Teething seems to be a catchall for pretty much any general grumpiness or illness a baby goes through in the first year. But is it right to always make teething a scapegoat for any general baby crankiness or poor sleep?
This blog takes a quick look at what teething is and isn’t, when you should expect teeth to make an appearance and some tricks to help your little one through it all.
Let’s put teething into perspective
Somewhere between 3-6 months babies develop hand to mouth co-ordination, at the same time the salivary glands mature to prepare for their big foray into the world of weaning.
Baby with hands in mouth, tick.
Baby drooling lots, tick.
...it’s certainly easy to see why you might think the combination of the two mean your baby is teething.
Throw in the fact the sleep cycle matures around this age too and babies go through what is typically referred to as the ‘four month sleep regression’ - where sleep can go a bit out the window - it’s not surpirsing you might link poor sleep around the same time to teething pain.
Now, I’m not saying it’s not possible your little one is cutting teeth around this age, just that it’s much more likely any poor sleep is a direct result of this developmental storm occurring.
Now, making the assumption your little is teething at this age isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But the problem is, because you may assume your little one is in pain, you reach for the Calpol. Again, I’m not suggesting you should never use Calpol, it definitely has it’s time and place, but just to approach it with caution for two main reasons:
There’s evidence used too liberally it can be linked to asthma in children.
As I just explained, if your child isn’t in pain from teething and is just going through a developmental phase which is disturbing their sleep - giving them Calpol won’t actually help. Giving something you think is going to help, only to still be presented with a child who isn’t sleeping, can cause all levels of unnecessary stress.
When do the teeth come?
So, some babies are born with teeth...I know! But, on average (and as we know, all babies are different), babies cut their first tooth at about 6 months, but some may not get their first tooth until after their first birthday.
Teeth usually (though not always) erupt in pairs (like little teeth buddies), and come in the following order at these average times:
6 months - two lower central incisors.
8 months - two upper central incisors.
10 months - two lateral upper and lower incisors.
14 months - first four molars.
18 months - four canines.
2-3 years - second four molars.
What are teething symptoms?
The problem with teething is, some teething symptoms can also just be signs of general crankiness or tiredness from your little one, such as; grizzling, putting hands in mouth, irritability and crying.
But there are definitely some distinct characteristics of teething that you can look out for:
You may find your little one is less interested in solid food. Just keep offering, they will eat if they're hungry, just make sure they’re having plenty of fluids.
Their little cheeks may go red.
They may be chomping down on any hard object they can get their hands on.
Pulling at their ears.
Pain. Some children seem to get a lot of pain and others aren't bothered at all.
I think the most important thing to highlight here is:
Teething only last for about 4 days before the tooth erupts and about 3 days afterwards - so you’re looking at a week in total of teething pain for each tooth.
If your child is cranky or miserable, or showing general signs of illness for longer than this, then it probably isn’t solely down to teething and if you’re concerned, then you should obviously go and see your usual doctor.
What is more likely is they’re going through a fussy development stage, which may well have had a bout of teething in the middle, book ended by some more developmental fussing - making it seems like a super long period of teething, but in reality, the teething part of any fussiness will have only been for that very short period of time - not the whole thing.
If your baby has a really high temperature or very upset stomach, please don’t just assume it may be down to teething, definitely get in touch with your usual doctor. Don’t forget at this time little ones may be learning to crawl, meaning they’re getting down and dirty with lots of germs, they’ve started weaning and if they’ve started any childcare setting, they’re being exposed to lots more germs. So although a little one getting a runny nose or upset tummy may immediately be linked to teething again, don’t forget, it is probably just a very normal cold or little upset tummy.
Does teething disrupt sleep?
It certainly could do as your baby is less easily distracted at night and may be focused in on any underlying pain, which may have increased from lying down and the increased pressure in the head.
Try for more upright naps in the day, perhaps in the sling, to alleviate this pressure if you think they're in pain. Getting some good naps in the day will also hopefully help them deal with the nights a bit better.
What can I do?
Go into any pharmacy and take your pick from a myriad of different gels, powders and granules to ease teething pain, but if you do try these and the pain isn’t eased, I would suggest it probably isn’t teething and so don’t continue using them.
In my humble opinion, these options are expensive, you’d be much better trying the following:
Freeze a clean flannel in a bag, let it thaw a bit and then let your little one chomp on it.
Try offering some cold foods to nibble on, such as cucumber or melon - you could even freeze a banana, just let it thaw a bit first.
You can freeze some of your breastmilk into an ice lolly for your baby to suck on. They’re called ‘monsicles’!
What about amber necklaces?
I looked into these myself for my first born, but instinctively they didn’t seem safe for me. Turns out there’s no evidence to back up their pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory properties. More importantly, they’re a choking and strangulation hazard, so for me, best avoided. If you want something for them to chomp on, you’d be better to try toys designed especially for teething.
If after reading this you’ve realised your little ones sleep disturbance isn’t solely caused by teething and you’d like some help improving your whole family’s sleep, then please do get in touch and book your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.