Why Do Kids Bite on Straws?
Teaching your older baby or toddler to drink from a straw cup is a critical swallowing milestone. As a pediatric feeding + swallowing specialist, I often see parents and professionals struggle with how to respond to a child that consistently bites on a straw. Here are some reasons why straw biting occurs, plus how the ezpz Mini Cup + Straw Training System can help decrease (or even eliminate) straw biting.
Biting the Straw: If you have seen your child biting on a straw, don’t worry, you aren’t doing anything wrong! Children bite on straws for a variety of reasons.
- Stability / Breathing: When children are first learning how to drink from a straw, they oftentimes bite on the straw for stability. With the stability from the straw, they can keep themselves at the middle of the highchair (also called the midline). This is a way to compensate when a child does not have adequate core strength or has difficulties with the ‘suck – swallow – breathe synchrony’ when drinking from the straw.
Tip for Stability / Breathing: To help decrease biting be sure that your child is in a highchair with an adjustable footrest for adequate stability of their body. The Mini Straw helps with the ‘suck – swallow – breathe synchrony’ because it takes less strength + coordination to drink from a shorter straw that is angled toward them. This keeps them at midline with their head in a chin tuck position, protecting their airway.
- Anxiety / Sensory: Mealtime can be stressful for some children. As a way to calm the sensory system during mealtime, a child may chew on a straw. This is problematic because plastic straws can have sharp edges after a child bites on them (which can cut their lips, tongue or gum line).
- Tip for Anxiety / Sensory: The Mini Cup + Straw Training System is made of food grade (soft) silicone, which can help ensure safety when your baby / toddler bites on the straw. This will provide sensory feedback for your child and give you the opportunity to teach your little one how to drink safely (not bite) from a straw.
- Teething: Biting the straw can be a natural reflex from munching / biting into food, chewing food or the developmental teething process. The timing of the munching, biting and teething milestones are not a coincidence. It’s a developmental oral-motor process!
- Tip for Teething: Your baby or toddler is learning to chew and gum foods, and they may accidentally carry that chewing movement over to straw drinking. Luckily, the Mini Straw has sensory bumps at the tip of the straw to give your child tactile feedback to know that a different lip movement (lip rounding instead of lip closure) is required. Once they learn to drink from the training straw, they can then start to relieve the discomfort of teething from cold beverages (breastmilk, formula, smoothies or water) to soothe their gums.
- Hunger / Fullness Cues: Biting the straw might mean that your child is not thirsty or hungry at that moment. If your child looks distracted and appears to be chewing on their utensils or straw out of boredom, they might be trying to understand what their hunger + fullness cues feel like.
- Tip for Hunger / Fullness: It’s important to observe your child’s non-verbal hunger and fullness cues as they drink (or eat) different amounts on different days. Some days your child may drink a 3-4 oz smoothie, and other days they may only want one sip. To help your child learn and understand these cues, (1) verbally label the mealtime situation and then (2) repeat the mealtime opportunity. Here’s an example of how I do it. “It looks like you aren't thirsty right now. Let's read a book and try a drink again later.”
I hope these straw biting tips help you and your little one to achieve success with straw drinking! If you are using the ezpz Mini Cup + Straw with your child tag us in your drinking pictures by using #ezpzfun.
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 28 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating tendencies. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning feeding products.