Sippy Cup Showdown
As a dietitian and mom to 5 kids age 2 and under, I think I KNOW some of the infant feeding guidelines, but I know I also FEEL some of them.
This came to light recently when I was considering the best time to transition my baby quadruplets from the bottle to a cup.
What We Eat / Ate
For the first 7 months of their life, our quadruplets had half pumped breastmilk and half infant formula. I was only ever able to pump slightly more than half of their needs; but, at about 7 months when they started wanting more milk and I was making less than half of what they were taking in, I decided to call it quits with the pump.
Personally, I love pumping (20 minutes alone every 3 hours?! No brainer :) - but, by the time the quads were 7 months, I was traveling a lot for work and it was becoming almost unmanageable and futile to try to keep up with these hungry hippos.
It was about this time that the babies started eating solid foods and that I started tweaking their feeding schedule. With 4 babies to coordinate, we live and die by the schedule, so trying out a number of feeding and fluid schedules was a good investment of time in my eyes.
My feeding goal was to maximize the babies' time and experience with a baby led approach to food intake, but to honor their developmental need to still obtain the majority of calories and nutrition from infant formula fed by bottle.
When Do You Quit the Bottle and Go Up to a Cup?
But when is the best time to quit the bottle and move up to a cup?
From their actual age of 9-12 months (adjusted age 7.5-10.5 months) my quadruplets were drinking about 24 ounces of formula per day spread over 3 eight-oz bottles interspersed with 3 solid food meals and 1-2 snacks per day.
At actual age 12 months (10.5 months adjusted) their formula intake dropped to around 20 ounces per day, as would be expected since they were now eating more at meals and snacks.
I moved my quads to cow's milk on their first birthday (actual age) and threw myself a little party for the $500 per month of formula I now no longer had to buy!
We don't have any milk allergy or intolerance issues in our family, so the transition from formula to full cow's milk (which I tapered to over a week) went off without a hitch.
While some guidelines recommend start drinking out of a cup as early as six months, it was at the one year mark that I started thinking about moving to a cup.
And I'll tell you what did it: when Baby Charlie started walking 1 week after his 1 year birthday, he perfected this move where he would stagger across the floor, swinging his bottle around in his mouth, which would eventually rip the nipple out and then spew milk all over my floor.
Not cool...time to move to a cup everybody.
OK...So What Cup to Use?
If you haven't started earlier, at around one year of age, it's a good idea to start the transition to a cup. By 2 years of age, your child should aim to be drinking out of an open cup. (But we have a 2 year old who sits next to 4 babies who desperately want anything she has, so she still drinks out of a covered cup, and that's ok!)
Now, I have lots of feeding expert friends in the world of family nutrition - and in particular, the speech therapist ones always recommend just skipping the sippy cup entirely. Go right to the open cup they say. Learning how to suck out of a covered cup isn't an important or necessary part of the learning-how-to-eat-or-drink process.
If I had just one baby or tons of time to practice open-cup drinking, I would totally get on board with this. But I have 5 kids under age 2 who sit next to each other at the table and who seem to be intent on making as big of a mess as possible at mealtimes.
I gotta go with a lid on the cup...I'm sorry speech therapist friends, it's just too early to live lid-free!
Since I'm not convinced that a lid on a cup is necessarily the worst thing in the world, next up is how do you choose a sippy cup?
There's a couple of factors at play when choosing your kid's sippy cup:
- Spill factor
- Developmental considerations
I'm buying 4 of these suckers at a time, so I'm not gonna lie when I say price is a major concern.
The way I see it, kids have been learning to drink out of a cup of centuries, even before pricey fancy pants sippy cups hit the market. So my kids probably don't need anything north of $10 per cup, and that's me being spendy, only because this is something they use multiple times every day.
Dishes...the bane of my existence.
If there are more than 3 parts in a cup to wash (top, cup, stopper), then I just physically can't do it. I will lose the parts, or lose my mind trying to find and/or clean all of the parts.
Three is my limit, but that's just me :)
When my kid is close to 2 years old, I will consider a cup without a lid. Until then, the point of the lid is to contain the beverage.
We have enough mess going on from food with baby led weaning, so I don't need liquids to add more housework!
I am interested in a cup that doesn't spill - but that isn't so spill proof that a developing baby can't suck the liquid out of it.
I have a dear friend who is a pediatric speech language pathologist. I used to think all sippy cups were created the same...until I met her.
She FREAKED me out about how many of the cups aren't appropriate for first sips, and I have to admit, she kind of has a point.
Many cups require a LOT of sucking to get that liquid out, and a baby who's 6 or 9 months and just starting out probably can't master that. Furthermore, excessive sucking to extract liquid may have damaging effects on the developing palate.
So, according to some recommendations, it may be wise to go with no holds barred free flow cups, but then you're pretty much asking for a mess since these cups also flow all over your table.
At my SLP friend's suggestion, we actually started with an open cup (under MUCH supervision...trust me) to get our quads used to drinking liquid. But by the time they were 1 year old (and destroying every nipple on every bottle), they pretty much got the hang of any basic sippy cup. And it happened surprisingly fast as well.
Sippy Cup Showdown
Over the course of the past 2 months I've tested 4 types of sippy cups with my quadruplets:
- First Years Take & Toss 10 oz Spill-Proof Sippy Cups
- Munchkin Miracle Cup
- Summer Infant Born Free 9 oz Transition Drinking Cup
- Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp
...and here's my take on which one (s) worked best.
First Years Take & Toss 10 oz Spill-Proof Sippy Cups
The First Years Take & Toss cups are certainly no frills at its finest. They're about $1 per cup and get the job done. Your smarter/older baby will probably pry the lid off pretty quickly, but I find that when they're really thirsty, my babies love these cups.
