What to Choose? Self-Feeding Tools for Babies and Toddlers

If you’ve ever browsed the grocery store aisles looking for the perfect cup or utensil set for your child, you may have quickly found yourself overwhelmed with all of the options. With the wide variety of choices available nowadays, it’s hard to determine the best item to for your child. There is no “one size fits all” approach to finding a transition cup and/or feeding utensil that is right for your child, and it may take some trial and error to determine the best fit. However, throughout my time as a speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, I’ve found some tools to be particularly useful as a child develops his or her eating and drinking skills.

I’ve heard sippy cups are bad? What cup should I choose?

I’ve had many parents tell me that they’ve heard that sippy cups are “bad” and that they’d like a better option for their child. While I don’t label all sippy cups as “bad” (and feel that they are a necessary option for some children with specific feeding needs), research has proven that use of sippy cups can lead to tooth decay, oral motor delays, and speech and swallowing delays. For more information, please see a recent blog post by one of PlayWorks Therapy’s speech language pathologists: http://playworkschicago.com/blog/page/3/

Straw cups and free flow cups are a great alternative to sippy cups. Here are some cups that I have found particularly beneficial for children from all feeding backgrounds:

  • Straw cups: There are a wide variety of straw cups on the market that are specific to babies and toddlers. Some of my favorites include the Nuby No-Spill Sports Sipper(a great option for transitioning from bottles to cups!) and Phillips Avent Straw Cup; however, there are several similar options on the market that work just as well. If your child hasn’t quite grasped the concept of straws yet, the Honey Bear Straw Cupis a great introduction to straw drinking.
  • Spoutless sippy cups: Commonly referred to as the 360 Cup, this no-spill cup is a great tool to teach the oral motor and swallowing skills necessary for drinking from an open cup. Munchin Miracle 360 Trainerand Playtex Spoutless 360 Cupare both great options.

I want my child to use utensils, but he can’t quite grasp a spoon or fork yet. What should I do?

Children learn to eat with their hands, and this is a goodthing! It’s important for children to be exposed to the sensory properties of food, and eating with their hands is the best way to do so. However, there comes a time when it’s appropriate for a child to use a utensil to feed himself. When children aren’t able to successfully use a fork or spoon, I like to incorporate some of the following:

  • Dippers: Dippers are similar to a spoon, except they have no spoon bowl. Children use dippers by dipping the utensil in a thick puree and bringing the dipper to their mouth. This teaches the motor skills necessary for using utensils without requiring as much coordination. Some of my favorite dippers include Numnum Pre-Spoon Goo-tensilsand ChooMee Starter Spoons.
  • Curved spoons: Curved spoons are another good option for children who have difficulty handling typical spoons. Curved spoons are made to match a baby’s natural grasp. Many have shorter, thicker handles which make the spoons easier to maneuver. Playtex Curve Infant Spoonsare a great option!
  • Child size spoons and forks: While I don’t have any particular brand of spoons and forks that I prefer, children learning to self-feed will have more control when using small utensils. Additionally, utensils with a wider handle will be easier for children to grip.

What can I do if my child is demonstrating feeding difficulties?

If your child is demonstrating difficulties transitioning away from the bottle and/or tolerating an age-appropriate diet, consider contacting one of our feeding therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to increase your child’s independence as they transition to the world of self-feeding.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s feeding skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Hal Gatewood via unsplash.com

** Disclaimer: We are not affiliated, associated, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected, with any of the products listed in this blog.

When to Skip the Sippy Cup

Many parents love sippy cups- they are great for “on-the-go” days and avoiding spills and messes! However, the problem with sippy cups is that prolonged and frequent use can impact a child’s development of speech and feeding skills. Below are three reasons why you may consider skipping the sippy cup:

  1. Tooth decay: Constantly sipping on anything that is not water can lead to tooth decay because the child does not have the opportunity to rinse away the sugars from the juice or milk with their own saliva. The acid from the drink may break down the tooth enamel leading to tooth decay. If you are going to use sippy cups for anything besides water, it is best to limit to only meal times and to take breaks with water to rinse your child’s teeth.
  2. Oral-motor delays: At around 12-months, a baby’s swallowing pattern matures from a front to back swallowing pattern to a more advanced swallowing pattern where the tongue raises to the top of the mouth and starts a wave-like motion for swallowing. It is important for babies to move to this new swallowing pattern as it allows them to transition from soft solids and liquids to more advanced foods and textures. When using a hard-spouted sippy cup, the sprout rests on the front of the tongue impeding the ability of the tongue to elevate to the top of the mouth. When a child uses a hard-sprouted sippy cup for a prolonged period of time, it can impact their ability to develop a mature swallowing pattern necessary for chewing and swallowing age-appropriate foods.
  3. Speech and language delays: Prolonged use of a sippy cup can impact a child’s ability to develop a mature swallowing pattern which means that their oral-motor skills may not be well-developed. Decreased oral-motor skills may lead to a greater likelihood that the child has difficulty saying and imitating certain sounds.

Other options? A great alternative to the sippy cup is a straw cup. There are some great options for spill-proof straw cups at most stores. Straw cups can offer the same “on-the-go” convenience of a sippy cup while still promoting appropriate oral-motor development!

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist