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Can Sippy Cups Cause Speech Problems?

author image Meg Brannagan
Meg Brannagan has worked as a registered nurse for more than 10 years, specializing in women's and children's health. She holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Can Sippy Cups Cause Speech Problems?
A child's sippy cup. Photo Credit: AuthenticCreations/iStock/Getty Images

Sippy cups were created to act as a transitional tool for babies that are too old for bottles but who have not yet learned to drink from a regular cup. They are convenient for use and reduce spills to prevent major messes and many children successfully use sippy cups with no adverse effects. Sippy cups have recently come under fire as many speech therapists claim they can form habits that make a child difficult to understand when he begins to talk.

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Children who use a sippy cup frequently throughout the day, sleep with a cup at night, and continue to use it after the age of three may have problems when their primary teeth erupt. These children may have an open bite, which occurs when the top and bottom teeth do not fit together when the mouth is closed. A child with an open bite may have a lisp when speaking or may mispronounce some sounds, including "s," "k" or "t."

Ear Infections

According to MedlinePlus, children who spend many hours lying down and drinking from a sippy cup are prone to develop ear infections. This occurs because the Eustachian tube in the middle ear drains fluid into the throat. When this tube becomes blocked, bacteria may grow, causing an ear infection. Fluid buildup in the ears makes hearing difficult, and a child with this condition may be slow to develop speech sounds. Ear infections can also scar the eardrum, thereby reducing hearing permanently and slowing speech development.

Muscle Development

Using a sippy cup promotes eating methods similar to sucking from a bottle or breastfeeding. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, M.D., M.P.H. states on Fisher that children who use sippy cups flatten the tongue to draw fluid from the cup and push it to the back of the mouth for swallowing. This action is different from the muscles used to drink from a regular cup. Prolonged sippy cup use prevents the development of muscles that are needed for speaking and articulation because a child has not had practice using these muscles.


Some types of sippy cups offer a straw opening instead of the standard nozzle. Sipping from a straw helps a toddler practice coordination of mouth muscles. This can improve the strength of the tongue, cheeks and lips and can mimic many oral movements that children practice while developing speech.


Parents can help speech development by reducing the amount of time a child is allowed to use a sippy cup. Help your child learn to drink from a regular cup by the age of 2½ and let her practice drinking from a straw. Avoid letting your child carry a sippy cup everywhere throughout the day and never put her to bed with a sippy cup as this also promotes tooth decay.

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