As a speech-language pathologist, I often recommend straw drinking to the families I work with to improve speech and articulation skills. So, when it came time to teach cup drinking to my son, I decided to go with straw drinking. Why??? Straw drinking promotes tongue strengthening and coordination and develops an overall more advanced motor plan than drinking from a sippee cup. In order to drink from a straw, you must retract and lift your tongue into your mouth while coordinating swallowing. This allows for strengthening of the whole tongue and promotes a nice strong tongue for speech development. Many speech sounds are made with your tongue in this position /k, g, t, d/. A sippee cup on the other hand, uses pretty much the same swallow pattern (muscles) as a bottle and therefore is essentially the same as drinking from bottle. Drinking from a sippee cup (spout shape) requires the same suckling motion as extracting liquid from a nipple (breast or bottle) so it doesn’t progress skills much. When suckling, the tongue tip does most of the work and the back and middle parts of the tongue do very little. So that’s why, now what?!?!
With so many kiddo cups available, it can be overwhelming to choose from. My vote, as a therapist, go for the straw cup! But before you go out and fill your shopping cart with new cups, you must consider when to introduce cup drinking and how to teach baby to drink from a straw. Remember, straw drinking requires different muscles and is more challenging so it will take some time to teach and master! Here’s what I did that had my son drinking from a straw at five months old:
- First, check with your pediatrician about what age to begin transitioning to a cup. Most experts recommend beginning around six months of age to prepare for weaning from the bottle or breast at around twelve months old.
- I began working with my son at four months old by first giving him a cup without liquids in it to explore and play with during our meal times. I call this “dry exploration.”
- At five months old, I used a regular straw and placed it in a cup of water while putting my thumb over the opening at the top. You keep your finger over the top of the straw which should hold the liquid in the straw and pull it out of the water. There should only be a very little amount of liquid in the straw.
- Place the open straw tip in the corner of baby’s mouth slowly releasing the liquid by removing your thumb. Make sure to give small amounts of water at a time. Provide lots of verbal encouragement with each swallow. Just before giving baby liquid from the straw, I demonstrated drinking from a straw and said, “mommy is going to drink some water,” and “now it’s your turn.” If baby is not interested, try at another time.
- Next, once they are good at closing their mouth around the straw, place water in the straw and keep your finger over the other end of the straw so they have to suck to get the liquid out. Gradually increase the amount of water in the straw.
- After a week of controlled straw trials and demonstrations during our meals, I began putting a small amount of water in his straw cup. As I guided his cup and straw to his mouth, I drank from a straw in a cup as well, providing an over-exaggerated model of sucking. Provide lots of encouragement throughout! If baby has trouble closing his lips around the straw to form a seal, try stroking the sides of his cheeks along with providing a model of sucking so they can imitate you.
- With lots of practice, baby will realize that when he/she sucks he/she gets liquid and will become a consistent straw drinker.
Teaching straw drinking is a process that requires patience and persistence but it’s worth the time and effort. It is also very messy, especially in the beginning, so break out the bibs! The more baby drinks from a straw the better he/she will get. My son initially spit out much of the liquid he was sucking in and drenching himself. Don’t give up if this happens with you, they will get better with practice. At seven months old, my son is still spitting out some liquids but this gets less and less each day. Baby being able to drink from a straw has been really nice when we happen to be out somewhere without his cup. There are many benefits to straw drinking!
Speaking of cups…
I’ve had success with the Born Free Grow With Me Training Straw Cup. It’s a good starter cup that is mostly spill proof but not 100%. Liquid will leak out of the straw when going from cold to room temperature when the lid is capped. I just make sure to uncap them when I take them out of the fridge which has solved the problem. I like that this cup has handles and a regular size straw. It is also fairly easy to clean with a total of four pieces: two piece straw, cup, and lid. Please share any other recommendations!
Of note, until they learn to manage the liquid flow and develop a more coordinated swallow, babies will likely take large, fast sips from a straw which may result in coughing. Some coughing is typical and it is our bodies way of expelling a substance that goes down the “wrong way.”Enters the airway (lungs) instead of the esophagus. This could result in pneumonia. If your baby is coughing excessively you may want to hold off from straw drinking for a bit or consult your doctor.
- Most importantly, make sure your child is sitting upright in a chair for all eating and drinking.
- The sooner the better. Introduce cup drinking as soon as your little one is ready. The sooner you introduce it, the more time baby has to learn the new habit and less time they have to concrete their old habit.
- If you choose straw drinking initially, introduce only straws and not spouts so baby only knows nipples and straws. Be consistent with straw drinking!
- I recommend using water to start with, in the case of aspiration or liquid going down the “wrong pipe,” water is better than liquid that contains sugars and other ingredients in it.
- Tell baby what he is drinking. I wish I had a dollar for every time I said water and milk!