How My Child With Down Syndrome Learned To Drink From A Straw Cup

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Noah’s making a straw look easy today! If you watched today’s video you may be wondering why in the world he’s “drinking” his baby food through a straw through! I’ll explain why at the end of this post. I’ll also tell you about how it’s a great oral motor exercise that you can do at home to help strengthen your child’s mouth muscles. So just stick with me. :-)

baby with down syndrome learning how to suck from a straw

Yelp, Noah’s DRINKING his fruits and vegetables for lunch!

My goal: Have Noah Transition Off The Bottle by 12 months..

It’s been quite the journey to get him to this point. We started using a straw when Noah was 6 months old. It was slightly successful initially but then Noah started pushing the straws away and was not interested so I gave up for awhile. (Sometimes it’s best to give our kids a break so that learning new habits remain fun instead of becoming frustrating; which ultimately have the reverse effect from what we want.)

I however was determined to have him off the bottle by 12 months. This is what I tell everyone else to do, so I better practice what I preach. I however realize that this is not possible for all children especially those with Down syndrome.

little small bottles tiny hands down syndrome

Bye, bye bottle….

There are different options for weaning off the bottle, you can go to a sippy cup, a straw cup or an open cup. The majority of pediatricians will now recommend a straw cup as it is better for oral motor development as well as keeping the cavities away. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, the straw cup was the only option I considered as I knew that it would serve the double purpose of building muscles and helping with speech development which you can read about in our post “Why A Straw Cup Is Better Than A Sippy Cup

There are about 5 different types of straw cups in our cabinets as of now. Much like choosing a bottle, a straw cup is going to be an individual choice for a child. I am going to tell you what worked for us, but it may not work for your child. I also did this without the help of a speech therapist, so don’t consider this expert advice. :-)

The Search For The Best Straw Cup

It is important to remember that this is not a quick process of “use a bottle one day” and “use a straw cup the next” (well maybe some of you will get lucky). You have to guarantee that the child is getting enough fluids while they are transitioning to the straw cup, so you will still be using the bottle until they figure it out. I however would get quite frustrated with my husband for breaking out the bottles because they were easier and less messy than the straw cups, especially as Noah was learning how to use a straw. (Just a quick side note to remember to be patient with your child as they are transitioning from the bottle to a straw cup; they will spill milk on themselves….and on you. It’s just something that comes with the territory.)

baby down syndrome holding bottle cute sleepy

But he looks so cute with his bottle…..

Here’s a quick look at some of the various straw cups we used before finding the best straw cup. (And don’t worry, I promise to still tell you why Noah’s drinking his baby food from a straw.) :-)

1. The Playtex Straw Cup

straw cup how to learn to drink down syndrome

Playtex Baby Lil’ Gripper Twist ‘n Click Straw Cup

We started out using the Playtex Baby Lil’ Gripper Twist ‘n Click straw cup. The reason I chose this cup was that it was the only one labeled as being able to squeeze the cup and liquid would go up the straw. I knew that part of the process was being able to push liquid into the child’s mouth so that they realized what the straw was for. Noah kind of got the idea of what to do with his lips but rarely was successful at actually getting liquid. He eventually just started pushing the cup away or dodging the straw.

2. The Honey Bear Straw Cup

talk tools honey bear straw cup down syndrome

Honey Bear Straw Cup, by Talk Tools

 

Honey Bear Straw Cup is the famous straw cup from Talk Tools.  Our occupational therapist was attempting to get Noah to like the straw again close to his birthday. We attempted to use the honey bear, which I am sure a lot of you have used with huge success.

Noah however thought it was terrifying and did not want that bear near him let alone in his mouth! :-)

crying baby who doesn't like drinking from honey bear

I have never seen him cry when presented with a straw cup, but this bear must have given him quite the look. Needless to say we didn’t try this at home. I think that we have found cups that mimic the good things about this cup minus the scary bear.

3. The Juice Box

juice boxes speech therapy oral motor

The classic juice box! Easy, and cheap.

When I first started thinking about using a straw our good friends at The Fun House told me that I should use a regular, good old juice box. She said that she taught her son to drink from a straw the first time by using this. I don’t know why I didn’t listen to her initially. She told me that I could easily spray a little bit of the juice in the mouth and once they got a taste they would want to figure out how to get more.

So after months of trying to get him to drink from our straw cup, I tried the juice box. I kid you not, I sprayed a little bit into Noah’s mouth and he locked down on it and went to town. I do not promise the same results, but I do encourage you to try it out.

juice box drinking from straw kid boy baby down syndrome

Why did the juice box work so well?

Here are my theories as to why the juice box worked well for us.

