Promoting a Healthy Swallow

Did you know that swallowing follows developmental stages? Just like walking and talking, swallowing is a skill that develops as babies and toddlers grow. The swallow pattern infants use to breastfeed or drink from a bottle is known as a “suckle-swallow” pattern. This means that the baby’s tongue moves from the front to the back of the mouth when swallowing liquids and soft solids. When babies are around a year old, this pattern should change. The tongue tip will rise to the alveolar ridge (i.e. bumpy area behind the front top teeth) and use wave-like motions to propel food to the back of the mouth. These motions are more appropriate for the advanced food textures that are usually introduced to children as they mature.

It is typical to transition to using sippy cups once a child begins to drink more than breast milk or formula. However, using hard-spout sippy cups can actually negatively affect the development of swallowing, because these types of sippy cups encourage the child to continue drinking as if from a bottle. This can lead to mouth breathing, and new foods can be difficult or messy for a child to eat. Speech sound delays, such as a frontal lisp or problems with the /th, d, l, n/ sounds, are also a concern because of the potential dental issues and tongue thrust that come with using a sippy cup.

The good news is that there are many no-spill cups available that encourage appropriate tongue movement, lip puckering, and lip contracting. All of these cups promote a healthy, mature swallowing movement. If your child is attached to their Paw Patrol or Frozen cups, many of these alternative options come in fun colors, characters, or preferred designs!

Alternatives include: 

  1. Pop-up straw cups:To further develop tongue tip elevation, cut the straw (once the child has mastered using it) so it will just reach the tongue tip when the child drinks.
  2. 360° no spill cups: These cups promote heathy oral motor development, while also being no spill.
  3. Open-top cup: Introduce (with parental supervision to avoid messes) and let the child practice from the “big kid” cup.

Tips for encouraging your child to use the alternative cups:

  1. Choose a cup that matches your child’s interests (animals, bright colors, favorite characters, etc.).
  2. Fill the cup with familiar liquids. Breast milk or formula are good options for babies.
  3. If your child is older, fill the cup with preferred drinks. Even fun ones such as milkshakes, smoothies, or chocolate milk can be a good starting point for regular use.
  4. Make drinking from a “big kid” cup an exciting thing! Talk about it positively and be very encouraging.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s swallowing, please reach out to us at Sidekick Therapy Partners!

-Julianne Pearson, M.S., CCC-SLP


Kennedy, Edwena. (2019, February 28). Open Cup Drinking 101. My Little Eater.

Potock, Melanie. (2017, February 28) Sippy Cups: 3 Reasons to Skip Them and What to Offer Instead. ASHA Leader Live.