Pregnancy and baby

Drinks and cups for children

Should my baby use a beaker or a cup?

Media last reviewed: 15/03/2013

Next review due: 15/03/2015

Solid foods and milk for your baby

As your baby eats more solid foods, the amount of milk they want will decrease.

Once your baby is eating plenty of solids several times a day, they may take less milk at each feed or even drop a milk feed altogether.

You should continue to breastfeed or give your baby infant formula until they’re at least one year old. Breastfeeding will continue to benefit you and your baby for as long as you carry on.

Beakers and cups for babies

If you’re bottle feeding, it’s a good idea to introduce a cup rather than a bottle from about six months onwards. By the time your baby is one, they should have stopped using bottles with teats. Otherwise, they may find it hard to break the habit of comfort sucking on a bottle.

Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip rather than suck, which is better for their teeth. Comfort sucking on sweetened drinks is the biggest cause of tooth decay in young children. If you use a bottle or trainer cup, don't put anything in it other than infant formula, breast milk or water.

Choosing a baby beaker or cup

It’s important to choose the right kind of beaker or cup. A beaker with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve) is better than a bottle or beaker with a teat. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat, which means that children spend a lot of time with the teat in their mouth. As soon as your child is ready, encourage them to move from a lidded beaker to drinking from a cup.

Drinks for babies and young children

Not all drinks are suitable for babies and young children. The following list explains what to give to your child and when.

Breast milk

This is the only food or drink babies need in the first six months of their life, and should continue to be given alongside an increasingly varied diet once solid foods are introduced.

Infant formula

This is usually based on cows’ milk and is the only alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby’s life. It can be used up to the time when ordinary cows’ milk can be introduced (at 12 months) or beyond.

Non-cows' milk formula

Only use soya-based infant formulas if your GP advises you to. Babies who are allergic to cows’ milk may also be allergic to soya.

Cows' milk

Cows’ milk doesn’t contain enough iron and other nutrients to meet young babies’ needs. It shouldn’t be given as a drink to babies until they are 12 months old. Whole milk should be given to children until they are two years old, as they need the extra energy and vitamins it contains.

Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once your child is two years old, as long as they're a good eater and they have a varied diet. Skimmed and 1% milk are not suitable for children under five, as they don't contain enough calories. For convenience, lower-fat milks can be used in cooking from the age of one.

Children should not be given unpasteurised milk because of the higher risk of food poisoning.

Goats’ and sheep’s milk and drinks made from oats

These are not suitable as drinks for babies under one year old as they don’t contain the iron and other nutrients babies need. As long as they're pasteurised, they can be used once your baby is one year old.

Rice drinks

Young children (under five years) should not be given rice drinks as they contain inorganic arsenic. Don't worry if your child has already had rice drinks. There is no immediate risk to children who have been consuming rice drinks, and it is unlikely that there would have been any long-term harmful effects. But to avoid them taking in any more inorganic arsenic, you should stop giving them rice drinks and switch to a different kind of milk. 

"Good night" milk

This is not suitable for babies under six months old. You can start using it after this age, but you don’t have to as there are no proven health benefits compared to using infant formula.

Water

Fully breastfed babies don’t need any water until they’ve started eating solid food. Bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather. For babies under six months, use water from the mains tap in the kitchen that's been boiled then cooled. Water for babies over six months doesn’t need to be boiled.

Bottled water is not recommended for making up infant formula feeds as it is not sterile and may contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate. If you have to use bottled water to make up a feed, check the label to make sure the sodium (also written as Na) level is less than 200 milligrams (mg) per litre, and the sulphate (also written as SO or SO4) content is not higher than 250mg per litre. Bottled water is not sterile, so it will need to be boiled like tap water before you use it to prepare a feed. Always use boiled water at a temperature of at least 70ºC, but remember to let the feed cool before you give it to the baby. 

Fruit juices

Fruit juices, such as orange juice or grapefruit juice, are a good source of vitamin C. However, they also contain natural sugars and acids, which can cause tooth decay. Babies under six months old shouldn’t be given fruit juices. Diluted fruit juice (one part juice to 10 parts water) can be given to children with their meals after six months. Giving fruit juice with mealtimes (rather than between) can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.

From age five, it's OK to give your child undiluted fruit juice, but stick to no more than one glass (about 150ml) each day. 

Squashes, flavoured milk, fruit drinks and sugary fizzy drinks

These are not suitable for young babies. These drinks contain sugar and can cause tooth decay even when diluted. For older babies and toddlers, these drinks can lead to poor appetite, limited weight gain and, in toddlers, diarrhoea. Even drinks that have artificial sweeteners can encourage children to develop a sweet tooth. If you want to give your child squashes, flavoured milk and juice drinks, keep them for mealtimes, make sure they’re well diluted and always give them in a feeder cup rather than a bottle.

Fizzy drinks are acidic and can damage tooth enamel so they shouldn't be given to babies and toddlers. Diet or reduced-sugar drinks aren't recommended for babies and toddlers. If you do give your child concentrated drinks containing saccharin (a type of sweetener), dilute them well (at least 10 parts water to one part sweetened drink).

Baby and herbal drinks

These usually contain sugars and are not recommended.

Hot drinks

Tea and coffee aren’t suitable for babies or young children. They can reduce the amount of iron absorbed from food, especially if they're given with meals. If sugar is added, they may contribute to tooth decay.

Further information

Media last reviewed: 11/03/2013

Next review due: 11/03/2015

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2013

Next review due: 23/09/2015

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Cagran said on 10 April 2014

Thank you for the advice, I am just starting solids and thought to start giving a cup; I thought that I have to keep giving a bottle but as I understand the best is transferring the formula in a baby open cup, is this right ? Can I simply start giving all her liquids in a cup instead of the baby bottle with teat? Is there is a good chance she will keep drinking as much as she needs because I tried yesterday and it was a bit in the mouth and I don't know how much out...thank you again;

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Obident said on 19 December 2013

As a dentist I am surprised this site even mentions that giving a young child anything other than milk or water to drink is acceptable. Juices, squashes and other acidic or sugar containing drinks are all damaging to teeth. It is a bad habbit to start, especially at a young age, even if diluted. Once started it can be impossible to break. It is extremely rare that vitamins cannot be provided by other means. Everyday I have to deal with the consequeces of societies acceptance that it is ok for small children to have sugar and acid in their drinks. Having fillings, extractions and toothache should not be something children have to deal with. Good brushing and fluoride applications are not enough to make it ok and prevent all problems.

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