We’ve all seen the photos – a friend or relative’s baby grinning at the camera, their very first tooth proudly on display. Adorable, right? But those cute pictures only tell part of the story. Teething often means lots of crying and sleepless nights – for both babies and their parents! Here’s our ultimate guide to teething to help make the process as painless as possible.
When will my baby start teething?
Babies usually start teething between around four months and one year old, but most will have a tooth by six or seven months. Remember every child is different, so don’t worry too much if your friend’s baby already has three teeth and yours has none. Sometimes, babies are even born with a tooth already through, although this is relatively rare. This is called a natal tooth and will usually be under-developed with a weak root – it may even need to be removed.
How long does teething last?
Each individual tooth usually causes discomfort for a few days while it pushes through the gum. The teething process as a whole will usually be over by the time your child is two or three years old – so it does last a while.
Do teeth come in any particular order?
Baby teeth tend to arrive in pairs, but not always. The two lower middle teeth (central incisors) are usually first, followed by the upper middle teeth a couple of months later. The teeth on either side of these (the lower and upper lateral incisors) tend to follow after a few more weeks.
The first back teeth, or molars, generally make an appearance at 12-14 months. These are likely to be the most troublesome for your baby as they are the largest teeth, so cause more discomfort. After this, usually around 18 months, come the four canine teeth, with the second molars erupting around your child’s second birthday.
How do I know if my baby is teething?
At first, you might notice your child is unusually irritable and wonder why. The physical signs to watch for include:
- Excessive drooling
- Red and swollen gums
- Red patches on your baby’s cheeks and/or chin
- Biting, chewing and sucking – hands, toys and anything else
- Rejecting food
- Disturbed sleep and more crying at night
- Ear-pulling or face-rubbing
Some people say fever and diarrhoea are signs of teething, but this isn’t the case. It’s just coincidence, and usually the result of your baby picking up a virus.
What can I do to ease my baby’s discomfort?
As well as giving your baby lots of cuddles and physical comfort, try these ideas to give them some relief:
- Massage your baby’s gums. Make sure your fingers are clean and gently rub any sore areas. The pressure against the emerging tooth can ease the pain temporarily.
- Have a supply of teething rings and toys. These will be safe for your child to chew on, whether they are soft, plastic or rubber.
- Give your baby something cold to chew on. Chill a clean, damp washcloth in the fridge or freezer – the cooler temperature can relieve some of the pain and swelling.
- Medication. It’s ok to give your baby infant paracetamol when they’re teething, or talk to your pharmacist for alternatives. Teething gels are also available to use while massaging gums – if chilled in the refrigerator, these can give your baby some welcome relief.
Is there anything I shouldn’t use?
Teething gels containing benzocaine – a topical numbing cream – aren’t advised for children under two years old.
Some people swear by an amber necklace, believing a substance called succinic acid is absorbed through the skin and has an analgesic effect. However, there is no data or scientific proof to back up such claims, and your baby could be at risk of strangulation from the necklace; we’d recommend giving them a miss, or at the very least never use one on your baby without supervision.
Parents should also avoid homeopathic teething tablets as some have been found to contain dangerous levels of belladonna. The herb, used as a painkiller, can be toxic. In 2016, the US Food & Drug Administration advised they shouldn’t be used after several incidents of babies and toddlers suffering seizures after taking them.
Can I still breastfeed while my baby is teething?
There is no reason why you can’t breastfeed normally while your baby is teething. You might find your little one wants to nurse more often because it gives them comfort; conversely, some babies find the sucking action causes more pain and will want to feed less frequently.
There is of course a risk your baby will chew or bite while feeding to relieve their discomfort, which will be painful for you. You can try to prevent this happening by taking regular breaks during feeds to massage their gums; just make sure your finger is clean.