At that point — though they may still be accident-prone — they have the proper motor skills to navigate a cup successfully.

It’s also good to have a hard-and-fast goal of when you want to wean from the sippy cup. If you don’t, the convenience factor makes it super easy to accidentally use them long-term, and before you know it, you’ll be reaching for a sippy cup to pour your 5-year-old a glass of milk.

7. View Sippy Cups in the Same Light as Adult Travel Mugs.

We get it — you don’t want a mess everywhere, and the prospect of making it through your child’s toddlerhood without a sippy cup seems daunting.

Since many cautionary statements about sippy cup use are related to their overuse, you don’t have to eliminate them, just use them sparingly. Use sippy cups the same way you’d use your spill-proof coffee mug — occasionally, on the go, and for very specific scenarios.

Sippy Cup Safety FAQs

Do Sippy Cups Delay Speech?

Sippy cups are meant to be used as a stepping-stone to big kid cups with straws. Letting little ones drink out of a sippy cup over a long period – particularly the sippy cups with hard spouts- can cause speech delays. The same can be said for hard pacifiers, too.

Can Sippy Cups Cause Lisp?

After prolonged use, sippy cups do have the potential to cause a lisp. That’s another reason why we recommend keeping your toddler’s sippy cup stage short. Sippy cups can greatly help wean kids off the bottle, but they aren’t meant to be used for years.

Once your kid gets the hang of sippy cups and they have the dexterity to hold a cup upright, try giving them a cup with a straw instead.

Are Hard or Soft Spout Sippy Cups Better?

Soft sippy cup spouts are the better option. Soft spouts are easier on kids’ developing teeth and less likely to cause speech delays. Even though soft spouts are more likely to get chewed up, they’re better for your toddler in the long run.

What Are the Best Sippy Cups for Toddlers’ Teeth?

The Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup has held up as the undefeated champion in many parents’ hearts for years.

It doesn’t have a hard, nipple-like spout for little ones to chew on, and the lid automatically seals when your little one is done drinking. We like that it comes in a variety of fun colors, too.

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran licensed pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.