Although shocking to many, the sippy cup is NOT a developmental milestone. Nor is sucking on a pacifier, for that matter. But why do we (therapists, parents and caregivers) celebrate these acquired “skills” as developmentally appropriate achievements? Why do we allow these “skills” to happen for much longer than they should? Is it just easier to always have a pacifier (aka mute button) in the baby/toddler’s mouth? Sippy cups are so easy to take along with us everywhere, how can it be harmful if a preschooler continues to exclusively drink from one?
Benefits of the Pacifier and Sippy Cup
The pacifier is a great thing for infants. It meets a physiological need to suck and allows baby a way to comfort himself. It may reduce the risk of SIDS as it appears to allow baby’s airway to remain more open and prevent baby from falling into a deeper sleep. Not to mention the other fringe benefits like quieting rowdy babes, helping them sleep longer and making outings and car rides more enjoyable for all. It certainly has a “place” in an infant’s world! And the sippy cup is an awesome convenience must-have. Drinks can be toted everywhere with baby/toddler and a sippy’s use means less spills to stain the carpet! Beautiful!
Risks of Over-Use
But aside from these benefits, there are risks associated with the over-use of both. Pediatricians and family physicians recommend weaning or stopping pacifier use in the second six months of life. Shocking I know considering how many toddlers we see with pacifiers in their mouths! The sippy cup can be skipped all together if natural development is occurring with no issue. Created for convenience, the sippy cup now has an entire market (and aisle in most stores) devoted to it! However a baby can transition to a straw (as early as 9 months) or open cup just as easily and drinking from both of these IS developmentally appropriate.
Key Points to Keep in Mind
As trusted resources on development, it is our job as early interventionists to inform families of both the positives and negatives of (prolonged) sucking. Some points to keep in mind as you discuss these “milestones” with parents and caregivers:
Prolonged sucking on a pacifier puts children at (a higher) risk for misaligned teeth. As those tiny white pearls are erupting, the pressure of the nipple of the pacifier can cause teeth to move around and shift. Also, the pressure can cause their hard palate, the roof of their mouth directly behind the front teeth, to change. It can push the palate forward, again changing the position of the teeth. In his research, J. Poyak concludes, “The greater the longevity and duration of pacifier use, the greater the potential for harmful results.”
A sippy often allows access to drinks all day long for a toddler. Not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what is in the sippy. If it is a sugary drink, the sugar increases the risk of developing cavities. The Medline Plus article titled, “Tooth decay – early childhood” states, “When children sleep or walk around with a bottle or sippy cup in their mouth, sugar coats their teeth for longer periods of time, causing teeth to decay more quickly.” Also, if a sippy is the only way a child gets liquids the developmentally appropriate skills of drinking through a straw and open cup are inhibited.
If children are allowed to have a drink (in a sippy or other cup) all the time, they may fill up on liquids and not eat meals as well, negatively impacting their nutrition.
Although inconsistent, research suggests a relationship between prolonged sucking and speech delays. Barbosa et al. (2009) concluded in their research of 128 Patagonian preschoolers that, “The results suggest extended use of sucking outside of breastfeeding may have detrimental effects on speech development in young children.” When speech sound development is negatively impacted, so is the child’s intelligibility of speech making it difficult for others to understand them.
Sucking on a pacifier increases a child’s risk of developing otitis media (ear infection). The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) advocate for limited to no use of the pacifier in the second six months of the child’s life to decrease this risk.
A pacifier or sippy cup that is always in the mouth of a child, even when the child is walking around, puts him/her at a higher risk for mouth injuries. A 2012 study by Dr. Sarah Keim of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, found that “a young child is rushed to a hospital every four hours in the U.S. due to an injury from a bottle, sippy cup or pacifier.” When little ones are just learning to walk, doing two things at once requires a bit more coordination than they are capable of!
Besides the physical risks, beyond the age of 1 a stronger emotional attachment to the pacifier (or sippy cup) makes it increasingly difficult for the child to detach. The pacifier/sippy goes from meeting a physiological need during infancy to providing emotional comfort to the toddler when scared, upset or sleepy.
