Becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding and enriching events of a lifetime. A new baby brings indescribable happiness, often overwhelming challenge, tears that seemingly come from nowhere, frustration, and many years of learning on the fly.
There are also plenty of occasions when your little one endures a great deal of pain and it’s so difficult as a parent to watch that happen, especially when it’s hard to know what hurts. One of these chapters in the parent-baby life event is teething. It is a terribly uncomfortable stage and while some lucky babies (and parents) experience very few teething symptoms, if yours shows signs of irritability or is obviously in pain, there are things you can do to help. First, let’s look at what teething is and its symptoms.
What is teething?
We’ve all gone through it and perhaps you have a wonderful little child in your arms right now who is fussing and her face is all scrunched in pain and frustration. Our teeth are among the body’s strongest and most important elements but to reach their full capacity, they have to grow just like bones and muscles and heart and other critical parts.
Teething is the process of an infant’s first teeth (the “baby teeth”) emerging through the gums. This typically happens in pairs and can take several years for all 20 teeth to completely appear. Teething usually happens at 6-10 months of age and the first teeth to arrive are the mandibular central incisors. While this process is often referred to as “cutting teeth,” they don’t actually cut through the flesh of the gums. Rather, released hormones cause specific cells in the gums to separate and make room for the teeth to pass through.
Symptoms of teething
A baby’s gums swell and become sore about three to five days before a tooth first appears, and that is what causes her pain. The most common symptoms of teething include drooling, dribbling, increased volume of chewing, cranky or irritable moods, crying, restless or no sleep, and mild fever. More pain is usually associated with the larger molars that have a more difficult time breaking through the gums and the teething process can start as early as three months and may continue to age three.
Other signs of teething are more noticeable, such as when a baby chews on her fingers or toys to help relieve pressure on the gums. She might also not show interest in eating or drinking because of the pain, and that of course can lead to other issues. You might see your baby pull on her ears when teething, as the pain happening in the mouth travels throughout the head and a reflex is to pull on the ears. Keep in mind that teething symptoms will naturally fade but if they persist or get worse, call your doctor right away.
How to soothe a teething baby
- Serve chilled fruit—A good way to help soothe sore gums is chilled fruit such as mashed-up bananas, apples, strawberries, pears, and mangoes. Hot tip: Give the fruit to your child in a mesh feeder and let her suck on it.
- Chill a spoon—The old cold metal spoon trick works wonders. Put a teaspoon in the fridge and when it’s cool, rub the back of it gently on your baby’s gums for quick relief.
- Chill a washcloth—A cold washcloth also works well. Get one completely wet and wring it out to damp. Put it in the fridge and when cool, fold it small and hand it to your little one to chew on. Keep an eye on her, of course, for potential choking incidents.
- Gum massage—A massage feels great any time and it’s no different for a baby’s hurting gums. Wash your hands well and then gently massage her gums in slow, circular motions.
- Chill a toy—If your baby has a favorite teething toy is solid (not filled with liquid or gel), clean it well and then place it in the fridge to cool before giving it to her to chew on.
- Lots of TLC—Many times the best thing you can do is find a comfy chair and hold and rock your baby. Quiet time and hugs go a long way.