Your Go-To Pediatric Nutrition Resource

How to Transition to an Open Cup – Part 2

One of the most common questions that comes up is how do you successfully transition from breast or bottle to cup?

Our colleague and friend Lisa Aquilino Haley, OT, shares her wealth of knowledge and practical tips with you so your families can be successful.

If you didn’t catch part 1 of this series, check it out here.


How much do I fill the cup?

Filling one of these cups almost up to brim might also seem counter intuitive, but actually may help. By filling up this small cup, (especially if it is see-through), it allows the parent to carefully control the amount of tipping, and allows the baby to immediately get contact with the contents of the cup.

Hold the cup near baby and wait for THEM to show interest in touching/leaning in towards the cup. If they are interested, you can gently guide their hands with yours onto the cup. Help them place the rim onto their bottom lip. The amount of tipping you first do is really only to wet their lips. They have to first learn how to place their lips over the edge of the cup. Once that little bit hits their lips, they will be motivated by the taste and will be happy to meet with immediate success and not spillage/coughing/choking. At first it may just be wetting their lips, but eventually, with practice, babies learn to control small sips.

The baby doesn’t close their mouth or just chews on the edge of the cup – now what?

Now what if baby just waits there, baby-bird style, mouth agape, while you are trying to carefully wet their lips with liquid? Promoting lip closure around the rim of the cup can be done by using some kind of cue to help babies “feel” where they need to place their lips. Look for cups that have a small ridge or bumps along the outer edge. Alternatively, create your own “tactile cue”. Rim the edge of the cup with a small amount of puree that your baby loves!


This is all nice, but the baby is still spilling everywhere and coughing – HELP!

If baby is still having difficulty managing liquids in their mouth (hey, this stuff flows FAST!). Consider slightly thickening the breastmilk or formula. You can do this with puree or yogurt (if old enough), as well as commercially available thickeners for babies. Over time, gradually thin the fluid slightly until you reach the original “thin” consistency fluid.

Quick review:

  • Find a small cup. Handles, weighted cups, and cut-outs for little noses are all optional! You know your baby best – there is no one size fits all. The appropriate size for little hands and mouths is what matters most – and then change it up from time to time so they don’t get “stuck” on a particular kind of cup.
  • Fill the cup to the rim.
  • Hold the cup out towards baby.
  • Encourage them to be involved in holding the cup, and guide them using hands-over-hand.
  • Place the edge of the cup onto the bottom lip.
  • The amount you tilt the cup should be minimal at first, a) because the fluid is already almost at their lips and b) you want really only to wet their lips at first.
  • You may want to coat the edge of the cup in a favourite puree, to increase lip closure and motivation. Think “sugar rimmed margarita glass” (note: please don’t actually rim the baby’s cup with sugar! If you want to make yourself a margarita, though, I don’t judge.)
  • Consider slightly thickening the fluid, gradually reducing this consistency over time.
  • As anxiety over messes subsides, reduce your involvement in holding/tipping the cup.

Encourage parents to hang in there!

It will require time and patience (and some spilling and messes), but no one goes off to college drinking from a sippy cup (I think!….). Consistent, short practice sessions with a cup each day will guide the baby well before there is ever any expectation for them to take full volumes by open cup.

And if parents need to use a sippy cup for convenience’s sake, there are times and places where that may be necessary. Consider spout less cups or straw cups (another skill for another blog post!), but no need for parents to feel guilty about having a sippy cup in their “cup drawer” for such occasions!

Thanks so much to Lisa for taking the time to write these wonderful tidbits for us. We hope you enjoyed them.

Check our her website here:


Charlene and Julie

P.S. Join our growing Facebook group: Pediatric Dietitians: Newbies to Masters

P.P.S. Love what Lisa has to say?! Join our wait list for our next round of our flagship course Infant Nutrition Essentials where she delivers a full module on Feeding Readiness, Safety and Function – An Occupational Therapist’s Perspective.

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