Do Pacifiers and Sippy Cups Cause Speech Delay

When expectant parents register for baby shower gifts, common supplies to include among the hoped-for items include pacifiers and sippy cups. However, some well-meaning friends or family members who view the list may criticize the new parents for including them. Their chief concern may be a speech delay. “Use those,” they say, “and your child won’t learn to speak properly.”

Are their concerns valid, or do these people need to hold back from sharing their personal opinions? The answer isn’t a straightforward one, but new parents don’t necessarily need to shun all pacifiers and sippy cups. Even still, using these infant and toddler tools in moderation is a wise choice.

Pacifiers and Speech Delay

Research on the link between pacifiers and speech delay is conflicting. For example, a study out of Arkansas State University found no significant difference in speech abilities among kids who had rarely used a pacifier, those who had used a pacifier for a while, and those who had used one for an extended length of time. Some children in that study had sucked on a pacifier for as long as 55 months.

However, a study of children in Patagonia, Chile, linked speech troubles to extended pacifier use. Compared to their peers, kids who had used a pacifier for more than three years had triple the chances of dealing with a speech impediment.

Sippy Cups and Speech Delay

Not much research has been conducted on the specific link between sippy cups and speech delay. Some experts caution that the use of these cups may cause dental problems that then lead to speech problems. However, researchers have not yet directly proven or debunked this theory.

Sippy cups aren’t particularly good for teeth, however. They expose the front teeth to the sugars present in milk or juice. Kids who carry around their spill-proof cups for one drink after another throughout the day are exposing their teeth to these sugars again and again.

Serious dental problems may have an effect on proper speech development. Therefore, it stands to reason that the overuse of sippy cups could eventually have a negative effect on speech.

A Balanced Approach

Although research hasn’t uncovered a clear link between pacifiers, sippy cups and speech delay, that shouldn’t be a license to use these products unchecked. Both pacifiers and sippy cups encourage children to use an immature style of sucking. It’s a sucking pattern that’s just right for tiny babies, but as toddlers pass into their second year of life, they should be moving beyond it.


Some experts recommend that once a baby has passed six months of age, it’s time to start weaning him or her off of a pacifier. Early weaning is usually less challenging than it can be during the toddler years.

Even if the toddler continues to use a pacifier beyond his or her first birthday, it’s a good idea to encourage weaning within a few months of that milestone. In the Arkansas State University study on pacifier use, the moderate-use group included those children who had used this type of soother for up to 15 months.

In other words, parents need not shun pacifiers entirely. They can be quite useful for soothing small babies and may even have protective effects against the dangers of SIDS. However, parents must realize that the pacifier is only a short-term solution and should start introducing other self-soothing methods around the time that the baby turns six months old. Within a few months of the first birthday, the pacifier should be history. This will reduce any concerns about resulting speech delays or dental problems.

Sippy Cups

As for sippy cups, although moderate use shouldn’t majorly impede speech development, there are better alternatives out there, such as straw cups. Not only do straws require a different tongue movement than standard sippy cups, but they also deliver liquids toward the back of the mouth, which may reduce the risk of tooth decay. Many straw cups are spill-resistant, so parents will still receive the low-mess benefits that come with sippy cups.

For the sake of proper tongue movements, it’s best to keep straws short. Straws that go all the way to the back of the mouth can encourage kids to use the same improper tongue patterns that are displayed with sippy cup use. A straw needs to reach only to the forward portion of the tongue. Trimming straws to this length may be necessary.

New parents have enough to worry about. During the newborn days, the effects of pacifiers and sippy cups on speech delay shouldn’t be one of them. Moderate pacifier and sippy cup use is unlikely to render a young child unintelligible, but transitioning away from these devices at an early age is a wise decision.

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