Once your baby reaches around 6 months of age you’ve probably already started giving them solid food (or you're about to). But did you know that this is also the perfect time for them to start learning how to drink from an open cup?
Drinking from an open cup is a skill babies can learn surprisingly early. It's also an important one for them to learn sooner rather than later.
This post is part of our Starting Solids series. if you haven’t already read it, check out part 1 of our Starting Solids guide here. You’ll find lots more general information specifically on starting solids there.
Drinking From an Open Cup – Why?
While breastmilk and/or formula will remain your child's main source of hydration until 1 year of age, that doesn't mean they don't need to drink water.
When first starting solids, a little extra water is important to help relieve constipation and any tummy aches while your child's body adapts to solid food.
But learning to drink from an open cup has other benefits as well. And there's a reason why you shouldn't offer water in a bottle instead.
While sippy cups are easier to learn, and likely result in less mess, they are not ideal for your child's development.
From an oral motor skill perspective, drinking from a sippy cup requires very similar muscle movement to drinking from a bottle. So going from bottle to sippy cup doesn't encourage new muscle development in the mouth.
So what should you choose at that early age?
A simple open cup. Like the one you use, just a bit smaller. If you have a shot glass that's been collecting dust since you had a child, wash it out and use that. Filled with water of course!
The sooner you offer your child the chance to use a cup, the earlier they will be able to master it. And waiting can actually be developmentally unhelpful in other areas too, leading to delayed oral-motor development which can lead to difficulties with speech.
That doesn't mean that you will create speaking issues by using a sippy cup. But it does mean that switching to an open cup will assist with speech development.
So prepare for a mess and spills in the beginning. But it's all worthwhile when your child is happily drinking from a cup without any difficulties later on.
You want to start this is around 6 months of age when your baby starts eating solids.
Initially, this will be easiest during the day, immediately after eating a solid meal.
Age: 6 - 7 months
This is the time when you are introducing both solid food and open cup drinking, so you are actually teaching your baby to master 2 skills at once.
As a result, patience is key here. Remember – this is something completely new to them and will take time to get used to.
My recommendation for first time introducing water in an open cup is to use shot glasses. Your baby will only be taking a few sips and these little cups are perfect for that. And even if you/they spill it there's not much water in there to create a big mess.
The first few times, you may have to bring the cup to your baby's lips yourself. They might push it away at first but through repetition and by watching you, they will soon begin to take sips from the glass.
Pretty soon they'll also be reaching for the cup themselves. The more you can let them practice the skill, the quicker they will learn.
Tip: rather than saying "be careful" when it looks like they might drop their cup, try "use 2 hands", and demonstrate it yourself.
Age: 8 - 9 months
Around 8 months of age, once your baby has realized that it's water they're drinking and how to take a sip and swallow, you can start giving them water from a bigger open cup (the one they'll be drinking from later on).
This age is just a general recommendation. You can introduce a bigger open cup earlier or even start with it at 6 months. The choice is yours.
The process is pretty much the same as with a small shot cup. If you see that your baby can hold it by themselves, let them. Just accept that accidents will happen at this stage and the cup will end up on the floor from time to time.
Tip: don't fill the cup all the way because the heavier it is the harder it will be for them to hold.
Age: > 9 months
Now that they've familiarized themselves with water, drinking water AND an open cup, you can provide one for them to practice.
What Cup to Use?
While you can offer your child a glass at an early age, around and about the home, a silicone open cup would is likely a better option.
Choosing a cup with handles might prove to be easier for some babies, others who have started to drink from a shot glass or a slightly bigger one are already used to a cup without handles and don't really need them.
Out and about
You probably don't use an open cup when you're out and about, so it doesn't makes sense to give one to your baby either. Not unless you enjoy changing them out of wet clothes...
Fortunately, there's a great no-spill cup that also mimics a real open cup.
The Munchkin 360 Trainer cup. While we typically try to avoid anything plastic, this cup promotes the same oral-motor development as drinking from an open cup. But it doesn't spill. Almost magic. We can only hope for a sustainable version!
(Note: affiliate link)
Silicone and stainless steel straw cups are also a good choice for out and about since sucking from a straw are better for oral-motor development than sippy cups.
Overall, remain patient and stick with it. At times it will seem like they can never put the cup down without knocking it over. Sometimes they'll shove it off their tray and onto the floor without a care. But before you know it, drinking from an open cup will be as normal to them as it is to you.
At 1 year, my son very confidently drinks from his open cup during meal times. The rest of the day I leave Munchkin 360 cup somewhere he can reach, allowing him to drink independently whenever he wants.