Dr. Jennifer Valentic

The doctor is in: Switching from bottles to cups

When should I wean my child off a bottle and into using a cup?

It is recommended to wean bottles by 24 months at the latest, but optimally by 18 months. A cup can be introduced for most babies around 6 months. This promotes proper oral development, fosters hand-eye coordination, and teaches your child that there is an alternative to the breast/bottle for liquids.

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Introduce a cup around 6 months with meals. The optimal progression to cups from bottle/breast is: 

  • 6 months: An open cup. 

Start practicing with a small cup. Non-glass options are ideal (i.e. plastic, silicone, stainless steel). Fill the cup with a few sips of water so spills are easier to clean up. Start by bringing the cup to the child’s mouth and gently tipping a very small amount of liquid into their mouth. Over time, they will learn to start to hold the cup and tip for small sips on their own. 

  • 6-12 months: Straw cups and weighted straw cups are also great options for early introduction. 360 trainer cups are pretty good transitional options as your child learns how to use an open cup and a straw cup. They can be more convenient and less messy, especially when on the go. 

The goal is for toddlers to drink from an open cup and/or straw cup for optimal oral-motor development. Straw cups and open cups are best to support a mature swallowing pattern and help develop the muscles needed for swallowing advanced textures and for speech development.

When kids drink out of bottles and sippy cups (cups with spouts), they do not optimize tongue placement, and that can impact oral muscle development and may delay the ability for certain language skills. Bottles and sippy cups also allow liquids to pool around the teeth, which may also increase the risk of cavities and tooth decay. 

It’s OK if the process of transitioning from bottles to cups takes time and involves some messes.  It takes time for your babies to learn!  

As a reminder, breastmilk and/or formula is the preferred form of nutrition for infants younger than 12 months. For most children, formula can be transitioned to milk around 12 months. It is best to limit milk to no more than 16-24 ounces per day and to offer milk during mealtime at the table. Breastfeeding/breastmilk can be continued for as long as the mother and child would like. 

Water can be introduced in small amounts around 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends juice not be introduced to infants before age 1, unless directed by your child’s doctor. For 1- to 3-year-olds, it is best to limit juice intake most days, but when offered, it should be less than 4 ounces per day. Infants and children should not go to bed with a bottle or sippy cup.

These are general recommendations and you know your child best. Please talk to your child’s provider for any questions and for individualized recommendations.

Dr. Jennifer Valentic, pediatrician, Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Medina