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The question: I've heard that childhood speech issues can be traced to underdeveloped facial muscles due to soft and minced foods and drinking from a sippy cup. Is this true? Should my son be eating solid foods and drinking from a regular cup as soon as he's able?

The answer: You may have the right idea, but for the wrong reasons.

I'm not aware of any evidence that links the use of sippy cups or the ingestion of minced foods to the development of childhood speech issues. There are children who have speech problems due to facial muscle weakness, but these are typically problems that children have from birth, rather than the type of foods they eat. That being said, there may be other advantages to moving to solid foods and a regular cup as soon as your child is ready.

And when is your child ready? For solid foods, try after six months.The Canadian Pediatric Society and the World Health Organization both agree that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants less than six months old. In my experience, grandparents are often the worst offenders for pressuring parents into starting pablum, a soft cereal, and water supplements at too young an age. Introduction of solid foods before six months may actually be harmful by increasing the risk of diarrhea. Some experts even believe that giving children cereal too early may be a risk factor for developing obesity later on in life.

When babies start solid foods at six months of age, pureed foods are all they can handle. After eight months of age, foods with some chunks and texture can be tolerated, and finger foods can be consumed. By 12 months, children are ready for regular table foods as long as they are cut into small pieces to minimize the choking risk.

Sippy cups are still an important intermediary between bottles and regular cups. I recommend that infants who are bottle-fed be weaned to a sippy cup as soon as possible. This usually occurs around 12 months of age. Don't be alarmed if your child drinks less milk from the cup than they did from the bottle – this is what is supposed to happen! Toddlers who continue to drink from the bottle past their first birthday often drink too much milk, which can lead to nutritional imbalances like iron deficiency, and make children at risk for obesity, constipation, and anemia.

Avoid the impulse to let your toddler have unrestricted access to their sippy cup. Cups of fluid should be offered only at meal and snack times and then put away, rather than allowing them to wander with cup in hand.

Infants are ready to move to a regular cup (without a lid) between their second and third birthdays. The sippy cup may still play a role, especially when travelling, but generally speaking, the sooner your child can be moved to a regular cup, the better.

So yes, wean your child to solid foods and regular cups as soon as possible – just don't assume that it will prevent or cure speech problems.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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