Learn how to teach baby to drink from a straw in minutes using one of three different tricks quickly and easily. Plus, discover the best straw sippy cup!
Any parent with a baby or toddler knows that there are a multitude of sippy cups available to choose from. It can be pretty overwhelming when you’re standing in front of a selection of 30+ cups. To make it more confusing, parents have the choice between the traditional spout shaped sippy cup or a no spill straw cup. My vote, as a therapist, is the straw cup. In fact, this is one of the first recommendations I make to families I am working with to improve feeding skills and even give sensory input. I know, you didn’t know the straw had so much power! To say this simply, straw drinking requires the use of different muscles and a more sophisticated motor plan, meaning it is a little more challenging.
Using a spout shaped sippy cup is the same sucking motion a child uses to drink from a bottle, so it isn’t progressing their skills much. You may be saying, “So what? What difference does it make?” Well, those straw drinking muscles they are using are the same muscles they need to manipulate food in their mouth better and say more speech sounds. Sure, a kid will still eventually get these skills, but by introducing a straw, you are laying a stronger foundation and they may master these skills sooner! In addition, straw drinking gives a lot of sensory feedback, the force it requires to suck can be very calming and organizing. Sounds great, right? By now, you are ready to run to the store and stock up! Before you hop in the car or click over to Amazon, there are a few things to consider first, like what kind of straw to use, what age you should introduce it, and how to actually teach a baby to drink from one (most of them need some help to get going).
When Can Babies Drink from a Straw?
Let’s talk about age first. Most babies are capable of being taught to drink from a straw at 9 months. Typically, toddlers will figure it out by age 2 on their own. I was able to teach my older son at 8 months and my younger son taught himself at 5 months! That was crazy, and I’m not trying to brag, he just kept watching his big brother do it and put it together on his own. I was pretty amazed when he reached for it one day and just took a drink like it was old hat. Although, that is pretty uncommon, potentially, it is possible.
One important word of caution, straw drinking can cause babies or toddlers to swallow quickly if they are sucking fast, which may make them cough and choke on the liquid. Swallowing is a very coordinated action that most of us take for granted, when something “goes down the wrong pipe”, liquid may actually enter our lungs and we begin coughing to get it out. It is okay if this happens occasionally, but if it happens often (and it could with babies), then you may need to lay off the straw for a little while or try putting thicker liquids into the cup (milk, milkshakes, or even applesauce) until they get the hang of it. Otherwise, they could end up with pneumonia. Also, make sure they are seated, it can get difficult for a toddler to manage walking and swallowing. If your child is greater than 15 months and still coughing frequently while using a straw, mention it to their doc.
How to Teach Baby to Drink from a Straw
Alright, so let’s get into the meat of this post… How to actually teach your child to drink from a straw. First of all, try and stick a regular straw in their mouth. It is important that it’s just a good old fashioned straw, because the no spill straw cups require you to suck really really hard. A baby may try to suck and when they don’t get anything instantly, just give up. Who knows, they may take to it right away, without any help from you. More likely, they will just hold their mouth open or put their mouth on it, but won’t suck. In this case, I would try the siphon technique:
1. Take the regular straw and stick it into a cup of water, so it is touching the bottom, and put your finger over the opening at the top. Keep your finger over the opening at the top so you are holding the liquid in the straw as you pull the straw out of the water, as I am doing in the picture above.
2. With your baby sitting firmly in a chair, hold the straw up over their open mouth and release the liquid so it falls into their mouth, being careful not to allow too much water to go in at a time.
3. Repeat this a few times, if your baby seems interested. If they aren’t up for participating, then try again on a different day. Hopefully your baby will start to close their mouth around the straw. If they aren’t, then stroke the sides of their cheeks and demonstrate so they can imitate you!
4. Once they are closing their mouth around the straw, keep your finger over the other end of the straw so they have to suck to get the liquid out. Keep putting more and more water into the straw so they are sucking more and more through the straw.
5. Now try putting the straw directly into the cup and letting them take a drink. Some will have figured it out at this point and won’t need any more help. If they go back to holding their mouth open, then start over and this time, when they start to suck the water out of the straw, flip the straw down into the open cup of water. This is a little tricky, you have to be fast. The idea is that you don’t break the sucking action and hopefully they start to make the connection that when they suck, they get a drink!
It may take several “practice sessions” before your babe masters this skill. If this approach isn’t working, I do have one more trick!
