The Trials of Teething and Natural Ways You Can Help Baby

Around the 6 month mark your apparently happy, settled baby may start getting fractious again, with sore, red, swollen gums, more dribbling, and quite possibly catastrophic nappy rash.  It's teething time.  Although some babies may get their first teeth at around 4 or 5 months, and some later (all of ours were 7-9 months*), the symptoms will be the same and your poor little bub may be in considerable pain, usually for the first time.  So just how can you do what mums and dads do best, and make it all better?

Why does it hurt?

The first teeth to emerge are usually at the bottom in the middle (the lower central incisors), followed a few weeks later by the upper middle teeth (the upper central incisors).  For babies who have experienced next to no pain in their short lives, this sudden problem must come as quite a shock.  Their young gums get sore, inflamed, red and sometimes swollen and boy it hurts!  Sharp little teeth pushing through tender new flesh, ouch.

Just think what your wisdom teeth felt like when they came through, that nagging ache with painful gums and jaw, now times that by five and think what it would be like if you didn't know what pain was, or why it was happening.  Luckily, there is lots you can do to help alleviate the discomfort and make teething as painless as possible.

How do I recognise teething?

Some babies are lucky enough to have less pain, but even if they're not crying and fractious with the teething, they will probably dribble more, have red, flushed cheeks, have red, possibly swollen gums, and register some discomfort when feeding (milk or solids).  Some babies will take to biting you, the cat's tail (yep, one of ours), toys or during breastfeeding, or they may be more restless at night and just generally feeling grumpy.  If you run a clean finger over the front gums, you may well feel the cutting edge of the teeth underneath the surface.  Another tell-tale sign is rubbing and pulling at the ear the erupting tooth is coming through on, presumably because of the aching.

Many babies will have runnier poo or a different coloured poo (remember that newborn poo chart!) and will often suffer from nappy rash.  We used cloth nappies for all of ours and had very little nappy rash, but it was pretty awful every time new teeth were coming through.  With all three it was, without doubt, the worst nappy rash we had!  If your baby suffers with this too, make sure they get lots of nappy-free time with the air on their bottom, change nappies often, and use cloth rather than disposables if possible when they do have to wear a nappy.  Liberal application of a barrier cream like Bepanthen was a lifesaver too to help protect against the causes of nappy rash!

How can I help my teething baby?

We were quite lucky as all of our girls were late teethers and not too bothered by their teeth coming in.  But we didn't get off scot-free, so here's what worked for us, all natural and side-effect free:

1. Comfort.  Offer lots and lots of comfort and cuddles.  Spend as much time interacting with baby as possible, playing and keeping him busy and distracted from the pain.

2. Breastfeed on demand.  This is one of those times breastfeeding comes into its own, providing comfort, warmth and perfect mummy time for as long as baby wants and needs it.  And if you think they're 'comfort feeding', so what?  If comfort is what they need, let them.

3. Cold foods. Once your baby is eating (not before 6 months), offer them cold apple puree straight from the fridge or ice cold sticks of cucumber, watermelon, apple, pear or nectarine to suck and chew on.

4. Your finger.  Yep, simple as it sounds, giving baby your finger to chomp down on, or simply rubbing your finger across her gums can give some relief from the throbbing pain.  Try dipping your finger in a salve before offering it too.  Either 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 1 drop of peppermint or chamomile essential oil will help.  Or try a drop of vanilla extract diluted down which provides a soothing effect.

5. Amber.  An ancient remedy and well known in eastern and western Europe, where they are sold in pharmacies, amber necklaces or bracelets work by releasing natural oils (succinate) into the wearer's skin.  These oils have an anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving effect, and can help prevent teething symptoms such as red cheeks, swollen gums and nappy rash, as well as relieving pain, protecting against fever and having a calming effect.  We absolutely swore by them, and the girls still ask for theirs now if they are feverish or full of cold or 'flu.  Necklaces, bracelets and anklets are all available online.

6. Teething toys.  There are a wide array of teething rings, chew toys and other items available in all baby supply shops and larger supermarkets.  The gel ones you can put in the fridge were the most effective we found, as the cold helps soothe baby's gums while he chews on the toy.  Even a chilled damp flannel or piece of cloth (try soaking it in cold chamomile tea), or a cold spoon can help at a push.  As with all things, don't leave a baby unsupervised, and read the packaging carefully to make sure the teether is free of phthalates, BPA, PVC, latex and lead.

7. Sophie le Girafe.  I know I've already mentioned teething toys above, but Sophie stands alone as being the most effective toy for teething, particularly those pesky molars later on.  Her long thin natural rubber legs are great for baby to push to just where it hurts and her rubber texture is perfect for chewing on.  Popular for more than half a century in her native France, Sophie is our go-to teething toy.  You may need a dribble bib for all the extra drool though!

8. Chamomile.  Try cooled chamomile tea either from a sippy cup or tiny beaker such as the brilliant Babycup cups, or soak a clean flannel in strong tea then place in a freezer bag in the fridge or partly freeze before giving it to baby to gnaw on.  The Weleda Camomilla Granules or Nelsons Teetha Teething Granules are also a godsend, and chamomile is available as a homeopathic pillule too.

9. Mama jewellery.  Rather than carrying teething toys around and risking baby dropping them from the sling or carrier, we found teething necklaces for me to wear worked brilliantly.  Available in non-toxic silicone, they can be placed in the fridge or freezer before wearing, are safe for baby to chew and in an array of colours and styles, look good for mama to wear too.  We have a lovely wooden and fabric bead one which our youngest adored.  It has a piece of cloth on too for extra texture.  Look around online for great styles and designs.  Baby will happily reach for whatever she can grab and start chomping away as needed, and they're great for fiddling with as she feeds too.

What about older babies and toddlers?

Baby teeth come in gradually, usually in pairs, and carry on until well into toddlerhood.  For toddlers over the age of 2 you can use clove essential oil for its numbing effect on the gums.  Mix a drop of clove oil into 1 tablespoon of olive or coconut carrier oil and rub on the gums a few times a day.  You can also freeze chamomile tea or breastmilk into ice lollies which will both soothe and provide relief.

By about 3 years of age, your baby will have their full set of 20 milk teeth and will hold on to them until around 6-7 years when they will start to be replaced by adult teeth.  Teach her to take care of her teeth by introducing a chewable rubber or silicone brush as soon as teeth appear, moving on to proper toothbrushes and a rice-sized sliver of toothpaste.  After extensive research, we use fluoride-free paste or powder for the whole family, but this is a matter for you to look into and make your own decisions.

To find out more about Bepanthen and their new Parent's Zone click here.

* N.B. Some children do not get their first tooth until much later, but if there is no sign by their first birthday consult your GP or health visitor.

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