Drinking from a straw is one of the many milestones that parents focus on to monitor their baby’s development, but how many parents are aware of what drinking from a straw does for their little one?
Drinking from a straw should be possible from about 9 to 15 months for most babies. While some master the technique earlier, others may only develop the skill at 2 to 3 years old, and it depends on input from parents.
If you think about it, babies use sucking as the most practical method to get liquids into their mouths. They acquired this skill from breast and bottle feeding, but this sucking motion is very different from sucking liquid through a straw, so they have to learn a new sucking technique.
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Learning new skills: facial control
Babies learn many things at their own pace by simply observing others around them, so why not leave them to learn how to drink from a straw in the same way?
As a parent, you should be aware of what things to teach your little one to help them develop their motor skills. The general feeling is that teaching your baby to drink from a straw is silly, and although it requires a sucking motion, it also requires the use of different facial muscles, and the tongue is placed differently in the mouth.
Learning to drink from a straw has huge developmental advantages for your little one. To drink from a straw, you have to tighten your lips around the straw to suck the liquid into your mouth, and the tongue is pulled to the back of the mouth to prevent choking.
This teaches oral control and brings many of the facial muscles into working together to master the skill. With your baby’s lip control and tongue now moving differently in their mouth, your baby is learning to control most of the mouth’s aspects for speech.
Your baby’s first real word is a major milestone, more for you as the parent than for your little one. This milestone is normally reached at about a year old, but some babies utter their first word sooner and others not too long after the milestone date. Their ability to speak generally relies on oral development that depends on how well they master the many facial and mouth muscles needed to speak.
You can start teaching your little one how to drink from a straw at about the age of 9 months because, at this age, babies can sit upright on their own and have some degree of control over their hands.
Here are some reasons why you should teach your little one to drink from a straw:
- By teaching your little to drink from a straw, you prepare the transition from the bottle through the straw or sippy-cup phase to drinking from a normal cup.
- Promoting oral motor skill development by introducing different drinking (feeding) options to set a good speech foundation.
- You educate yourself on how your baby responds to new things and what their preferences are.
- Pediatricians recommend weaning your baby off the bottle at a year old to promote oral motor skill development. Babies use the same drinking technique drinking from sippy-cups as they do from the breast or bottle, so sippy-cups don’t promote new oral motor skills. When they drink from a sippy-cup, their tongue is pushed forward to create a seal, but when using a straw, your baby must pull their tongue to the back of their mouth. For this reason, pediatricians and speech therapists recommend straw cups over sippy-cups.
Buying cups for your baby
Parents are swamped with so many different types of baby cups that range from normal sippy-cups to no-leak sippy-cups to cups with flip-up and collapsible straws. Designs are also wide-ranging, some with fixed handles while others have removable handles that can be used on bottles. It really is overwhelming having to decide which one will be best for your little one.
All the cups on offer have pros and cons so here is what to look out for:
- When looking at cups with straws, look out for thin straws as this prevents your baby from sucking up too much liquid. A wider straw will overflow your baby’s mouth with liquid and may cause choking. Avoid this as you don’t want them to get liquid in their lungs regularly as it may lead to pneumonia. Babies have to learn to synchronize drinking from a straw while controlling their breathing and swallowing. This can be challenging for them.
- Avoid cups with too many small inter-fitting parts that will be difficult to clean. The easier the cup is to clean, the better control you have over grime build-up that could become home to some nasty bacteria.
- Check to see that the cup you buy is marked as BPH-free. BPH stands for bisphenol A which is a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic goods. Many manufacturers no longer use the chemical for food-related products as it poses health risks. Research is not conclusive but is ongoing. It is best not to use a worn cup full of scratches because of the added bacteria risk and possible leakage of BPH into the cup’s contents if it is not a BPH-free cup.
Once your little one has learned to drink from a straw, they still need to master their hand-eye coordination to hold, lift and tilt a cup to their mouth to drink while sitting upright on their own. This is where a sippy-cup adds benefit as a learning tool.
No-spill cups are a good option to consider between straw and sippy-cups to normal open cups. Teaching your little one to use the different cups can be fun and is never a wasted effort.
