Around the time Baby reaches 6 to 12 months old, he begins the journey towards being a full-on chewer as his first set of teeth start to make an appearance. Teething usually begins during the first 6 to 8 months of Baby’s first year, and continues until he’s around 3, and has 20 teeth.
Teething can be an uncomfortable time for Baby, though it won’t cause him to have flu-like symptoms like some older advice would tell you. The most notable symptom of teething is sore gums, but because Baby may not be quite ready to use his words to tell you what’s wrong, you may have to rely on other symptoms to guess that it’s his gums that are bothering him. These symptoms include fussiness or crankiness, chewing on things, or an increased level of drool. Contrary to some literature, fever and diarrhea are not signs of teething.
Because teething is a natural part of Baby’s growth, it’s not technically something that needs to be treated, but it can definitely make his life a bit less comfortable. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help him out, which will make both of your lives a little easier for the next 2 and a half years or so. Teething gels, including homeopathic teething gels, which carry their own risks, are not recommended.
- Gum massage
The first weapon in your arsenal against Baby’s teething pain is pressure – gentle pressure can ease the pain of his gums, and can distract him from focusing on the pain. No special equipment needed for this one either – just your clean forefinger. Don’t be discouraged if Baby squirms or winces at the first touch – after a moment, he will probably appreciate the pressure of a gentle massage. Once Baby gets a tooth or two, this option can get a little trickier, though – those little teeth can be pretty sharp!
- A touch of chill
Teethers are designed to help with teething pain, and they work even better if they’ve been chilled in the refrigerator, so that the cold can act as a mild anesthetic. They also give Baby a tool for applying as much pressure to his as he wants by chewing. Teethers shouldn’t be frozen, as that level of cold can be painful on Baby’s gums, and gel or liquid-filled teethers should be checked for leaks or punctures.
- Double duty
Some teething babies stop eating briefly, when the teething pain is at its worst. If Baby is still exclusively bottle or breastfeeding when this comes up, there’s nothing wrong with waiting it out – he will be hungry again soon enough. Switching the style of nipple you’re using (bottle, not breast) to see if a different shape will be easier on his gums could also prove helpful. You can also try massaging his sore gums or giving him a cool teether before each feed. If Baby refuses to feed for more than 5 to 6 waking hours, or doesn’t have a wet diaper in 6 to 8 hours, contact your healthcare provider.
If Baby has started to eat solid foods though, you’ve got a whole new world of options, as you can start by feeding him chilled mashed or pureed fruits, like applesauce, or refrigerated mashed bananas.
- Scrub-a-dub (not just for the tub)
A chilled, damp washcloth is a great teething toy for Baby to gnaw on – the rough texture can help keep him interested, the cool temperature can soothe his gums, and the durable fabric of the washcloth can hold up to even Baby’s most committed gnawing. Most parents dampen the washcloths with water before refrigerating, but some use expressed breast milk or formula, especially for particularly young babies who aren’t supposed to be consuming much water yet. Occasionally, parents may use chamomile tea, which is thought to have a soothing effect.
Baby wants something to chew on, and they needs to start getting used to the idea of brushing his teeth, now that they’ve started coming in. By giving Baby a soft-bristled, big-handled toothbrush in a fun color to chew on, you’re giving him a head start on both!
- When all else fails
If Baby is in a lot of pain, and nothing else is making him feel better, Baby’s pediatrician might recommend an over-the-counter painkiller, most likely acetaminophen, especially if he is 6 months old or older. During the first 6 months, Baby should probably only have over-the-counter acetaminophen if it’s recommended by a pediatrician.
- Keep it clean
Baby’s gums aren’t the only things that can get a little uncomfortable during teething. The increased drooling that can happen when his teeth come in can leave him feeling sticky and uncomfortable, and if left on his face too long, can lead to chapping and dry skin. Drool can travel further, too, and an extra bib even when it isn’t mealtime can help cut down on how many changes it takes to keep Baby comfortable and dry throughout teething. Keeping his face dry by wiping it periodically with a soft, damp cloth should generally keep him comfy though, and if chapping starts to creep up anyway, an occasional thin layer of mild, baby-friendly moisturizer can help as well.