Toddler with a cup

Once they’re old enough, you can start encouraging your baby to drink from a cup or beaker. Here we discuss your options and when to start.

When should my baby start drinking from a cup?

Dieticians and dentists recommend babies start to learn to drink water from a cup from six months old (NHS Choices, 2015). They can start drinking water from this age whether they’re breastfed, formula fed or fed a combination.

Your little one can even begin drinking from an open cup from birth if they need to (Zimmerman and Thompson, 2015). They might need to do this if you are breastfeeding and you aren’t available, or if your little one can't attach well to the breast.

Breast milk can be given from a small soft cup to help avoid the possibility of nipple confusion. Nipple confusion could happen if you introduce a bottle to a baby who’s been breastfed in the early days (Zimmerman and Thompson, 2015).

Choosing and using a cup

You might have looked at what cups are out there and if so, you’ll know the choice can be overwhelming. You can get sippy cups, beakers, ‘no-spill’ designs, free-flow and open cups for babies and toddlers. Here’s some advice:

  • Dentists suggest avoiding no-spill designs or sippy cups with valves in them. They recommend choosing an open cup, or a free-flow cup or beaker.
  • You baby might spill drinks to begin with but health experts agree these designs are better for your baby’s teeth.
  • Open cups avoid the need for further transitions from bottle, to spout, to open cup. (NHS Choices, 2015; Oral Health Foundation, 2017)

Helping your baby to start drinking from a cup

Here are some ways to help your little one learn to drink from a cup:

  • Sit with your baby and tilt the cup slowly to begin with, so they can sip the water.
  • They might find it easier to pick up and hold a cup with two handles to begin with.
  • Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip rather than suck. Sipping is better for their teeth.
  • You can also try a sloping cup, which your baby might find easier as they don’t have to tilt it so far.
  • Take your time – your little one may spit water out or only try a tiny sip to start with. (NHS Choices, 2015; Oral Health Foundation, 2017)

Preventing baby tooth decay

Dentists are concerned that the way no-spill cups are being used may damage young children’s teeth. Frequently sipping squash or juice from bottles or no-spill beakers means a baby’s teeth and gums are constantly bathed in sweet, acidic liquids. This can lead to tooth decay (Oral Health Foundation, 2017).

The following advice can help to protect your baby’s teeth:

  • Dentists say that comfort sucking sweetened drinks from a bottle is one of the most common causes of tooth decay in young children.
  • Offering your baby water to drink from an open cup from six months encourages good habits. You will be helping them to gain independence as well as protecting their teeth.
  • If your baby is bottle fed, it’s recommended they stop drinking from bottles with teats by the time they are one year old. Otherwise, they might find it hard to break the habit of comfort sucking on a bottle. (NHS Choices, 2015; Oral Health Foundation, 2017)

Find out more in our article about looking after your baby’s teeth.

Cleaning cups and spouts

Make sure you clean all parts of your baby’s cup or beaker thoroughly. Particularly any awkwardly shaped spouts or valves as they can rapidly become a breeding ground for bacteria (Zimmerman and Thompson, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016).

Go at your baby’s pace

To begin with, your baby will still get most of their liquids from breast milk or formula milk (NHS Choices, 2015). So don’t worry if your baby becomes frustrated and wants to stop trying to drink water after a sip or two.

If you go at your baby’s pace the transition to a cup is likely to be smoother. Offer your baby a drink of water from a cup as part of each meal. Later on, if your baby would like a drink between meals, try to offer them plain water from a cup (Zimmerman and Thompson, 2015).

"Gradually, drinking from a cup will become second nature. Your baby might surprise you at how quickly they pick up drinking from a cup."

This page was last reviewed in October 2017

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Information from NHS Choices on protecting your child’s teeth and drinks and cups for children.

NHS Choices. (2015) Drinks and Cups for Babies and Toddlers. Available from:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/drinks-and-cups-children.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NHS Choices. (2016) Sterilising Baby Bottles. Available from:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/sterilising-bottles.aspx[Accessed 1st October 2017].

Oral Health Foundation. (2017) Caring for Teeth: Children’s Teeth. Available from: https://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/caring-for-teeth/childrens-teeth [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Zimmerman E and Thompson K (2015) Clarifying nipple confusion. J Perinatol. 35(11):895-9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26181720 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

 

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