It starts with drool around the time your baby is 3 months old and continues, off and on, until nearly their 3rd birthday. Teething. For some babies, suddenly, one day, a tooth just appears. Consider yourself a lucky mama if that happens to you. For the rest of us, teething is a sleep disrupting, cranky-inducing, chew through anything nightmare. Having seen Big M through the arrival of all her baby teeth, and Lil’ M through all but her final 4 molars, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to survive teething.
The Teething Timeline
Like all things child-related, every baby is different. But, generally, teeth appear in pairs, the bottom set appearing first, followed by the matching pair on top. While the drooling and pain caused by teething may begin as early as 3-4 months old, those first pearly whites usually do not make an appearance until 6 months or later. I remember asking the pediatrician at Big M’s 9 month well visit when I should worry if she didn’t get teeth – his response was, he had never seen a child not get teeth, and not to worry. And sure enough, just a few weeks later, her first teeth made their appearance.
This chart from Hellobee.com is super helpful!
Teething Symptom Relief
Teething brings on a host of symptoms. Drool. Rash. Fever. Pain. Irritability. Biting. Refusal to feed, eat. Diarrhea. Just to name a pleasant few. And while you can’t eliminate the teething, you can help to alleviate some of the symptoms or at least their repercussions.
The most common symptom to first appear is drool. The excessive drool and moisture subsequently leads to a rash on the face, neck or upper chest area, and can also be the culprit for looser bowel movements. Without a decent bib, your Olympic drooler may easily soak through multiple shirts a day. I found the most absorbent bibs for drool to be my favorite bibs, in general: the aden + anais Classic Burpy Bib.
As they get bigger, they may dislike their mobility being restricted by a bib that covers their upper arms. These regular Aden+Anais Snap Bibs work great too. While Aden + Anais bibs may be pricey, I have yet to find anything else as absorbent and that holds up as well wash after wash. Mine have survived use through two kids, and other than some staining from carrots and tomato sauce, still work great!
Regular use of a bib will prevent moisture from pooling in your baby’s neckfolds, or drool saturating their shirt, which is what commonly causes rash. The other places they get rashy are their cheeks and chin. After patting their cheeks and chin dry, applying a thin layer of Beautycounter Baby Balm, free of all known toxins and chemicals, will help protect them and heal any chapping.
This also works great on chapped faces in the winter, or when protecting little noses from irritation during colds.
For babies under 6 months, your only medicinal option is infant Tylenol. Some may recommend Hyland’s Teething Tablets, a homeopathic remedy. I showed a bottle to my sister-in-law, a family practitioner, and asked her about them. She told me that the ingredient formulation was at such a dosage it would be the “equivalent of throwing an aspirin in a lake and drinking the water to kill your headache.”
Others may recommend Orajel or other topical ointments applied to the gums. Those come with their own host of risks, and their efficacy is fleeting (5-15 minutes according to most pediatricians), requiring repeated, frequent applications. Post 6 months, children’s Motrin is the best medicinal option. Teething pain is caused by inflammation. Motrin reduces inflammation, which relieves the pain, and lasts up to 8 hours, making it great for use at bedtime.
To those concerned with over-medicating their children, while I am not a medical professional, I always thought of it this way… if I have a nagging enough headache, I take something for it. If I’m having dental work done, the dentist numbs my mouth and tells me to take something after for pain. And when I had my wisdom teeth out, I was put under and given narcotics after. So when these little guys have teeth emerging from bone and breaking through their gums, you can bet it is uncomfortable. They deserve some pain relief too! My pediatrician also reassured me that unless you are giving a child pain relievers around the clock for months straight, there is little risk of injury to them.
For teething children of all ages, there are plenty of non-medicinal relief options as well. Cold reduces inflammation, and biting on something cold provides counter pressure, which helps alleviate the pain as well. My girls both loved gnawing on ice cold celery or carrot sticks. Celery actually has natural pain relieving properties, so serves double-duty when cold.
And while they also both liked the traditional refrigerated teethers, my Grandmother’s old method of wrapping an ice cube in a damp wash cloth, tied off with a rubberband, was an even greater favorite. And my personal go to fav – an ice cube in a mesh feeder bag. The Ms still call them ‘popsicles’! The mesh gives great texture to kill the itch in their gums, while the cold eases the inflammation… and with little to no mess other than some drips of water.
My Favorite Teether
Molars, by far, are the worst and most painful. When Big M’s were breaking through, her gums looked like they had literally been to battle. The only thing she wanted were these Zoli Baby Gummy Sticks. They resemble a tooth brush, only the end has a nubby, rubber tip that massages their gums. It has a mouth guard, so they can’t stick it in so far they choke or gag themselves, but it was the only teether I found that reached the molars and provided her any comfort as they broke through.
Ease the Hunger Strike
Other than unusual irritability, the one surefire way I could always tell when teeth were close to breaking through, was a food strike. Whether still nursing, or even later as they fed and ate themselves, teething pain often led to refusal to eat. If I offered a mesh feeder ‘popsicle’ before feedings or as I got dinner ready to put on the table, eating improved significantly! Relieve the pain, and hunger will take over.
Protect the Tiny Bum
There’s not much you can do to prevent the looser bowel movements that come with teething. All the excess saliva is the likely culprit. You can, however, protect their tiny bums from diaper rash and irritation with diaper cream. My personal favorite is Dr. Smiths Diaper Ointment. True story – Dr. Forest Smith, aka Dr. Frosty, was my childhood pediatrician and used to give out his special diaper ointment formulation to patients by prescription before it became mass produced. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way, and more importantly, it clears up any sign of redness with a single application.
Please note: the AAP says fever and diarrhea are not normal teething symptoms and should not be ignored as such, in case they are indicative of a more severe illness.
This one is for you! Not the babies… though my grandparents and parents still chuckle and tell me to rub bourbon on the kids’ gums. Did they really do that to us?!? At the end of a rough day of teething, including interrupted sleep, day and night, battling to get them to just eat something, and snotty, poopy crankiness, you deserve a big glass of wine!
By at least alleviating the symptoms and their adverse effects, you can hopefully eliminate some of your child’s discomfort and irritability. Easing the pain certainly will help with eating and sleeping, which in turn will help soothe everyone’s irritation. And the good news is, the teeth will break through, and the symptoms will abate… until the next round of teeth come in a few weeks, months later! With kids 2 years apart, I pretty much get one fully through teething, just as the next one starts…
What are your best go-to teething remedies? How did your babies handle teething? For more great parenting tips on the early years, be sure to check out our Early Childhood Transitions series. Find all the posts in the series and our favorite tips from around the web on our Babies board on Pinterest!