  1. Noah rarely, if ever, had juice and he thought it was awesome and wanted more.
  2. There is no valve on this straw (much like the honey bear) so you don’t have to work too hard to suck it up. The playtex cup doesn’t have a valve but it is much harder to actually get liquid up, it is even harder to push up.
  3. The straw was bent and rested against his tongue rather than hitting the top of his mouth. I think that was the biggest realization as I continued working on this with Noah, he only sucked when it was against his tongue. Granted this is not the ideal way to suck, but it is a good place to start. I think one reason he pushed the straws away was because he didn’t like it hitting the roof of his mouth.
  4. You are able to easily squeeze liquid into the mouth
  5. The straw is small and therefore requires less force to actually get liquid up by sucking. I would get into the physics of that but I don’t want to bore you.

4. Rubbermaid Litterless Juice Box

best juice box for learning how to drink from a straw

Just look at that lip closure!

Now that I knew that Noah was capable of using a straw I just had to find the right cup that replicated the juice box so he could get his milk. Our friend Gretchen recommended the Litterless Juice Box. You can order them from Amazon (see the previous link) but I have also found them at Wal-Mart and The Container Store. I think that the latter consistently has them whereas I have yet to see another Wal-Mart with one. They worked great, I just kept losing the straw inside. There is an angle to the straw so that it is not hitting the roof of the mouth and Noah was able to suck well.  It also has the ability to be squeezed and liquid easily goes into the mouth.

5. Take and Toss Straw Cup: Our Favorite Straw Cup!

The winner of straw cup show down however was the Take & Toss Straw Cups. They do not have a valve and are surprisingly spill proof (although they do not survive drops to the floor as well as others.

6 reasons the Take and Toss Cups are so awesome!

1. You can easily squeeze liquid into the child’s mouth.

2. You can hold it vertically without it spilling to rest the straw on the child’s tongue.

3. They are also extremely cheap and easy to find.

4. You get 5 cups for about 3-5 dollars.

5. They come in fun colors.

6. They seem to work (at least for the people I have suggest them to.) I have sent a few friends home with these to try and they usually have good success.

6. Our next cup to try: The Lollacup!

lollacup-best toddler straw sippy cup

The Lollacup is fun…and functional!

There is one cup out there that we have yet to try but when I saw it on TV I knew that the people who invented it were brilliant.

One of the shows Rick and I enjoy together is Shark Tank. A couple went on with their straw cup and it looked to me like pure genius. The Lollacup has no valve, a soft straw, a weighted straw inside so that it got all the liquid when it was tilted in the hands of a toddler and had handles. Knowing the wave of the future will be straw cups based on what pediatricians are recommending, it was one of those things where you say “why didn’t I think of that”.

Regardless of what straw cup you choose, remember to stay at it!

Noah had lots of leakage around the mouth initially and has consistently gotten better. Rick used to get very frustrated with the leaking hence the reason he offered the bottle. We have done off and on beckman oral motor exercises that may have helped, but considering how often we actually did them the fact that we didn’t do them as often as we should have, I doubt it was a lot. :-)

I think simply using the straw consistently built strength in the mouth. So don’t give up if it is a mess for awhile, they will get stronger.

We have now been able to use straws with valves, however I do not like the straw cups that make you almost bite the straw to create an opening and then suck through a valve. Those cups are hard even for me. They are meant to be completely spill proof, but they are practically drink proof as well.

We have had great success with the playtex brand now that Noah knows what he is doing and Noah can used their “advanced” straws.  With these cups I actually trust him to drink in the backseat as well as around the house.  I would not put a Take & Toss cup in his hands alone in a backseat for fear of the top coming off.

Ok, so why was Noah drinking his baby food from a straw??

oral motor baby down syndrome special needs help

He’s getting this whole drinking from a straw thing down!

If you watched the video at the top of the page, you may be wondering why Noah is drinking his pureed baby food through a straw. Well, I guess you can say we “upgraded” the food Noah takes in from the straw, so to speak. Let me explain.

Anna, the wonderful mother of Ellie, taught me how to really give the mouth a workout. She recommended putting a straw through the tops of pureed baby food, and so in this video you see Noah doing that for the first time today. As Anna mentions in her blog post, this is a great exercise to help strengthen your child’s oral-maxillary facial muscles (try saying that 3 times real fast!)

We like to use the small plastic containers like the one you se in the picture above. It’s a much cheaper way to easily eat the purees. And for those of you who have to use thickening fluids in your child’s milk or formula, the straw through the top of the baby food container may be something you want to consider trying. As far as finding a good straw to use; I use the straws from the Take & Toss cups I mentioned above. They are hard plastic and hold up nicely.