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Another Way to Teach Your Baby or Toddler Straw Drinking
You will need to get yourself a set of the Munchkin Take and Toss Straw Cup (this is in the picture at the top, but the straw is different in my pic), they usually come in a four pack and are super cheap. For some reason, when the lids are placed on these cups, it creates a vacuum. Put the straw in the cup, with the lid tightly on and put the straw up to your kid’s mouth and squeeze the cup. The water will actually shoot right into their mouth! Do this gently, again, you don’t want them to get too much. Encourage the stroking on the face if they don’t close their mouth and of course, demonstrate! Therapy supply companies actually sell and market cups designed to help your child drink from a straw, if you are interested in those, click here, they look like cute little honey bears and are a therapists favorite for sure.
Once they have mastered drinking from a regular straw, then it is probably a good idea to move to a no spill straw cup. Besides your own sanity, they have to suck harder to get the liquid out, which will decrease choking and coughing. As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of cups to choose from. I don’t have any brand that I particularly love, and if they fall the right way, they all leak a little (so much for no-spill). Also, they are a total pain to disassemble and reassemble. In my house, we have one water cup a day and one milk cup a day that I keep in the fridge between meals. I do this just to minimize how often I have put these things together. I hope I’m not swaying you away from the straw though, they are worth it!
The Best Straw Sippy Cup to Get
I have a few that I like and have worked well, but follow the steps below to make sure you find a straw that works well for you and your baby or toddler.
1. Is it a skinny straw? Some have really wide straws which give too much liquid and don’t work the muscles as well. Definitely choose a skinny or thin straw.
2. Is it insulated? I prefer these for milk, but buy plastic ones for water. Although, it’s your preference.
3. Can you flip the straw inside? Meaning is their a lid that slide to cover the straw. This helps minimize germs while traveling, but obviously isn’t necessary.
I have tried and like Munchkin and Playtex varieties well enough, skinny straws are the most important feature. Most of these need replaced after 6-12 months though because the plastic straws start to wear down and tear. If you don’t want to deal with threading the straw through though after washing, this Playtex version is really easy.
Keep in mind straw drinking requires a lot of muscle control and coordination. If you are trying this with a child with low muscle tone, it will be much more challenging, and will probably take multiple attempts before they learn how to do it.
I would love to hear how it goes with your little babe, let me know!
And, if you’d like to grab a totally free printable with my top 9 Tips to Improve Feeding (this is perfect for establishing good eating habits from an early age) then click here.
More on Feeding Milestones
Mega List of Finger Foods for Babies and Toddlers
The Complete Guide to Feeding Milestones
How to Wean Your Baby from the Bottle
Why You Should Let Your Baby Get Messy
How to Keep Your Child Seated for Meals
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 1 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.
I know this is a very old post, but I thought I’d take a shot anyway: what can be done about a baby who only wants to chew on the straw? I’ve tried the finger-suction routine with my nine-month-old, and all she wants to do is bite the straw. I’ve been trying with regular plastic soda straws, but I also bought the munchkin cup you suggested for after she gets the hang of sucking. Do I just need to wait a bit and try again, or is there a trick for getting her to suck instead of bite?
I would try again in a little while! But, I’d say that you also could try to use the take and toss cup and just squirt it into her mouth- that might be the trick for her!
This post is really good. Thank you. I have a 18 month old, who never took a bottle or sippy cups. He use to chew on sippy, so I stopped. I started small open cup which is working okay. I fill very little water or milk and he can drink by himself. He still does not know when to stop, and drinks it all at once. But he always has a chew motion when he starts drinking any liquid. I want to teach him straw, so I just started with the honey bear cup where you need to squeeze out the liquid. The problem is he will never close his mouth and always chews. Also, when I use the straw bottle, he takes the straw all the way in the mouth (so, he chews with his teeth). And as I squeeze the bottle, the liquid will anyways go in his mouth. So, at the end, it seems that this method is not helping. How far should the straw be in his mouth to practice sucking? Should the teeth be closed, when they use the straw ? I am not sure if I am trying the right way. Please help !! Thank you.
The straw only needs to be in their mouth a little ways, in front of their teeth. Many young kids will bite the straw as they drink because its easier though. Ideally his mouth should be slightly opened with his teeth spread apart a little as he drinks from a straw. I’d try the honey bear again and only pull out a little bit of the straw so he can’t chew on it- does that make sense?
Thank you Alisha. Will try this. Also, one other thing I noticed is that he never closes his lips if using a straw or open cup. Its more of chewing motion. Is there some way to teach him to close his lips when drinking?
If the straw is very short, he has to or he won’t be able to suck up the liquid. Does that make sense?