(As an aside: I'm not sure who actually "tosses" these, because they are definitely reusable. After using for a year or so with my older baby, I did swap them out, but they're really durable and certainly the best bang for your buck.)
Munchkin Miracle Cup
The Munchkin Miracle Cup is a type of "spoutless" cup that claims to be dentist recommended.
I bought these in a panic at Target one day after my speech therapist friend had me all hyped up on only getting dentist-approved cups.
The design of this cup is pretty unique in that you have to push down with your lips or tongue in order to release the seal to allow fluid to flow.
I'll be honest - when my quads were 9 months old and I first tried these out, they had NO idea how to maneuver the rim and seal and the 10 oz design of this cup was way too cumbersome for their little hands.
The cup is so different from other spouted sippy cups that even I had to give it a whirl to figure it out. I got the hang of it pretty quick :) but I could see how a 6 month old wouldn't.
After experimenting for a bit with the MMK, by the time the quadruplets hit the 1 year mark, these became our favorite cup. The spill-proof factor is off the charts. These things literally don't leak.
At $6 per cup, they're not cheap...but they're certainly not on the high end of sippy cup pricing.
In my mind, these cups do do the trick for babies closer to 1 year old, and I think they're worth the medium-sized price tag.
Again, they're not the best for little babies, but by the time your little one hits one, you should definitely check these out.
Summer Infant Born Free 9 oz Transition Drinking Cup
I'm a huge fan of Summer Infant portable high chairs and baby play yards. But I still think their feeding gear needs work, and the Summer Infant Born Free 9 oz Transition Drinking Cup is a good example.
The shape of the cup is awesome and it was the easiest for my babies to handle at first when transitioning from a bottle to a cup.
My beef with this sippy cup is there's this weird circular seal that fits inside the lid that keeps popping out and leads to leaks. The seal + the spill proof valve + the lid + the cup = 4 parts, and for 4 babies, that's too much for me to wash, dry and try to not lose.
The cups started out great, but after a few runs through the dishwasher, the seal stretched out and kept dropping into the cup, meaning the cup started leaking and as a result, we kind of stopped using them.
Summer Infant says the spill proof valve can be removed as your baby moves towards an open cup system, but they don't mention the circular seal which seems to be the real problem.
These cups are good in a pinch, but not my go to choice for sure.
Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp
In my mind, the Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp is the granddaddy of sippy cups, but you must proceed with caution.
First, they're definitely not a starter cup as they require some pretty good suction to get a flow going. A younger baby just isn't going to have the ability to do so.
By the time my quads reached 1 year old, they were stealing their older sister's Nalgene and seemed to be fine with it, so I ponied up and bought 4 of them, because they're pretty awesome.
But buyer beware: these cups are pricey. At almost $10 per cup, Nalgene is an investment - but certainly a good one for older babies on the go.
My other concern is the size. These are 12 oz cups. It's always bothered me how big most sippy cups are and how they inadvertently promote heavier pours by parents.
If I were in the sippy cup business I would make every good cup in a 4 ounce version for smaller babies with smaller hands who are just getting started with cups.
I've worked with a number of families with babies and older children using 10 and 12 oz cups who just "assumed" they should be filled with milk. You do that a few times a day and your kid is easily surpassing the recommended amount of milk coming from these monster cups.
Yes, milk is an important component of a baby and toddler's diet - but many families mistakenly serve too much milk, and copious cups aren't helping the situation.
Aside from that, these sippy cups rock. And they have nostalgia factor for me going on too: as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Nepal, all of my volunteer friends and I drank (lots of curious things) out of Nalgenes during our 2 year volunteer service. I kind of like that my kids have Nalgenes now too...but for now they're just sticking to water and milk, I promise!
Sippy Cup Rec Rundown
So here's my recommendation after trying out these 4 cups:
- Start with the Take and Toss without a lid to get your baby used to drinking out of a cup somewhere between 6-12 months or whenever you feel comfortable starting
- Move to the Take and Toss with a lid for a pretty free flow and minimal mess
- Graduate to the Munchkin Miracle Cup (we use at mealtime at home for 9 months and up)
- If you need a cup for car rides or outings, the Nalgene Grip 'n Gulp is a great solution for older babies age 12 months and up
What Cup I Won't Use
I like to keep my reviews positive, but my ultimate goal here is to save other parents time and money when choosing feeding related products.
Since I don't want you to waste your time or your money...and if you're still reading at this point, I should mention that one type of cup that I can't recommend is anything in plastic by OXO.
I LOVE OXO for almost everything else in my kitchen, but it's almost as if whoever designed their kids cups never encountered an actual baby or child.
They throw things. And this plastic breaks on impact.
With my older daughter, I must have bought 5 different versions of this cup, because I love OXO and I wanted to love their kids cups. But with every single cup, she threw it on the floor...as kids will do...and the thing cracked.
You could use this weird plastic ring thing that comes with the cup that is supposed to prevent cracking, but I had the hard plastic cup crack under the ring multiple times too.
The lids degraded quickly and smelled funky real fast. I even double checked the product a few times because I couldn't believe OXO would put out such a sub par product.
I'm still devoted to all of their adult kitchen solutions, but steer clear of their kids' cups.
Inchbug Label Fans for Life
Before I sign off, if we're talking sippy cups, then I have to give a shout out to the best bottle and cup labels of time, the Inchbug Orbit Labels.
These are durable, stretchy, plastic personalized labels that keep your kids' bottles and cups straight.
Even if you only have one baby at a time, they're still valuable for figuring out whose bottle or cup is whose when you go to the park, playdates, family events or daycare.
I have Inchbug labels on every sippy cup in my house. Our 5 kids still swap cups on occasion (ok...all the time), but at least the labels give us some semblance of organization in this otherwise crazy feeding frenzy of a household!