Prerequisites for Straw Drinking
By Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz
Most babies are ready to start straw drinking around nine months of age, although some babies may show signs of readiness a bit sooner. To know if your baby is ready to start this new skill, here are four prerequisites for straw drinking.
#1. Able to Sit Independently with Good Stability: It’s important for your baby to have good sitting stability in order for them to learn how to drink from a straw cup safely. To ensure this stability, make sure your baby can sit in a highchair comfortably and be able to reach the footrest (their feet should be flat on the surface). Their ability to sit independently will regulate their interest in straw drinking and decrease the choking risk commonly associated with walking around while drinking.
- What if my baby is already able to sit independently with good stability? Great! You have obtained one of the four prerequisites for straw drinking!
- What if my baby has NOT had the opportunity to sit in a highchair? Some parents want to skip the highchair and feed their baby on their lap. But this can increase choking risk. Choose a highchair that has a stable footrest they can reach and start having your baby sit in the highchair for 5-minute increments. Then, slowly increase the length of time in the chair. Be sure to make these ‘sessions’ fun and positive, which will help avoid crying and negative associations with the chair (+ straw drinking).
#2. Able to Drink from an Open Cup: Developmentally, at 6 months of age an infant should start to learn to drink from an open cup (held by an adult). Drinking from an open cup allows a baby's mouth to develop in more mature ways by coordinating and moving the muscles of the lip, tongue, jaw, cheeks and soft palate for safe swallowing. Specifically, lip closure (lips closing on the rim of an open cup) is the first developmental lip movement a baby should master before learning lip rounding (lips protruding and rounding around a straw).
- What if my baby is already drinking from an open cup successfully with good lip closure? Great! You have obtained another one of the prerequisites for straw drinking.
- What if my baby has NOT had the opportunity to drink from an open cup? Don’t worry, you haven't missed the window of opportunity! Your baby still has time to learn this skill. All you must do is practice open cup drinking with breast milk or formula for a minimum of 5 minutes every day. Try using the ezpz Tiny Cup, which was designed to help babies 6-12 months of age obtain their open cup drinking milestones.
#3. Able to Suck Food Off a Spoon: Developmentally, a 6-month-old infant should be able to bring their hands to their mouth while holding a spoon of food pre-loaded by their caregiver. Next, we're looking for the baby to be able to suck food off the spoon using adequate lip closure (lips closing on an open cup or spoon) and swallow it. This fundamental sucking movement will eventually expand into a more complex maneuver of sucking from a straw.
- What if my baby is already sucking food from a spoon successfully with good lip closure? Great! You have obtained another prerequisite for straw drinking.
- What if my baby has NOT had the opportunity to suck food off a spoon? Don’t fret, there is still time for your baby to learn this spoon milestone. Start by using a baby-led spoon so that your baby can safely control and feed themselves independently (instead of a long-handled, adult-led spoon). Preload some puree onto the spoon and hand it to your baby for them to place in their mouth. That’s it! Have your little one practice using a spoon at least one meal a day, every day. Try using the baby-led Tiny Spoon, which was designed for 6–12-month-old babies to obtain their spoon feeding milestones.
#4. Able to Suck Food Off of a Finger + End of a Straw: Having your baby suck a puree off of your finger (or their finger) can help your little one learn the sucking motion needed for straw drinking. After you practice this a few times, you can then start to place the end of the ezpz Mini Training Straw (sensory bump side first) into the puree while blocking the other end of the straw with your finger. Have your baby suck the tiny amount of puree from the straw. Practice this movement a few times every day until you feel your baby is getting stronger sucking directly from the straw.
- What if my baby is already able to suck food off a finger and the end of a straw? You did it! You have obtained all the prerequisites for straw drinking! The next step is placing the Mini Straw into the Mini Cup and putting a small amount of puree on the end of the straw. This will help to encourage your baby to try drinking from it using the sensory bumps and straw angle to help facilitate a safe suck and swallow. After a few weeks of practice (with your baby using the sensory bumps to keep their lips at the tip of the straw for an appropriate swallow), flip the ‘training straw’ over to reveal the ‘advanced straw.' The advanced setting has no sensory bumps /straw angle, making it a little more challenging to drink from. Once your baby has been successful with the advanced side of the straw for a few days, then they have mastered straw drinking. Congratulations!
- What if my baby has NOT had the opportunity to suck food off of a finger and the end of a straw? Start having your baby suck puree off your finger this week. And then use the Mini Training Straw (straw end with the sensory bumps) to practice this strategy a few times until you feel your baby consistently sucking the puree from the end of the straw.
Straw drinking is an important developmental milestone for your little one to master. It’s a great way for your baby to explore mealtime independence, too. How will your family incorporate the Mini Cup + Straw Training System with your little one? Let us know and send us your straw drinking pics using the hashtag #ezpzfun.
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 26 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning Tiny Cup & Tiny Spoon (for infants) and the Mini Cup + Straw Training System & Mini Utensils (for toddlers).