Introducing Your Baby to Beakers and Cups

Are you wondering when might be the best time to introduce your little one to beakers and cups? How do you do it? What drinks should you give them and what should you avoid? And what’s the right cup to use?

Lots of questions – and hopefully we can help with some answers!

Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the NHS and British Dental Health Foundation recommends babies start to learn to drink from a free-flow feeder cup from around six months old.

It will help them to make the transition from breast or bottle to drinking independently, aid their motor skill development and protect their little teeth from tooth decay.

As with all baby milestones, take the pressure off yourself. A transition is exactly that – it’s a process and it’s not going to happen overnight, nor replace breast or bottle feeding straight away.

Every baby is different, and it might take a few goes to work out what’s best for your little one.

At what age should I introduce cups or beakers?

The official NHS guidance recommends that baby should “start moving from the bottle onto a free-flow feeder cup at six months – about when they are sitting unaided.”

One of the reasons why it’s important to start making the transition around this time, is that teats and spouts encourage children to suck for long periods of time, so that means that drinks that can cause tooth decay are in contact with your child’s teeth for a long time. Using cups will teach them how to drink rather than suckle.

The general NHS advice is that bottles should be given up by around the age of one.

Have you got any tips on how to get started?

We spoke to a Nuby mum who told us that she began introducing her daughter to cups at around six months, when she started weaning her onto solids.

She said it was a gradual process and she introduced sips of water during meal times, while breastfeeding in between and through the night.

At first, you can try getting baby used to sipping from a cup and learning the motor skill of hand to mouth and gripping the cup. From around 12 months, there are older cup options to use when motor skills are more developed. If you introduce the cup early enough, then it’ll feel much more natural for baby when they eventually move onto regular cups.

Her main piece of advice is not to put pressure on yourself, a bit like with weaning. Just let them have a little bit at a time and use the cup every now and again.

At first it might be tricky and a bit messy, while your baby is getting used to using a cup, so the transition from a bottle or teat can help and as many mums and dads say, different options work for different children.

What should I give my baby to drink?

In the first six months, breast milk is the only food or drink that baby needs and first infant formula can be used if breast feeding isn’t right for you.

According to the NHS, “fully breastfed babies don't need any water until they've started eating solid foods. Formula-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather.”

Around the time you start weaning and your baby gets used to feeding, it’s fine to introduce cooled boiled water at mealtimes.

Don’t forget that you can use breast milk and formula in a cup too, and when baby is at least six months old, you can give water straight from a UK kitchen mains tap. Before six months, the NHS recommends boiling and cooling water.

And until age one, stick to water, formula or breast milk.

But you should continue to breastfeed or give your baby first infant formula until they're at least one. You will likely notice too, that as baby eats more solid foods, the amount of milk they will want will decrease and once they’re on solids several times a day, the milk feed may even stop altogether.

The NHS also highlights the importance of hygiene and says that “if you serve milk from a cup, the spout, cup and handles should be sterilised until your baby turns one.”

What drinks should I avoid?

Many drinks aren’t suitable for young babies. The NHS has a comprehensive list of what to give your baby and when. Here’s a summary of what to avoid when baby is little:

  • Don’t put anything other than breast milk, formula milk or water in a bottle or trainer cup.
  • Don’t add anything else to the feed (including sugar, cereals, baby rice or chocolate powder).
  • Follow-on formula isn’t suitable for babies under 6 months, and you don’t need to introduce it after 6 months.
  • Cows’ milk can be introduced as a main drink from 12 months (but not before then).
  • Don’t give young children unpasteurised milk because of the higher risk of food poisoning. 
  • Children under 5 years old shouldn't have rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cows' milk as they may contain too much arsenic.
  • Babies under 12 months don’t need fruit juice or smoothies. When you do introduce them, it’s a good idea to have them at mealtimes, rather than in between, to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
  • Squashes, flavoured milk and fizzy drinks aren’t suitable for young babies, neither are hot drinks like tea and coffee.

How do I know which cup to choose?

Sippy cup, juice cup, beaker, free-flow feeder – it seems like there are a lot of names out there these days! It can be a little confusing, but it reflects the wide range of choice available for babies of different ages and stages.

We recommend trying a few to see which your baby likes best and think about what’s easiest for them to hold, depending on how old they are.

Some cups come with flip-up spouts or straws, free-flow tops where the liquid flows freely or open cups with water tight lids to prevent spillages. Some can be used to help with the transition from bottles and are more like teats.

Using an open or free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth, but you’ve also got to think about practicalities and what works for you. It might be worth having a few different cups to use if you’re either at home or out and about.

A non-handled easy-grip cup with a soft spout which is a little like a bottle teat can help to make baby's first sips a simple step – before trying a cup with handles when they’re a little bit older so they can hold and drink from the cup themselves. When your little one is ready, you can move from lidded beakers to drinking from an open cup.

How are free-flowing cups good for baby’s teeth?

It’s important to be aware that drinks flow very slowly through a teat, so that means that drinks are in contact with your little one’s teeth for longer.

To reduce the risk of tooth decay, transitioning to a free-flowing cup when your baby is ready is better for their teeth as it doesn’t have valves so the flow of liquid is unrestricted.

Here are a few of our favourite Nuby cups, which are highly recommended by families!

6m+ Cups

  • Mini Easy Grip Baby Cup - Our Mini Easy Grip Cup has a real feel, no spill silicone spout that makes learning how to drink from a cup really easy. Plus, it is leakproof and perfect for little ones with sensitive gums!
  • Grip N Sip Baby Cups - Nuby's handy duo of best selling Grip N Sip Cups have easy grip handles and a SoftFlex™ silicone spout that is kind to baby's sensitive teeth. What's best is, it's super easy to clean as it's dishwasher safe!

“I purchased these cups as well as the Flip n Sip version for my little boy and WOW, he loves them! He loves the bright colours and the handles mean they are super easy for him to hold. The cups are also very durable - they have withstood many tantrums with no cracks or leaks! Very happy with these."

18m+ Cups

  • Mighty Swig Toddler Water Bottle - Our Mighty Swig Pop-Up Bottles are a must-have for your little ball of energy. This super-strong bottle features a flip-open, bite resistant straw making it super durable! It is also as clear as glass so you can keep an eye on how much your little one is drinking. 

“My little one loves this cup. Endless fun from the straw popping out. Easy to pack away and no mess or leaking. Brilliant.” 

  • Incredible Gulp Water Bottle - Encourage your little one to sip away the day using the super-soft flex silicone spout which appears with the push of a button. The super-soft spout means it is kind to sore gums and little teeth. We have added a quick grab handle so your little one can carry their water bottle everywhere they go! 
 Every baby is different and you will find what works best for you and your little one. We’d love to hear any suggestions or tips you have in the comments. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, get in touch with your dentist or GP, who will be able to advise.