What to give a teething baby: Pacifiers, medications, and more

Teething is a normal developmental process that most infants experience within their first year of life. Some toys and home remedies, such as cold teething toys and damp washcloths, can relieve pain and discomfort.

Teething happens when an infant’s primary teeth, or baby teeth, poke through their gums. Sometimes, they experience pain that causes them to cry, drool, or have trouble sleeping. Others show no signs of teething at all.

Teething is not a medical problem, but it can disrupt a family’s routine and sleep.

However, a combination of chew toys and gum massage can help. When these do not relieve symptoms, doctors usually recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges parents not to use holistic remedies or topical creams as these can be dangerous. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding homeopathic treatments.

Read more to learn about what to give teething infants, what to avoid, and how to care for their new teeth.

Some safe options for teething babies include:

Teething toys

Baby-safe teething toys can help soothe inflamed gums. However, not all teething toys are good options.

Parents or guardians should choose toys that:

  • are made of food-grade, infant-safe ingredients such as rubber
  • are designed to be teething toys
  • are not jewelry, made of beads, or can break apart
  • an infant cannot bite into
  • are not filled with liquid
  • do not have removable parts

Pacifiers

Infants who take pacifiers may find that sucking on one eases their pain, especially between feedings.

If an infant seems to respond well to pacifiers, ensure they always have access to a clean one. Avoid giving them a pacifier that has biting damage.

Breast

It is safe to continue breastfeeding during and after teething. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continuing breastfeeding, if possible, for an infant’s first two years of life.

Breastfeeding can calm an anxious baby. It can relieve pain, and some parents use it to help babies fall asleep.

For example, a 2016 study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews investigated how effective this was in infants under one year old. Compared with a placebo, expressed milk, formula, and skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding offered better pain relief during vaccinations.

While this does not mean all infants will find pain relief from breastfeeding, it does indicate that it is one of the most effective methods.

Massage

Placing firm pressure on the gums may help ease inflammation. Make sure the fingers are clean, then try rubbing the baby’s gums. If the baby does not cry or reject the finger, continue massaging for several minutes. Repeat when the baby becomes fussy again.

Washcloth

A clean, moist, cold washcloth can be a safe teething toy. Before giving it to an infant, ensure it does not have debris lint or other they could swallow.

Try thoroughly washing, wetting with clean water, then refrigerating or freezing the washcloth. It may work better tied in a knot, but do not use rubber bands or other choking hazards to secure it.

Medication

If home remedies and teething toys do not help, parents or guardians may want to contact a doctor about medication. When people use them according to the directions, at the right dose, and over a short period, acetaminophen and ibuprofen are generally safe for babies.

Ibuprofen labeling usually advises consulting a doctor when giving the medication to infants younger than six months. A 2018 study confirmed this as it found an increase in adverse events when babies younger than six months took ibuprofen as compared with acetaminophen.

Parents or guardians may want to consider using acetaminophen for infants younger than six months.

It is not safe for infants to sleep with anything in their crib. Additionally, unsupervised infants have a higher risk of choking on toys, so a parent or guardian should not give them teething toys in their crib at night.

Instead, try giving them a teething medication if they are having trouble sleeping. Breastfeeding parents can also try nursing the baby to sleep or nursing more frequently than usual.

It is also safe for a baby to sleep with a pacifier as long as it is in good condition.

Many popular teething treatments or toys, such as teething necklaces, are not safe for infants. Parents and guardians should avoid:

Teething necklaces

Jewelry is not safe for babies because it can break apart and become a choking hazard. Necklaces and bracelets can also be potential strangulation hazards when they wrap around the neck or tangle in cribs or car seats.

Parents who still decide to give children teething necklaces should only do so under close supervision. They should never allow them to wear or play with them alone.

Baltic amber beads

Many alternative health advocates claim that Baltic amber beads release succinic acid, a natural acid that people sometimes use as an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.

However, there is no evidence proving that these beads can actually relieve teething pain. A 2019 study found that the only beads that released succinic acid also broke into pieces, making them a choking hazard. Even then, these beads did not fight inflammation.

This means that neither Baltic amber beads nor the succinic acid they release can help with teething.

Topical treatments

Tooth-numbing gels are extremely dangerous for infants under two years of age. The active ingredient, benzocaine, is toxic to infants and toddlers. It can cause a life-threatening condition called methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that affects the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

There is also no evidence these topical treatments work, despite their apparent risks.

Homeopathic remedies

Parents often turn to homeopathic remedies because they believe standard treatments pose more risks. But in the case of teething, homeopathic remedies can be far more harmful.

Many contain belladonna, a highly toxic substance. The amount of belladonna in the products is not consistent and not regulated, making any product risky.

Some also contain caffeine, which can be harmful to infants.

To reduce the risk of oral health problems, a parent or guardian can:

  • limit their infant’s sugar consumption
  • avoid giving infants a bottle in the crib
  • visit a dentist when the first tooth erupts, and no later than one year old
  • wipe off or brush teeth twice a day

Teething is a normal part of a child’s development. However, it can be extremely stressful, especially if an infant has sleep issues.

A parent or guardian can use safe teething toys, gum massage, breastfeeding, and other home remedies to relieve teething pain. They should avoid unsafe options such as amber beads and belladonna drops.

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