At around six months, most babies begin to cut their first teeth and those sweet, gummy smiles will change forever.
In the past two months, my little girl has gained 5 little choppers and in the process, I’ve lost a few hours of sleep, myself.
Thankfully, however, this is my third time around this parenting gig and along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to help a teething baby sleep.
Lucky for you, I’ll be sharing those tips so you can stay ahead of the learning curve and benefit from my experience.
Baby Teething Symptoms
First of all, let’s make sure teething is actually the true culprit of your baby’s fussiness.
Parents often attribute any unexplained fussiness to teething when in reality, your baby could be fussy for a variety of other reasons.
Hunger or thirst due to growth spurts, developmental changes, sleep regressions, discomfort, boredom or even overstimulation could be the cause of your baby’s fussiness and lack of sleep.
Parents often use teething as a catch-all excuse for any strange behavior. Perhaps it’s to save face in front of friends or family.
“Oh, she’s not usually this cranky but she is teething,” we say. Or maybe it’s to comfort yourself when you don’t know the answers.
If your baby is truly teething, there are a few tell-tale signs to look for.
Red, Swollen Gums
The most obvious sign of teething is red, swollen gums in the place where the new tooth is about to erupt.
In the days leading up to the tooth breaking through, your baby will be in extreme pain as it tries to push its way out.
The gum will be a bright red compared to the area around it and slightly swollen.
Once the tooth does break through, it will remain sore for a day or two but your baby will probably feel great relief within 24 hours of the tooth cutting.
Putting Objects in Mouth
Babies naturally put objects in their mouths in order to discover new tastes and textures.
This is called “oral exploration” and is a healthy sign of your baby’s development.
But if you notice that your baby prefers to chew on hard objects, chewing intensely for longer than just a few moments of exploration, then it’s very likely that they are trying to soothe their hurting gums.
When my 8-month-old is teething, she loves to chew on the hard handle of her baby spoon.
Babies will also put their hands in their mouth and chew on their own fingers (but don’t worry, they won’t hurt themselves).
Again, just because your baby is drooling or putting objects in their mouth doesn’t necessarily mean that they are teething, but if they do these far more than normal, then it could be a sign.
Babies drool whether they are teething or not because they have not yet developed the ability to swallow their saliva.
If you notice a sudden increase in the amount of drool paired with other symptoms of teething, then there is a good chance that teething is the cause of all those wet onesies and chin rash.
Fussiness and Disrupted Sleep
And here is the reason why you are reading this article in the first place: your baby is extremely fussy and not sleeping well.
Sleep disruptions for a variety of reasons are normal during the first year or more of life, but if your baby is exhibiting any other symptoms of teething, pain is likely the cause of their frequent wakings.
A nurse once told me that if adults had to cut teeth we would beg for morphine.
The pain can be intense so it’s only natural that your baby would be fussy and lose sleep over it.
Be patient with them and with yourself.
Each tooth takes a few days to come through, and then your little one will be back to normal (until the next tooth!).
4 Tips to Comfort Your Teething Baby and Promote Sleep
1. Cold Pressure
For ages, parents have used cold washcloths to soothe their baby’s gums.
Simply put a damp washcloth in the freezer during the day and before going to bed, spend a few minutes rubbing your baby’s gums with a corner of the washcloth.
You can also put a pacifier (either your usual pacifier or a special teething pacifier like these Nuby Pacifier Teethers) in the refrigerator to offer to your baby when they wake up at night in pain.
2. Homeopathic Remedies
Countless companies offer drug-free homeopathic remedies to soothe teething gums.
There are oils, tablets, and even amber necklaces said to release succinic acid, a natural anti-inflammatory.
But homeopathic remedies are not regulated in the same way that drugs are so it is important to do your research to make sure that the remedy is safe.
Important Guidelines to Make Sure That the Homeopathic Remedy You Choose is Safe for Your Infant:
Amber Teething Necklaces Should Not be Worn While Sleeping.
The makers of amber necklaces claim that when worn against the skin, your baby’s body heat releases the oils in the amber which contain succinic acid, the active ingredient.
Some parents swear by these necklaces, however, there are not enough studies to determine if the claims can be scientifically justified.
If they truly work as described, the effects should linger even after you have removed the necklace for sleeping.
Avoid Tablets or Gels Containing Benzocaine or Belladonna.
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic, but it can be dangerous, even deadly for babies.
Belladonna (also known as nightshade) can be used for medicinal purposes as well as for poison…that’s not something you want to give your baby!
But surprisingly, many homeopathic teething remedies have included these ingredients and homeopathic websites continue to recommend belladonna as a safe ingredient for infants.
Read the labels and research ingredients before purchasing any homeopathic herbal remedies.
