Helping your baby stay comfortable while teething
Around the time your baby reaches 6 to 12 months old, she begins the journey towards being a full-on chewer as her first set of teeth start to make an appearance. Teething usually begins during the first 6 to 8 months of your baby’s first year, and continues until she’s around 3, and has 20 teeth.
Teething can be an uncomfortable time for your baby, though it won’t cause her to have flu-like symptoms like some older advice would tell you. The most notable symptom of teething is sore gums, but because your baby may not be quite ready to use her words to tell you what’s wrong, you may have to rely on other symptoms to guess that it’s her gums that are bothering her. 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 your baby’s growth, it’s not technically something that needs to be treated, but it can definitely make her life a bit less comfortable. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help her 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 your baby’s teething pain is pressure - gentle pressure can ease the pain of her gums, and can distract her from focusing on the pain. No special equipment needed for this one either - just your clean forefinger. Don't be discouraged if your baby squirms or winces at the first touch - after a moment, she will probably appreciate the pressure of a gentle massage. Once your 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 your baby a tool for applying as much pressure to her as she wants by chewing. Teethers shouldn’t be frozen, as that level of cold can be painful on your 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 your baby is still exclusively bottle or breastfeeding when this comes up, there’s nothing wrong with waiting it out - she 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 her gums could also prove helpful. You can also try massaging her sore gums or giving her a cool teether before each feed. If your 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 your baby has started to eat solid foods though, you’ve got a whole new world of options, as you can start by feeding her 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 your baby to gnaw on - the rough texture can help keep her interested, the cool temperature can soothe her gums, and the durable fabric of the washcloth can hold up to even your 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.
your baby wants something to chew on, and she needs to start getting used to the idea of brushing her teeth, now that they’ve started coming in. By giving your baby a soft-bristled, big-handled toothbrush in a fun color to chew on, you’re giving her a head start on both!
- When all else fails
If your baby is in a lot of pain, and nothing else is making her feel better, your baby’s pediatrician might recommend an over-the-counter painkiller, most likely acetaminophen, especially if she is 6 months old or older. During the first 6 months, your baby should probably only have over-the-counter acetaminophen if it’s recommended by a pediatrician.
- Keep it clean
your baby’s gums aren’t the only things that can get a little uncomfortable during teething. The increased drooling that can happen when her teeth come in can leave her feeling sticky and uncomfortable, and if left on her 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 your baby comfortable and dry throughout teething. Keeping her face dry by wiping it periodically with a soft, damp cloth should generally keep her comfy though, and if chapping starts to creep up anyway, an occasional thin layer of mild, baby-friendly moisturizer can help as well.
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