It think Noah definitely enjoyed it, just don’t let his mouth know it got quite the workout. :-)

What tips do you have for teaching your child to drink from a straw?  What are you favorite straw cups? By the way, if you try out this little tip, be sure to come back and leave a comment telling us how it went. Bonus points if you post a picture! :)

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Comments

  1. This post is a wonderful resource. Thank you. I’ve been trying to transition my breastfed baby to a sippy cup, but the straw cup seems like a much better option. Particularly as it will give her a useful workout of the same muscles used in speech. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for this post! Very informative. I was wondering whether you’ve given the Lollacup a try and what your thoughts are.
    Best
    - Dorrie

    • We actually just bought that cup and I think it is awesome. I love the weight in the straw. Noah is able to actually empty it. It is easy to suck through as well.

  3. Heather Austin says:

    Thank you! I feel some better after reading your blog! My daughter Isabella will be 3 in August and we (her dad and I and her speech therapist) have been working forever with her to drink from a cup. She has proved to us she can do it she just won’t! Isabella is very healthy and has no health issues just has always had feeding issues and now delayed speech! I myself have all those same cups even the honey bear and it’s so funny I had just ran across the Lollacup on the internet right before I found your blog and was getting ready to order that! It always helps to know that someone out there knows, feels and understands what you are going through!!

  4. I have been feeling like such a failure over getting my daughter off the bottle. this has helped me out so much. thank you I cant wait to go shopping!!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this and got lots of ideas–I’m excited to try it out. I’m still breastfeeding my son at 15 months and get frustrated when I keep trying the honey bear and open cup and seem to be getting nowhere. I have fears I will still be breastfeeding this child for years! Thanks for all of the thoughtful advice.

  6. Madeline H. says:

    I’m so happy for Noah! A question, how did you get him to drink from a straw while keeping his tongue in his mouth? My brother uses a straw with part of his tongue out.

  7. Thanks for this! I am trying to get my tube-fed son to take a cup / bottle / straw anything liquid so we can hopefully get him off the tube. We’ve tried all these but might have to get them all out again and try, try again!

  8. Christina says:

    I have been meaning to write a comment for months: Thank you so much for this post! You have no idea how much it has helped us. My daughter, now 3 years old, has a rare genetic disorder – we are struggling with global delays. She has now mastered the straw thanks to your fantastic guide of what to try and what to expect!

  9. Thanks for the post. I just started my son, Luke, on the Honey Bear bottle and he just turned 10 months old. He seemed to take to it quite well even finishing an entire 4 oz. at one sitting but then other times only wanted to drink 2oz. from it so I would finish with a regular bottle. I only wish I had started this earlier. I was doing the Beckman exercises up until about 6 months or so when he started getting teeth! But I’m back on it again and sticking with them this time along with the honeybear bottle. I really like your suggestion of drinking purees with straw. Luke’s therapist has me feeding him with a small syringe, alternating sides of the mouth and then following that using a spoon and resting it on lower lip until he retracts his tongue and then I stick it in his mouth while supporting his lower jaw with my other hand. The idea is to help him keep lip closure throughout the swallow. He actually does ok but we still need a bit of work. I will ask his speech therapist about your method on Luke. It may not be where she wants him yet but I REALLY like the idea of giving his tongue/mouth a little workout! Thanks again for your informative post!

  10. Thank you so much for posting this information! I’ve been trying to start transitioning my 11 month old off his bottle for a few weeks with no success. I knew the benefits to a straw over a spout cup but was willing to try anything that would work! This article gave me confidence that my little guy and I could make the straw work. We had tried the Playtex cup you suggested but he just wanted to chew it. We just tried a juice box and he LOVED it! Later today we will try his formula in the Take and Toss and hopefully he will be loving the Playtex cups soon! I am THRILLED! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  11. THANK YOU so much for this post!! It helped us stay committed to the straw when we would begin to get frustrated, and now our little James is drinking through a straw like a champ. :)

  12. Thanks for this post. Our little guy is doing pretty well with a sippy cup and can drink from a straw, but I’ve been on the hunt for ‘the perfect’ straw cup. He turns 2 on Sunday, so I’m doing a little online birthday shopping.

  13. Courtney says:

    I know this post is quite old now, but I want to thank you for posting. My son has had feeding difficulties since birth and at almost 16 months I’m STILL trying to get him to drink from anything but his bottle. I have just purchased one of the ARK cip kups and I am praying this will be “the one”. I did try the juice box trick (with both baby juice and chocolate milk…. But he wouldn’t have a bar of it.

  14. How did you transition from swallowing the thick food to thin liquids. I’ve been working with my 12 month old on this for months and he just can’t swallow thin liquids. I feel very frustrated.

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