Avoid Products Containing Essential Oils.
I know, I know, essential oils are all the rage right now and you probably know of at least five people who are selling them.
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts from distilled plants and can be used for a variety of purposes, from aromatherapy, to soothing a burn, to disinfecting your bathroom.
While they are 100% natural, “natural” does not always mean safe, especially when we are talking about babies.
Technically, cocaine is “natural” as it is extracted from coca leaves, but you would never give it to your baby!
The FDA does not regulate essential oils the same way that it regulates drugs, so you are relying on the company (who wants to make money by selling you the product) to give you the correct information about proper dosage and safety.
Please, do not give your baby essential oils.
Tylenol is the most widely administered painkiller in the world and with good reason. When used appropriately, it is both safe and effective.
Tylenol can be safely administered to babies as young as two months, however, you should always ask your doctor before deciding to give your baby Tylenol or any other medicine.
In my home, I reserve Tylenol as a last-resort for teething pain. Only when I am positive that her fussiness is due to teething and her sleep is severely disrupted do I administer Tylenol.
But once I do, I can be sure that she will sleep soundly until her next dose.
Be sure to check the dosage and for best results, administer every four to six hours.
Remember that Tylenol is not the same as Ibuprofen (Motrin). Ibuprofen has stricter restrictions than Tylenol.
When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Ibuprofen should be reserved for infants older than three months, weighing at least six kilograms, and only administered under the recommendation of your doctor.
While Tylenol specifically targets pain receptors, ibuprofen reduces inflammation (which also causes pain).
Some doctors prefer to avoid ibuprofen in young infants as an overdose can make your child very sick. But so long as you follow proper dosage instructions, there should be nothing to worry about.
Again, I reserve ibuprofen for extreme situations and I always call my doctor before administering the drug.
4 Additional Things You Can Do When Teething is Affecting Your Baby’s Sleep
By now you already know that if your baby isn’t sleeping, then nobody is sleeping.
If you’ve already tried cold pressure, homeopathic remedies, and infant medication, there are still a few more tricks up my sleeve to help you get the sleep you need, or at least more than you’ve been getting.
1. Nurse to Sleep
Depending on your parenting style, you may already rush to nurse your baby every time they cry out for you at night, or, like some parents, you may feed on a schedule and try to comfort your baby without feeding during the night, or you may lie somewhere in between.
But when your baby is teething, you’ll do anything to comfort them and that may include an extra nursing session.
Even if your baby isn’t truly hungry, nursing (or a bottle) is comforting, like a warm cup of chamomile tea helps me to settle down after a stressful day.
Especially when those stubborn molars are pushing their way through, I don’t mind spending a little time nursing my baby a few extra nights.
I find she settles down much faster if I just nurse her back to sleep rather than trying to rock and sing to her like I normally would.
In our household, our children believe that snuggles are the cure to every ailment.
Bruised knee? Let’s snuggle.
Runny nose? Snuggling will fix that, too.
Children long for physical contact, especially when they are sick.
Your teething baby is in more pain than you could understand, so don’t worry about “spoiling” them by bringing them into your bed for a night or two.
The warmth from your body and your smell will comfort them and as a result, you will all get more sleep than trying to suffer through it in separate beds.
We have a recliner in the nursery that I use for late-night feeding sessions as well as all-night snuggling when my baby girl is sick or teething.
3. Homemade Baby Tea
While you can’t always be sure about ingredients in homeopathic remedies sold in the supermarket, you can be sure of what you make yourself at home.
Chamomile is soothing for infants as well as adults, and clove is a natural anesthetic.
Make a tea/infusion with chamomile and clove (but be sure to use actual chamomile leaves and clove spice, NOT the essential oils).
You can then give a very small amount of the tea to your baby to drink, rub some on their gums, or dampen and freeze a clean washcloth to rub their gums with.
There’s no need to brew a fresh pot of tea each time your baby gets fussy – you can make ice cubes out of the infusion to melt single servings whenever you need it.
4. Chiropractic Adjustments
Not all parents are comfortable with adjusting their babies, but like the amber teething necklaces, there are those that swear by it.
Don’t worry, chiropractors don’t “crack” your baby’s neck like you may have seen on TV.
Most chiropractors use a little device called an activator. It’s a very gentle device that looks like a hand-held pogo stick.
A quick adjustment to your baby’s neck can reduce inflammation and pain during teething.
If after a few days your baby’s symptoms worsen with no sign of a tooth, go ahead and check in with your pediatrician just to make sure everything is okay.
The appearance of your baby’s first tooth is an exciting event, so be sure to mark it in your baby book.
And while teething may be a painful process, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
Give these remedies a try and remember, you’ll get through it, Mama.
Be patient and give lots of snuggles to your little one – they need you right now.