Teaching your baby to drink from a straw
Begin with a soft silicone straw and instead of water, use a puree that is thicker and easier for your baby to manage. Follow these easy steps:
- Get your baby use to straw by dipping it in the soft puree and popping it into their mouth. Hold it there for a few seconds giving your baby time to run their tongue around the straw and suck the puree off the straw. They will soon adjust to the shape of the straw in their mouth.
- Use a syringe to inject a little puree into the straw, dip it into the puree again and offer it to your baby. The trick is to have puree on the outside of the straw, so pick a flavor that your little one really enjoys. They will close their lips around the straw and suck on it to get the puree inside the straw.
- Slowly increase the amount of puree in the straw, giving them time to control their breathing and swallowing technique as they suck on the straw.
- Cut the straw down to a manageable size and allow our baby to sip through the straw directly from the puree container.
- Once your little one has mastered drinking puree with a straw, you can begin watering down the puree until your baby can safely drink pure water with a straw.
- When watering down the puree, change to a thinner straw so the amount of puree going into your baby’s mouth can be regulated.
Take your time with this exercise and do it for a few minutes at the beginning of his or her normal mealtime. Besides a good bonding exercise, you teach your little one a valuable skill that will benefit their development.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I give my baby to drink from a straw?
Pediatricians recommend only water for babies between their mealtimes. Constantly sipping on milk or juices during the day will reduce their appetite and negatively affect oral hygiene. Your child will not feed enough at mealtimes to get the full benefits of a nutritious meal, and this includes toddlers who need energy with all the running around they do.
Can I bypass sippy-cups and go straight from a bottle to an open cup?
Yes, you can. In fact, many parents do this because although a sippy-cup keeps your little hydrated during the day, it can cause teething problems, much like the overuse of pacifiers. Sippy-cups are more a spill-free convenience than a benefit to your little one’s development. They are handy to use now and then on outings, but daily use should not be encouraged. A straw or open cup is the better option.
Can I teach my baby to drink from a straw if I’m still breastfeeding?
Yes, you can. Mothers should breastfeed for as long as possible because mothers’ milk is the best form of nutrition for an infant. It changes to accommodate the baby’s needs, and in most cases, there is no need for supplements to make up for vitamin shortfalls. Teaching your little one to use a straw will not sway them away from breastfeeding but will prepare them to be successfully weaned off the bottle and eventually off the breast. Remember to only use straws for water and not breast or formula milk.
When can my little one drink juice with a straw?
There is no hard and fast rule, but if you replace water with juice, your little one might demand juice and reject a healthy cup of water. You can offer your little one a cup of juice on occasions but not too frequently. When your little one is old enough to ask for specific things or to tell you they are thirsty, it will be your decision about what you want to give them.
Why are there so many types of cups for babies?
The simple answer is supply and demand. There is a huge market for baby items like cups, bottles, teethers, pacifiers, etc. Every mother wants the best brand name items for her little one, and it must also the latest trending items too. This mindset clouds the real purpose of baby cups and other items because everything is marketed as a must-have item to increase sales. Focus on your baby’s development and wellbeing. Don’t get caught up trying to keep up with the Jones’.
Babies have to learn everything from scratch, and much of this we take for granted. Milestones bring happiness when reached but can result in anxiety when your little one doesn’t meet the milestone at the right time. Many developmental milestones will be reached in time, but many require some parents’ input, like drinking from a straw.
As parents, we have to educate ourselves on why we need to teach our little one’s certain things. The whole idea of teaching your little one to drink from a straw is to improve their motor skills that will lead to your little one drinking from an open cup and, in the process, will help improve their overall drinking, eating, and speech ability. It’s all geared towards your baby’s development as a little person in a big world.
Pediatricians and other medical professionals offer sound advice on your baby’s nutritional and developmental needs. It will be worth your while to discuss how you can best transition your baby from the bottle to an open cup.
Ask specific questions on oral hygiene and tooth development, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using sippy-cups and straw cups. It’s always best to get professional advice from your doctor who is familiar with your little one and has a history of their development, especially the challenges they have or are facing.