What is a trainer cup?
A trainer cup is basically any type of cup or beaker that aids your baby’s transition from the breast or bottle to drinking from a regular open cup like a grown-up. There are a number of other names used, such as ‘beaker’, ‘sippy cup’ or ‘first cup’.
There are a wide variety of trainer cups to suit different ages and preferences. You can pick from hard or soft spouts, spouts or straws, straws or sports spouts, free-flow or valve, open cups with a rim valve or angled child-friendly open cups with a weighted base.
Check with the different brands to see which type they recommend for your baby or toddler’s age.
The British Dental Health Foundation advises that early weaning from the bottle can help stop your baby from developing dental problems. They recommend trying to get your baby to drink milk or water from a special cup by about 6 months, or when able to sit up and hold things on their own. Most manufacturers have products suitable from 4 months onwards.
Don’t feel you have to buy a trainer cup - many mums find their baby’s happiest going straight from the bottle or breast to an open cup. Yes, this can be messy, but saves a lot of interim stages and a cupboard full of beakers!
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Do you want a soft spout?
Soft spouts may provide an easier transition for babies who are used to a bottle teat or a soft breast. They can also be more comfortable on tender teething gums.
You can buy soft spout trainer cups that are either free-flow or with a valve, which will help make it non-spill but will require a sucking action. Many manufacturers market the softer spouts at younger babies, from 4 months up.
The main draw-back to soft spouts is that it’s very easy for your baby to chew holes in them, so look for an option that you can get replacement spouts for – it’ll be cheaper than buying a whole new beaker.
Do you need a straw, not a spout?
Many children like to move from a spouted trainer cup to a beaker with a silicone straw built into the cap because it can seem more grown up. Tommee Tippee markets its version from 12 months up.
A beaker with a straw can provide a slightly better workout for your toddler’s mouth than a spout because he has to purse his lips around the straw, rather than use a supping/lapping motion.
You can buy beakers with straws where the straw has its own in-built valve as well as a fold-over cap that makes it spill proof. Or you can just try with a standard disposable straw in an open cup.
The follow-up to a straw is a sport spout. Designed for older children, these are pull-out rigid plastic spouts that push back into place and resemble those found on adult sport bottles.
Do you need a free-flow option?
Once you have selected a soft or hard spout, you can then pick either a:
- Valved spout – when your child sucks, the valve opens allowing air to flow, giving a continuous flow of liquid. When she stops sucking, the valve closes.
- Free-flow spout – there’s no valve in the spout limiting the flow. The liquid pours straight out into your child’s mouth when the beaker is tipped up.
Valved spout pros
- Many manufacturers and mums claim that beakers with valves are easier to use, as the sucking motion more closely mimics the bottle or breast.
- Valved spouts do have the clear advantage of being non-spill.
Valved spout cons
- Looking at chat forums, other mums say their children still find the sucking motion difficult and they end up removing the valve.
- You do need to be extra careful when cleaning a valved trainer cup, ensuring that you take all the pieces apart properly first.
Free-flow spout pros
- Many dentists and speech therapists prefer the free-flow options. This is because the mouth forms a different shape around the free-flow spout, exercising the facial muscles in different ways. Facial muscles need to be exercised in order to help speech development.
- Liquid is less likely to pool within the mouth and against the teeth, which can cause tooth decay. Instead, it goes more quickly down the back of the mouth.
- A free-flow beaker most closely mimics the sensation of drinking from an open cup, which is the end goal.
Free-flow spout cons
- Liquid will inevitably spill out when the beaker is tipped over, which can be inconvenient in the car or buggy.
- Some toddlers also find the flow of liquid too fast and can gag.
Do you need handles?
You can buy trainer cups with handles or with soft-grip sections to make them easier to hold. Handles initially help your child hold the beaker at the correct angle, giving them self-control, encouraging independence. Handles also help little hands hold onto fatter cups. A number of manufacturers market handles for bottles that can then be used with trainer cups in the same range. Some models have removable handles, or handles that can be removed one at a time.
