A WORD ON CUP DRINKING
Updated: Apr 17
As I do my home- based evaluations and treatment visits, I often find that many of my 2 and 3 year olds still drink out of a bottle, when developmentally, they should be using cups and straws to drink.
While some parents do not want to engage in the process of weaning their child off the much beloved liquids container, others do not realize the importance of introducing a more “mature” way of drinking.
Cup drinking is repeatedly emphasized in Lori Overland’s and others’ feeding seminars. In short, it is in the first few years of life that your child’s oral- motor mechanism fully develops and matures for speech and feeding functions. At this young age you may witness all the little milestones in how your child bites, chews, and drinks monthly, and sometimes weekly. The key oral- motor skills that shape how your child ultimately processes (eats) food and drinks liquids include: jaw stability, jaw and lip dissociation (separation of lip from jaw, etc.), and the all important tongue retraction (pulling back of the tongue).
When drinking out of a bottle (or even a sippy cup), the child’s tongue tends to move forward. Drinking out of a cup requires the tongue to do just the opposite- retract or pull backward, which is the skill that becomes more refined over time and well into adulthood. Presenting a young child with the beloved bottle passed the first birthday often adversely impacts the tongue position at rest, whereby the tongue begins to rest in more of a forward protruding posture in the mouth. This forward tongue position (also known as tongue thrust) then habituates into occurring at rest and during speech production. In contrast, when given the opportunity to drink out of a cup, the child’s mouth must adapt to a new container via retracting the corners of the lips, sealing the lips on the container, as well as retracting the tongue (instead of protruding it out) to allow the liquid to enter the mouth.
These important oral- motor milestones help your child’s feeding skills to progress in a developmentally appropriate sequence toward mature feeding. There is evidence suggesting that refining the above oral- motor and feeding skills develops together with and possibly encourages the early speech production skills (Overland, feeding therapy: a sensory-motor approach, p.27). This certainly makes sense, since developmentally, children typically first produce the bilabial sounds /m/, /b/, /p/, and /w/, which requires lip closure supported by the upward movement of the lower jaw. This very skill also appears to be central to the development of the ability to hold and eventually stabilize the cup between lips for successful drinking.
These important changes help your child’s oral- motor development and feeding skills progress accordingly. There is evidence suggesting that these improved movements and refined feeding skills are also responsible for more refined speech skills (Overland, feeding therapy: a sensory-motor approach, p.27)! And it sure makes sense because the lips come together to produce a number of sounds such as /m/, /b/, /p/ in addition to holding and stabilizing the cup for successful drinking.
Overland talks about introducing the cut-out cup at as early as 9 months of age given appropriate positioning and parent support. So if your children are the right age but are still drinking from the bottle consider introducing cup drinking to stabilize and refine their oral movements. Happy cup drinking!