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Drinks and cups for babies and young children

Solid foods and milk for your baby

You should continue to breastfeed or give your baby first infant formula until they're at least 1 year old.

Breastfeeding will continue to benefit you and your baby for as long as you carry on.

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 even drop a milk feed altogether.

Beakers and cups for babies

Introduce your baby to drinking from a cup or beaker from around 6 months and offer sips of water with meals.

Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for your baby’s teeth.

It might be messy at first but be patient, your baby will gradually learn how to drink from an open cup.

Once your baby is 1 year old, feeding from a bottle should be discouraged.

When using a bottle or trainer cup, do not put anything in it other than breast milk, formula milk or water, and do not add anything else (including sugar, cereals, baby rice or chocolate powder) to the feed.

Comfort sucking from a bottle on sweetened drinks causes tooth decay in young children. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat, which means the sugary substance will be in contact with their teeth for longer.

Find out how to look after your baby's teeth.

Choosing a baby beaker or cup

It's important to choose the right kind of beaker or cup.

A cup or beaker with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve) is better than a bottle or beaker with a teat as it will help your baby learn how to sip rather than suck.

As soon as your child is ready, encourage them to move from a lidded beaker to drinking from an open cup.

Drinks for babies and young children

Not all drinks are suitable for babies and young children. Here's what to give to your child and when.

Breast milk

Breast milk is the only food or drink babies need in the first 6 months of their life.

It should continue to be given alongside an increasingly varied diet once you introduce solid foods from around 6 months.

The World Health Organization recommends that all babies are breastfed for up to 2 years or longer.

Breastfeeding up to 12 months is associated with a lower risk of tooth decay.

Formula milk

First infant formula is usually based on cows' milk and is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby's life.

Follow-on formula is not suitable for babies under 6 months, and you do not need to introduce it after 6 months.

First infant formula, follow-on formula or growing-up milks are not needed once your baby is 12 months old.

Cows' milk can be introduced as a main drink from 12 months.

Read more about the types of infant formula.

Non-cows' milk formula

Goats' milk formula is available and produced to the same nutritional standards as cows' milk formula.

Goats' milk formula is not suitable for babies with cows' milk protein allergy. It's no less likely to cause allergies in babies than cows' milk formula as the proteins they contain are very similar.

You should only give your baby soya formula if a health professional advises you to.

'Goodnight' milk

"Goodnight" milk is not suitable for babies under 6 months old. This type of formula is not needed, and there's no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer after having it.

Water

Once your baby has started to eat solid foods (from around 6 months) you can offer them sips of water from a cup or beaker with meals. Drinking water for babies over 6 months does not need to be boiled first.

Fully breastfed babies do not need any water until they've started eating solid foods. During hot weather they may want to breastfeed more than usual.

Formula fed babies under 6 months of age may need small amounts of cooled boiled water during hot weather as well as their usual milk feeds.

When preparing infant formula for babies, boil fresh tap water and let it cool for no more than 30 minutes, so it remains at a temperature of at least 70C.

Bottled water is not recommended for making up feeds, as it's not sterile and may contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate.

Read more about how to make up baby formula.

Cows' milk

Cows' milk can be used in cooking or mixed with food from around 6 months but should not be given as a drink to babies until they're 12 months old. This is because cows' milk does not contain enough iron to meet your baby's needs.

Whole milk should be given to children until they're 2 years old because they need the extra energy and vitamins it contains.

Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once your child is 2 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 5 years old because they do not contain enough calories.

Lower-fat milks can be used in cooking from 1 year old.

Unpasteurised milk

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

Goats' and sheep's milk

Goats' and sheep's milk are not suitable as drinks for babies under 1 year old as, like cows' milk, they do not contain enough iron and other nutrients babies this age need. As long as they're pasteurised, they can be used once your baby is 1 year old.

Soya drinks and other milk alternatives

You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, oat or almond drinks, from the age of 1 as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Babies and young children under 5 years old should not be given rice drinks, because of the levels of arsenic in these products.

If your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can advise you about suitable milk alternatives.

Rice drinks

Children under 5 years old should not have rice drinks as a substitute for breast milk, infant formula or cows' milk as they may contain too much arsenic.

Arsenic is found naturally in the environment and can find its way into our food and water.

Rice tends to take up more arsenic than other grains, but this does not mean that your baby cannot eat rice.

In the UK, there are maximum levels of inorganic arsenic allowed in rice and rice products, and even stricter levels are set for foods intended for young children.

Do not worry if your child has already had rice drinks. There's no immediate risk to them, but it's best to switch to a different kind of milk.

Fruit juice and smoothies

Fruit juices, such as orange juice, are a good source of vitamin C. However, they also contain natural sugars and acids, which can cause tooth decay.

Babies under 12 months do not need fruit juice or smoothies. If you choose to give these to your baby, dilute the juices and smoothies (one part juice to 10 parts water) and limit them to mealtimes.

Giving fruit juice and smoothies at mealtimes (rather than between meals) helps reduce the risk of tooth decay.

From 5 years old, you can give your child undiluted fruit juice or smoothies. Stick to no more than 1 glass (about 150 ml) a day, served with meals.

Squashes, flavoured milk, 'fruit' or 'juice' drinks and fizzy drinks

Squashes, flavoured milk, "fruit" or "juice" drinks and fizzy drinks are not suitable for young babies. They contain sugar and can cause tooth decay, even when diluted. 

For older babies and young children, these drinks can fill your child up so they're not hungry for healthier food. Instead, offer sips of water from a cup with meals.

Fizzy drinks are acidic and can damage tooth enamel so they should not be given to babies and young children.

Diet or reduced-sugar drinks are not recommended for babies and young children.

Even low-calorie drinks and no-added-sugar drinks can encourage children to develop a sweet tooth.

'Baby' and herbal drinks

"Baby" and herbal drinks usually contain sugars and are not recommended.

Hot drinks

Tea and coffee are not suitable for babies or young children. If sugar is added, this can lead to tooth decay.

Further information

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Video: Should my baby use a beaker or a cup?

In this video, a health visitor talks about whether your baby should use a beaker or a cup.

Media last reviewed: 28 September 2020
Media review due: 28 September 2023

Page last reviewed: 5 October 2022
Next review due: 5 October 2025