Help! My 12 month old son has been able to drink from a straw since about 9 months. I never thought about putting anything other than water in it at the time to make sure he didn’t associate the straw with water. We took the bottle away last week. He only had it for just over a month and was breastfed before that. We flavored his milk to entice him to not just spit it out and it seemed to be working. After a couple of days he started refusing not just the milk but water from the straw cup completely. I originally blamed it on the teeth that are coming in, but now I am not so sure that he isn’t just being stubborn. I’m an SLP so I am anti-sippy cup but don’t want him to get dehydrated. I’ve been making sure he eats foods with high water content to counterbalance his strike against drinking. Any other ideas?
Hey Courtney! Sorry for the delayed response! Are you able to use the take and toss or honey bear cup to squirt into his mouth?
My son is almost 10 months old and will drink from the straws, but we only do it at dinner time with a couple of ounces. We have not done full feedings with it. We use the take and toss but with regular one time use bendy straws that we cut to size so that he cant jam it in throat. Every so often he will fill his mouth and spill it out. But I am more concerned about when he seems to take it in fine but then coughs afterwards. How do I know that he isn’t inhaling it? He is sitting upright in the highchair when this happens. It doesn’t happen every sip he takes but probably one or twice per meal. He doesn’t tend to have any struggles when it comes to eating (aside from having a tongue tie at birth that was quickly diagnosed and taken care of).
I saw the comment about droppers- We had been instructed by our Pediatrician to give our son Vitamin D supplement since he was exclusively breastfed. It is a liquid that is given through a “dropper” but has a larger opening. About halfway through each dose he would start sucking on the dropper. When we started doing straws, we would give him this first, then quickly move to the straw on the cup. It helped him start sucking on the straw and realizing how it worked. Now he knows the straw without being led, but the dropper did help some. The difference was that the dropper had resistance and the straws we use do not, so the straw did surprise him when it gave him so much liquid.
I also noticed that this was written several years ago. Do you have any new suggestions on best cups to use? Has anything newer come out?
What age do you suggest switching to cups such as the Munchkin 360, or standard drinking cups? (Aside from the spill factor associated with them)
Thank you for this information. My son took easily to straws but this article helped me feel more confident to give it a try!
The coughing is very normal for this age, I’d use a straw cup with a valve in it so its no spill, these are harder to drink from and the liquid comes in slower. If he keeps coughing at every meal I’d actually use a sippy cup for a month or so. Around one is a great time to switch!
This article is great. Thank you. I have 12 month old that will drink water and juice from a straw sippy cup. We have two different kinds of cups. The Playtex straw cup she sucks up the liquid easily but lets most of it out of her mouth and just keeps repeating that. I am not sure if she can’t handle the amount of liquid she sucks up and doesn’t know how to swallow it? Is there any tips on correcting this? We also have a no spill NUby straw cup that she can use but doesn’t drink much out of it at a time . It seems like it is a lot more work to get the liquid out. We are having trouble getting her to drink her formula in anything other than a bottle. She will drink less than 1/2 the normal amount it at all when using a spouted sippy cup and will only take a few sips if in a straw cup. Any suggestions for this as well?
Taking just sips at this age of water is great and yes it does sound like she’s getting too much liquid when she lets it run out of her mouth. I’d use the more challenging straw cup more of the time. Although I obviously love the straw, in this case I might use a traditional sippy cup for a while a couple of times a day if she’s able to drink more. I’d keep using the straw though too, and as she drinks better from that phase out the regular sippy cup. The cup with a lot of liquid coming out is okay as long as she’s spitting and not coughing, again just give to her on occasion so she gets practice, she’ll get better at this!
Here is the Tips How to Encourage Children To Drink Water
Has anyone mentioned a baby drinking from a straw after first learning to take liquid from an eye dropper. My son did this. He took liquid from an eye dropper at 5 months old, and after attempting to chew on the dropper for a few days he quickly started enjoying sticking his tongue on the end of the dropper at the end of the liquid to feel the suction. After a few days of this he started actively sucking on the dropper. When I did offer him a straw a few months later, he drank from it immediately with no problem.
I never tried it, but I can totally see how that work!
Omg it WORKED!!
My baby is currently 11 months, or 9 adjusted because she was 10 weeks early. It took us months to learn to breastfeed, so once we did, I didnt want to see a bottle ever again. However, she’s about to go to daycare but refusing the bottle. She just chews the nipple. I was so, so worried about how the daycare wouldn’t get fluids into her. I tried your method and she immediately took to it! She’s not too good at it yet, but for having tried it for the very first time, it went very well.
