When and how to introduce a sippy cup

When transitioning your baby from a bottle or breastfeeding to drinking out of a cup, sippy cups can be a great tool. Babies can start using them as early as 6 months, and sippy cups can make it easier to phase out bottles eventually. Try offering your baby a few ounces of water, breast milk, or formula in a sippy cup after starting solids, at around 6 months old. Only give your baby a sippy cup during specific meal or snack times, since sipping on anything other than water throughout the day can lead to tooth decay.

A baby holding a sippy cup
Photo credit: © Thinkstock / Zoonar

A sippy cup is a training cup with a screw-on or snap-on lid and a spout or straw that lets your child drink without spilling. You can get models with or without handles, as well as different types of spouts.

Sippy cups can be a great way to help your baby transition from nursing or bottle-feeding to a regular cup. They can also improve hand-to-mouth coordination. When your baby has the motor skills to handle a cup but isn't quite old enough to keep the drink from spilling, a sippy cup can give them some independence while keeping cleanup to a minimum.

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When to introduce a sippy cup

You can give your baby a sippy cup when they start solid foods, around 6 months old. Signs your baby is developmentally ready for a sippy cup include being able to sit upright, having good neck control, and being interested in food.

To help prevent bottle rot and tooth decay, experts recommend you transition from bottles to a sippy cup when your child is 1, and then quickly transition to a straw cup or open cup before your child's second birthday. Tooth decay can happen when a liquid other than water pools around a child's teeth for a long period of time, or frequently throughout the day.

If your breastfeeding baby doesn't use a bottle and seems ready for a sippy cup, you can skip the bottle and go straight to a sippy or even an open cup – no need for an additional transition.

How to get your baby to use a sippy cup

Some babies take to a sippy cup immediately, while others may take a while to get used to the idea. (Some kids never use one, and that's also okay – more on that below.)

Here are some tips for getting your baby to use a sippy cup:

  • Start off with one that has a soft, pliable spout. This will feel more familiar to your baby than a hard plastic spout.
  • Show your baby how to raise the cup to their mouth and tip it up to drink. Show them that the spout is like a nipple by touching the tip of the spout to the roof of their mouth to stimulate the sucking reflex.
  • Give it some time. Don't worry if your baby doesn't take to the sippy cup right away. Just wait a few days and try again.
  • Shop around. There are all kinds of sippy cups, with all kinds of spouts. If one isn't working, test-drive another to see if your baby likes it better.
  • Start by offering a sippy cup during one meal a day. The following week, offer it during a second meal, and so on until your baby is only drinking from a sippy during meals. (More on this strategy below.)
  • Be consistent. If you've started giving your baby a sippy cup at a specific time (say, during lunch), don't switch back to the bottle during that time.
  • Give your child plenty of encouragement: Drinking out of a sippy cup means they're a big kid now! Make it a celebration whenever they use one.

How to transition from bottle to cup

When you're ready for your toddler to give up bottles, you can help them make the transition from a bottle to a sippy, open, or straw cup. Here's how to do it:

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  • The earlier you start the transition, the easier it will likely be. The longer a baby drinks from a bottle, the more attached they'll be to it as a source of security and comfort. If you introduce the sippy when your baby starts eating solids around 6 months, your baby might be ready to leave the bottle behind by the time they're a year old.
  • Spill-proof sippy cups with soft spouts that your baby has to suck on are similar to bottles, so they can help the transition. But spill-proof sippy cups can be as damaging to baby teeth as bottles, so try to only use them when your baby is first starting to use cups.
  • Start by getting rid of one bottle at a time. For example, skip the morning bottle and instead feed them breakfast in their highchair with some solid food and some breast milk or formula in a sippy. But keep the rest of the day's bottles the same; that way, if they ask for a bottle, you can tell them they'll get one later.
  • Take it one step at a time: Try cutting one bottle one week, then another the following week, and so on.
  • Make your baby's nighttime bottle the last to go. When you're ready for your child to say goodbye to the bedtime bottle, keep every other part of their bedtime routine (such as a bath or reading books) the same, but give them a sippy cup at dinner or with a bedtime snack instead of the bottle. If your child is thirsty before bed, you can give them water in a sippy cup.
  • Out of sight, out of mind: Put bottles away where your child can't see them and be reminded of them.
  • If your child keeps asking for a bottle, find out why they really want it: Are they thirsty or hungry? Looking for comfort? Bored? Then offer a different solution: Milk from a sippy or a snack if they're hungry or thirsty; a cuddle with you or a lovey if they need comforting; or a fun game to distract them if they're bored.

