Written By: Nadereh Nabai
Hello everyone and happy Spring!
As it gets warmer hydration becomes very important and many of us carry around water containers for ourselves and our young ones to sip on throughout the day. But did you know that the vessel we use to keep us hydrated is also very important?
Last month at the end of a feeding therapy session for an adorable 2 year old, I noticed that his mom took out a Sippy cup for him. During the same week an older child with severe articulation skills came in to my office holding a sports bottle with a long and flat silicone spout. These instances prompted some online research as well as some thoughts that I would like to share.
I found a New York Times interview with the inventor of the Sippy Cup, a mechanical engineer named Richard Belanger, and discovered that he had created the Sippy cup because he was tired of cleaning up drink spills after his young child. It was a brilliant idea, but those familiar with early facial and oral muscular development were cautiously evaluating the long term effect of its continuous use. Appropriate oral-motor (movements of muscles of the mouth) skills are necessary for learning correct articulation and swallowing; and we now better understand how and what young children eat and drink effects that development.
Young infants use an extension and retraction suckling movement of their tongue to receive nutrition from bottle or breast. By 6 months, they are using their tongue to explore their oral cavity and learn to use it to produce and mimic sounds. It’s around this time that they are introduced to a cup as a different vessel of taking in liquid. As they learn to master “drinking” out of an open cup the stage is set for the emergence of their jaw stability. Jaw stability and strength are needed to support their tongue inside of their mouth as it learns to move rapidly to produce different sounds and sound combinations. By age 1 the extension and retraction suckling motion of their tongue shifts toward a more mature sucking (posterior tongue movement and tongue body and tip elevation) to drink. It is around this time that single words appear in the young child’s speech repertoire and as their oral and intra-oral musculature gets stronger they will be talking in 2-4 word sentences by the time they are 2 years old.
One of the earliest ways young children exercise their jaw muscles naturally throughout the day is by learning to drink out of an open cup.
Transitioning from breast or bottle to a Sippy cup and others like it will interfere will developing jaw strength. Similarly, these types of cups will sit right on the tongue thus reinforcing an earlier extension and retraction suckling movement and delaying independent movement of different parts of their tongue that is needed for age appropriate and more mature swallowing and articulation skills.
My advice is to not offer your very young children any drinking vessel with a long and wide spout that will sit on their tongue. If they are using one already, replace it with an open cup at home and opt for one of these:
For when they eat in:
For when they’re out and about:
Tune in for my thoughts on drinking out of a straw and how it will strengthen and tone eyes and labial musculature.