Becoming a new parent is an exciting time, but it also comes with many new challenges and questions to consider. Parents want the best for their young children and naturally want to ensure that the choices they make now will benefit them as they grow up. With that in mind, many parents have asked the question in recent years - does the traditional practice of giving pacifiers and sippy cups to children in fact contribute to a delay in the normal development of their speech and language skills?
Sippy cups and pacifiers have many positive effects for young children. They are convenient and allow children to occupy themselves without worry of major spills, and can act as a transitional aid for children too old to breastfeed but too young to use full sized glasses. While many children can use them without any issue, there are some possible problems to bear in mind.
Sippy cups encourage similar drinking methods to that used for breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle, such as sucking and drinking near the back of the throat rather than the muscle actions associated with traditional cups. Prolonged use of sippy cups may delay the development of the muscle groups associated with speech and articulation as the child will not have sufficient practice using these muscles.
When a child uses a sippy cup extensively throughout both the day and night time from a young age up to and beyond the age of 3 this can encourage issues when their first teeth develop. The use of a sippy cup can encourage an "open bite" - this is a shape of the teeth and mouth where the top and bottom teeth do not fit correctly when the mouth is closed. This can set as the child develops and increase the possibility of the child acquiring a lisp or having issues with certain hard letter sounds such as "T"s and "K"s.
Many parents rely on pacifiers with young children as they are weaned off of breastfeeding. A pacifier can be a welcome help in calming a teething or upset child. Fussy babies may cry around the clock and pacifiers can be perfectly appropriate for young babies up to 6 months of age. It's advisable however to wean the child off it completely by the age of one, as after this it can increase the risk of several health problems.
Excessive and prolonged use of pacifiers can increase the risk of ear infections, including middle ear infections. This occurs because the tube in the middle ear drains fluid into the throat, which can become irritated and blocked by the motions of pacifier use. A sufficiently serious ear infection can scar the eardrum and reduce hearing permanently, also having an adverse effect on speech development.
Studies have suggested that overuse of pacifiers can cause developmental issues for children if they are used in the place of normal nurturing and communication behaviours between parents and young kids. Where the pacifier is used to mollify the child instead of engaging and comforting emotionally, it can discourage the development of speech and cognition as it stops the child from being able to practice expressing its needs and strengthening the muscle and mental processes associated with speech and language.