My three-year-old son, Ian, was born a foodie. He transitioned seamlessly from breast to bottle and was drinking from a cup by nine months. For Ian, mealtimes have always been about the food, not the delivery system.
Not all parents are so lucky. For some, the transition from bottle to cup is downright painful. Sarah Arevalo of Stouffville, Ont., says her now 19-month-old daughter, Grace, definitely wasn’t ready for the sippy cup when she first offered it around eight months. “She stared at the cup and looked at me like, ‘What the heck is this?’ and freaked out,” Arevalo recalls. “I tried giving her water or watered down apple juice in the cup to make it appealing, but still no go.”
After three months of trying, Arevalo was ready to give up when a cousin suggested a soft-tip cup. Unlike their harder plastic counterparts, these training cups feature a soft tip and spout with some of the familiar flexibility and give of bottle nipples. Young children have to put a little pressure on the spout to pinch it open, but they don’t have to suck.
“For the next few months we continued to give her water in the cup and milk in the bottle, and then we went on vacation in the summer and she went completely to the cup,” says Arevalo, adding that Grace was about 16 months old at that time.
How to Add Calcium to Your Baby’s Diet
“Parents are often concerned that their children will not drink milk if it is not from the bottle,” says Sherene Sieben, a registered dietitian with Health Stand Nutrition Consulting in Calgary. (Toddlers need a maximum of 16–20 ounces of milk a day.) “This is a valid concern and there may be a small period of time when they are not drinking as much milk,” she says.
Sieben points to other sources of calcium, such as yogurt, cheese, dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, beans and tofu, to help young children achieve their nutritional needs.
When to Make the Switch from Breast to Bottle
You can introduce sippy cups after six months of age, and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends making the switch to a regular cup between 12 and 15 months. But it’s not an exact science, says Calgary-based occupational therapist Moonira Rampuri. “It’s the next level of skill with drinking that we expect children to acquire, and I have found that parents just follow their child’s lead, listen to advice from those around them or follow what their parents did.”
Sieben suggests a gradual transition. “Milk needs to be offered at a meal or snack, and not in between,” she says. Parents who are concerned about little ones filling up on milk may want to start by first introducing a cup at snack times. Or, at mealtimes, wait until about three-quarters of the way through before offering a cup.
Tooth decay—which can happen more easily if teeth keep coming into contact with sweet liquids, like they do if children fall asleep with a bottle at night—is another reason to make the transition. “Milk is not a sweet drink, but it does have natural sugars that if left on the teeth can cause dental decay,” explains Sieben.
Sippy Cup, Training Cup…Or Shooter Glass?
While we’ve been conditioned to think the natural step from a bottle is a sippy or training cup, Rampuri cautions that the valve can sometimes make the transition tricky.
“A different type of motor pattern is needed to draw liquid up from the sippy cup, so sometimes parents find more success with open cups or even straw cups instead,” she says. “You can use any cup, but remove the valve if using a sippy cup in the beginning to allow the liquid to flow more easily. That will minimize initial frustration or confusion.”
Sieben suggests offering a tiny cup to start. “Before going to a sippy cup, you can try offering mini-cups like ‘medi cups’ or even plastic shooter glasses from the dollar store,” she says. “These are a good size for little hands and don’t hold enough liquid to make big messes.”
Whichever style of cup you choose, making the transition a positive experience is key. And keep some paper towels handy—even if you only fill the cup part way, there are going to be spills.
Like her son, Ian, Amy Bostock is a dedicated foodie. A full-time writer and editor, in her spare time she blogs about the challenges of creating kid-friendly meals on a budget.