However, it is our job to know and respect the individuality of each child. Therefore it is best practice to reassure parents that we recognize they know their child best. We all want our children to be happy and if using a pacifier and/or sippy is what’s best for them and their family, that is okay. Our job is to inform the families we serve the best we can. Equipping them with knowledge on why prolonged sucking may be detrimental to their child allows the family to make the final call. Education and Support, that’s what we are there for.
Have you ever had the “prolonged sucking” discussion with any of the families you serve?
How might you begin this conversation with a family?
Today’s blog is Part I of a two-part series on prolonged sucking and what we can do to educate families about it. Stay tuned for “Part II – What to do When the Convenience Becomes a Hard to Break Habit” next week featuring ideas you can share with families who are ready to wean their child off of the pacifier or sippy!
Barbosa, Clarita, Sandra Vasquez, Mary Parada, Juan Carlos Velez Gonzalez, Chanaye Jackson, N David Yanez, Bizu Gelaye, and Annette Fitzpatrick. “The Relationship of Bottle Feeding and Other Sucking Behaviors with Speech Disorder in Patagonian Preschoolers.” BMC Pediatrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2431/9/66
EG, Gois, HC Rubeiro-Junior, MP Vale, SM Paiva, JM Serra-Negra, ML Ramos-Jorge, and IA Pordeus. “Influence of Nonnutritive Sucking Habits, Breathing Pattern and Adenoid Size on the Development of Malocclusion.” Angle Orthod.4 (2008): 647-54. Print. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18302463
Guideline on Periodicity of Examination, Preventive Dental Services, Anticipatory Guidance/Counseling, and Oral Treatment for Infants, Children, and Adolescents (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/G_Periodicity.pdf (PDF, New Window)
Hauck, Fern R., MD, MS, Olanrewaju O. Omojokun, MD, and Mir S. Siadaty, MD, MS. “Do Pacifiers Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? A Meta-analysis.” PEDIATRICS5 (2005): E716-723. Do Pacifiers Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? A Meta-analysis. PEDIATRICS. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/5/e716
Keim, Sarah A., MA, MS, Erica N. Fletcher, MPH, Megan R.W. Tepoel, MS, and Lara B. McKenzie, PhD, MA. “Injuries Associated With Bottles, Pacifiers, and Sippy Cups in the United States, 1991-2010.” N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/6/1104.long
Natale, Ruby, PhD, PsyD. “Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers.” American Family Physician79 (2009): 681-85. – American Family Physician. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0415/p681.html
Poyak, J. “Effects of Pacifiers on Early Oral Development.” Int J Orthod Milwaukee4 (2006): 13-6. Print. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17256438
Regulatory Summary for Pacifier (n.d.): n. pag. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/120645/regsumpacifier.pdf (PDF, New Window)
“Tooth Decay – Early Childhood: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002061.htm
Zardetto, CG, CR Rodrigues, and FM Stefani. “Effects of Different Pacifiers on the Primary Dentition and Oral Myofunction Structures of Preschool Children.” Pediatric Dentistry6 (2002): 552-60. Print. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12528948
Lacy Morise, M.S. CCC/SLP educates families on the risks involved with over-use of the pacifier and sippy as an early intervention speech-language pathologist in the West Virginia Birth to Three Program. She guiltily confesses to allowing all of her children to abuse the use of the pacifier! She owns Milestones & Miracles, LLC a company devoted to educating families about child development and the importance of PLAY! Check out her website and blog and follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.
Don’t forget the abnormal tongue resting posture promoted by both! When a child always has a pacifier in their mouth they learn to rest their tongue on the floor of the mouth as opposed to the correct placement, lightly suctioned to the roof of their mouth with the tongue tip resting just behind the front teeth on the incisive papilla. This abnormal resting posture can promote mouth breathing, vaulted palates, tongue thrust, speech sound disorders, and more!
That’s so interesting, Dana! Is there a particular length of pacifier/sippy cup use after which you are more likely to see these concerns? Like if a toddler continues to use the paci or sippy cup after the age of 3…something like that. Just wondering. 🙂