What to serve in a sippy cup

You can give babies under a year old breast milk, formula, or water (if they're at least 6 months old) in a sippy cup.

Once your child is a year old, you can give them juice or cow's milk in the sippy, though it's best to only let them drink juice or milk during meals and snack time. Letting your child sip on milk or juice all day can lead to tooth decay from the sugars in the drink. For the same reason, don't let your child take a sippy cup of juice or milk to bed.

Clean the cup thoroughly (especially the lid and plastic stopper) between uses. Liquid can get trapped in the nooks and crannies of a sippy cup and valve, leading to bacteria and mold. If you can't wash a sippy cup right away, just give it a good rinse and take it apart so it can dry out.

Choosing a sippy cup

The best sippy cups for your child's teeth are ones that a child sips from, rather than sucks from. Whenever your baby has to suck liquid out (such as from a bottle or a sippy cup with a valve) liquid is more likely to pool around their teeth and cause tooth decay.

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Look for sippy cups that have a hard spout or straw, two handles, a weighted bottom to keep it upright, and no valve controlling the flow of the liquid.

The best option for your child's teeth is a regular cup. A sippy cup may help you transition your child from a bottle to a regular cup, and prevent spills as they improve their motor coordination, but it's best used temporarily, just to make the leap from bottles to regular cups.

As soon as you think your child can handle it, try switching to a regular cup. Most toddlers can manage a two-handled open cup by the time they're 2 years old.

What to do if your baby won't use a sippy cup

Babies have all kinds of reasons for rejecting sippy cups. If your baby refuses the sippy but you want them to use one, here are some ideas:

  • Dip the spout into breast milk or formula before giving it to your baby.
  • Switch halfway through a feeding. If they drink from a bottle, give them half of their formula or breast milk in the bottle. When it's empty, switch to the sippy cup for the second half of the feeding. (Continue to hold them as you do when they're bottle-feeding.)
  • Modify the sippy spout. Some cups have valves that are so effective at keeping the liquid from spilling that it's a lot of work to drink from it. If your baby sucks on the sippy spout but doesn't get anything, try taking out the valve that controls the flow.
  • Try other drinks. Some babies will drink water from a sippy cup, but not breast milk or formula.
  • Show your baby how it's done. Get a sippy and let your baby see you drink from it, or have a sibling drink from a sippy in front of the baby. Sometimes making a little sucking noise is all it takes to inspire a baby to start sucking. Then, give your baby their own cup to mimic your actions with.
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If your child still refuses to use a sippy cup, that's okay – there's no law saying they have to use one. You can skip straight to teaching your child how to use a regular cup.

Here are some tips for teaching children to use regular cups if you're skipping sippy cups:

  • Start with small amounts of liquid. That way, if your child spills, there isn't as much to clean up. If they drink it all, you can always pour more.
  • Choose a cup with a weighted bottom to prevent the cup tipping over and spilling.
  • Only allow your child to drink from their cup at the table, especially with drinks other than water.
  • If you want to encourage regular cup use but don't want to worry about spills around the house, your child could drink from a regular cup at the table and have drinks of water from a water bottle or cup with a straw when they're away from the table.

Plastic sippy cup safety

Some types of plastic used to make sippy cups and bottles can have chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol S (BPS) that can have health risks if they get into food. Phthalates, for example, are believed to increase childhood obesity and can impact cardiovascular health, and bisphenol S can affect puberty, fertility, and body fat. 

Exposing plastic to heat is one way that chemicals can leak into food. To make plastic products safer for use, avoid heating them up in the microwave or washing them in the dishwasher. Also avoid using plastic cups that are scratched, cracked, or otherwise damaged.

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One easy way to tell what type of plastic a product is made of is by checking the recycling code (the number inside the recycling symbol, usually on the bottom of an item). Avoid using plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols), unless the plastics are labeled as "biobased" or "greenware."

If they're available to you, look for cups made out of material other than plastic, such as stainless steel, glass, food-grade silicone, or bamboo. It's good to be aware of the concerns around plastic products, but don't beat yourself up if you're unable to avoid using them – non-plastic products are more expensive and harder to find.

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

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Kandis Lake
Kandis Lake is a registered nurse, health writer, and mom of three kids. She lives in Utah and loves reading and adventuring with her family.