Yay!!! That’s great Natalia! Good job to both of you:)
Wow! I can’t believe this worked so quickly. I tried it on our 10 month old and after a few tries, she got it! Thank so much!
Yay! It’s so cool, right! Thanks for sharing:)
I have 2 kids and I am having trouble getting them to drink from a sippy cup/straw cup. My older one, just turned 3, can suck the liquid up using a straw but she would only do it for fun. She refuses to drink an entire serving using a straw. She has always refused to use a sippy cup so she is still drinking out of a bottle (sigh). My youngest, 22 months, not only refuse to use a sippy cup but also shows no interest in a straw at all. At this point, should i skip through the sippy cup step and move directly to straw cups for both kids? How can i get my kids to change their behaviors?
I got you covered! I have a post called “how to wean from the bottle”. Click on articles in the menu bar and scroll down, once you’ve read that, let me know if you have more questions, but it should answer all your questions!
Thank you. It is tough to stick to it as I know you know! They can be so stubborn and so can we. We are waiting on the results of his biopsies now and then we can definitely focus on more sensory related therapy.
Hi Alisha – This is a fantastic post and I will be trying this with our 17 month old, Liam. Since about 9 months old we struggled with feeding and now it is a complete oral aversion. In fact, if anything other than a bottle with Pediasure in it is presented, he locks his mouth shut and shakes his head no. We have therapy – OT and ST as well as we just had an endoscopy yesterday to see if there are any GI reasons. So far, the preliminary results say that all is clear and this is sensory. I hope that trying to get him to drink from a straw cup would help him advance onto other foods appropriate for his age. He gags if anything is put near his mouth or anything thicker than Pediasure is there too.
I think this is a good thing to try. Also consider a sippy cup, in these case it might not be as obtrusive and you may be able to step down to a straw. This can be really challenging I know! You’ll want to try a sippy cup without the valve if he will take it to his mouth at all- experiment with both. From a sensory standpoint they both have their pros and cons.
Thanks! Yea, he won’t take anything other than a bottle. If we put a cup there he will push it away and close his mouth. If we put handles on the bottle (we have the ThinkBaby ones) he won’t take it. If we give him a cup he throws it. We can’t win haha!
I get it, trust me! I’ve worked with kiddos that do the same thing before. Glad you have services, and I would just keep trying. No pressure or anything, just put it there, every day. Have no expectation.
This post is amazing! Thankyou! I was reading the one about weaning off the bottle for my 13 month old and continued reading this one. I had not even thought about teaching him to use a straw cup. Occasionally I would offer him my water cup that had a straw but he didn’t get how to use it and I had no idea how to teach him.i have a take and toss straw cup here for when my niece visits so When I fed him breakfast this morning I tried it using your tricks and he learned in 5 minutes! I can’t wait to go to Wal-Mart and pick up some new straw cups for him and throw out the soppy cups that leak all over my house. Thank you again!!
That’s great Sarah! Thanks for sharing!
Great post! I read all the entries and some moms also describe a similar situation but not quite… I have a 17 month old daughter (15 corrected) and every time I introduce a straw she will bite down with her front teeth. Her keeping her teeth firmly clamped down prevents me from doing the two methods you suggested (letting fluid fall out the straw or squeeze the liquid out of the cup into the straw). As soon as she clamps down I stop and try another time, but the problem persists and it’s been months now. Should I look for a very rigid straw she can’t block? Any ideas? TIA!!
Ahh, yes, I have seen kiddos do that before. Yes, look for a rigid straw, take and toss brand has some that will work perfectly!
Thanks for your article. My year old twins ( eleven month adjusted) have been using straw drinking cups since they started drinking water and now they are drinking whole milk. They seem to know how to drink out of the straw cup but they have started drinking the milk and then spitting it out. Any tips?
Ah, yes, that is quite common. Are they just doing it with milk because they aren’t used to it in the cup or is it with the water too?
We have started warming up the milk and that has helped some. They also do it with water.
Young toddlers love doing this because it is funny or they are experimenting. I know it is incerdibly annoying, but I would take it off of them for a few minutes and say, “milk stays in your mouth.” Then give it back and give them praise for any swallows they do. It will take a lot of consistency, but is probably a phase that will pass. I’m assuming they are able to drink well from the straw at times so they actually have the skill, if they haven’t they may not have coordinated the whole sequence. In that case I would try some thicker liquids like a milkshake.
Thanks for this comment! This is exactly what I was looking for. My 10 month old is great at drinking from straws but then just lets the fluid dribble out. I’ll try warming it up first. I hadn’t even thought about it but it’s the first fluid that’s not warm formula, so that might be why. Thanks!