Typically, beakers for older toddler don’t have handles and they start to resemble sports beakers. They can have a curved shape or an easy-grip rubber section. As your child becomes more confident with her beaker, it’s worth trying a handle-free version, as this will help the move to the open cup.
Do you need to take it out and about?
If you want to take your trainer cup out and about, you need to ensure that you pick a non-leak variety. The majority of trainer cups are marketed as being leak-proof owing to the seal between the lid and the cup.
If you prefer a free-flow model, pick one with a flip-up spout. Alternatively, opt for one with a valve. You can also find trainer cups with caps over the spout or straw for extra security.
A handled beaker is useful because you can attach it to a buggy with a clip, or look for the Happy HollyDaisy My All Grow’d Up Cup, which includes a suction pad for the cup-holder base.
If you’re carrying around beaker a lot, be aware of your child’s dependence on it. If it’s a valved version, is she getting plenty of opportunities to try an open cup as well? Is she filling up on liquid rather than solids? Also think about what drinks you’re putting in it, especially if you toddler often falls asleep with it in the car or buggy - sugary liquids constantly pooling against her teeth isn’t good. The British Dental Health Foundation advises you avoid juices and squash as frequently sipping these throughout the day can cause dental decay.
Don’t forget to frequently clean the trainer cup. There’s a chance that when the cup is carried out and about, it can get left in the car or buggy and then just be refilled the next day without being washed in between.
Do you need an open cup?
An open cup provides the best workout for your child’s mouth, and is ultimately what he needs to end up drinking out of. Many toddlers start to use an open cup from about 18 months. However, some children go straight to the open cup without ever using a spouted version (with some help from mum and some inevitable spills).
Once your child can manage an open cup by himself, he’ll have reached the final developmental stage – that is, balancing the cup, tilting it and shifting the weight of the liquid into the mouth whilst controlling the flow so that he doesn’t gag. Be prepared for plenty of accidents along the way!
There are a number of different open cups. Cups such as the Bickiepegs Doidy are specially weighted to help your child balance and angle the cup. The Amadeus 360 junior cup includes a valve around the lip of the cup to reduce the spills, whilst still providing the open cup sensation. Or you can just take the lid off your regular beaker!
Will you use it for milk feeds?
You can put expressed breast milk (EBM) or formula milk in a trainer cup, as well as cows’ milk. But remember, your baby shouldn’t have cow’s milk until 12 months of age.
It’s recommended you sterilise bottles and cups that are used for milk feeds until your baby is 12 months old, because of the particular bugs that can be harboured in old milk. If you’re using a trainer cup for milk feeds, you need to ensure you pick one that’s easy to take apart and clean, and getting one that’s safe to put in the steriliser is a smart move. You might also prefer to opt for a BPA-free trainer cup, especially if you use a steam steriliser. You can find out more about BPA in our safety update.
Some mums recommend using a different coloured trainer cup for milk feeds, so your baby knows when to expect milk or water.
What’s the latest thinking on dental health?
The Department of Health recommends that babies be introduced to drinking from a cup from 6 months, and the use of a bottle be discouraged after 12 months.
Both dentists and speech therapists emphasise moving as quickly as possible to a cup that pours fluid into the mouth rather than demanding sucking movements that swirl the drink around the teeth. Spouts should be short to ensure the fluid is tipped just inside the lips. Prolonged sucking on a spouted beaker is thought to cause the same problem as a dummy is said to.
And what should you put in your trainer cup? Well, the shared advice seems to be milk or water. The Department of Health advises that babies need only breast milk or formula milk until 6 months. Other fluids should be introduced at the same time as you wean, although your baby's main drink will still be milk. Some mums who wean their babies at an earlier age may want to introduce a small beaker of water to aid digestion.
The British Dental Health Foundation advises avoiding juices and squash since even real fruit juice and sugar-free squashes contain acids that can damage tooth enamel. The key is moderation!
Where do you start?
To help you make sense of all the different trainer cup brands and styles on the market, we’ve undertaken in-depth reviews of beakers and cups. We also have dedicated weaning, breast and bottlefeeding and toddler feeding sections full of articles, info, tips and advice.
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