Looking around in the last few years, you must have noticed more and more babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers wearing amber necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Have you ever wondered what they are or what they are for? Did you put it down to a ‘tradition’, a ‘lucky charm’ or a new ‘craze’? Well, parents who choose to use amber for their children are doing so with a very particular reason in mind – they hope that amber will ease their little ones’ teething troubles.
Yes, that’s right. Teething.
That process that each baby goes through to transform their cute gummy smile into an even cuter full-of-teeth one.
Can teething affect babies? What are the possible signs and symptoms?
While some babies seem to go through the whole process without much trouble, others (according to their parents) transform into real ‘monsters’, and of course we say this with all the affection we’re capable of. Signs and symptoms that parents swear by as being related to teeth cutting through the gums and coming out are typically dismissed by GPs and health professionals, who are quick to state that colds, bouts of loose stools, fever, fussiness and lack of or disturbed sleep, poor appetite, congestion, vomiting, cough and rash cannot be related to teething but are to be considered illnesses or minor ailments in their own right and therefore need to be treated as such.
If you ask any parent though, they’ll beg to differ. While the majority of health professionals (and traditional medicine) will tell you that the eruption of a tooth cannot be successfully predicted by a collections of signs and symptoms, and specifically that the process cannot go on for weeks or even month without a tooth being on sight, most parents and caregivers will tell you that they know their babies, and that they see patterns emerging when a tooth is about to cut through the gums.
We are certainly not disputing the years of research behind traditional medicine, but who’s right? Perhaps teething makes a child more prone to certain illnesses and minor ailments, which aren’t signs and symptoms of teething per se, but still happen anyway, creating patterns which a parent is sure to recognise in their baby?
To prove that teething doesn’t disrupt a baby’s life too much, there are also arguments that look at how older children (aged 6 or 7 and onwards) who lose their now-wobbly milk teeth and see their brand new, permanent teeth emerging, will often tell you that they don’t feel any pain or discomfort, so why should those first tiny teeth be any different? Or could the action of cutting through the gums for the very first time be a completely different ordeal for our babies? Well, here’s an argument that no one is going to win any time soon, as, as far as things go, our tiny babies can’t really tell us if they’re feeling pain in their gums!
So what do most people use when their babies are teething?
While the debate carries on, parents will try anything that seems to work in order to ease what they believe to be their babies’ teething symptoms:
- Teething rings (even better if cold) can provide relief from mild discomfort in the gums;
- Teething powders;
- Teething oils containing clove oil;
- Topical analgesic creams or gels, which aim to numb the gums;
- Painkillers, like paracetamol or ibuprofen;
- Lots of cuddles, skin-to-skin, feeding, rocking, babywearing (i.e. whatever works to comfort your baby);
- Homeopathic remedies – homeopathy does recognise that the teething process can be painful and disruptive for some children and create a number of signs and symptoms, so perhaps it’s one to try and look into if you’ve exhausted the list of things to try?
- And Baltic amber.
How do we think Baltic amber works?
Baltic amber is said to contain an analgesic substance called succinic acid, which is released by the beads in response to the warmth of the child’s body and absorbed directly through the skin, hence why the amber beads are knit together (safely) in necklaces or bracelets and anklets, in order to be worn directly on the skin. Succinic acid is a natural anti-inflammatory with pain-relieving properties and a powerful antioxidant, which helps fight toxic free radicals, helps improve the immune system and calms the nervous system, thus reducing stress. Baltic amber is the one that contains the highest amount of succinic acid, although some claim that it is the only type of amber that does.
What do people who are sceptical about amber say?
If we’re being honest, when looking for evidence of studies that approached this matter scientifically, we found very little (or no) evidence of the fact that succinic acid is actually released from the Baltic amber beads and into the skin, and even assuming that it does, there are no studies supporting the fact that it can act as a pain-relieving substance.
In addition to this, many point out that necklaces in particular (or young babies wearing small beads) can carry an additional risk of chocking and strangulation. There isn’t much evidence to show that this has happened to any baby, although there are reported cases of babies having managed to put their arm through the necklace and make marks on their necks. Obviously, one point to always stress is that parents must ensure that the beads are knitted together correctly and tightly enough and that they cannot become loose if the child pulls at the necklace / bracelet / anklet.
What do parents who swear by amber say?
When doing our research, we also found plenty of parents on forums and blogs that swear by the effectiveness of amber when it comes to soothing teething symptoms and pain. In fact, the potential benefits of amber seem to extend (according to some) to people who suffer from migraines.
And the counter-argument to the danger of chocking and suffocation is that amber necklaces / bracelets / anklets that come from a reputable source should be made with beads that are individually knotted and that therefore shouldn’t fall from the necklace if pulled too hard. To be on the safer side though, the general consensus is that necklaces can be removed at night and perhaps placed onto an ankle and under socks or night clothing, so that the baby can’t reach them.
But let’s face it – most parents cannot really tell whether amber beads really work or not, because you can’t really tell how different your child would have behaved (or what signs and symptoms would have appeared) had they not been wearing their amber item. Unless of course a baby drastically changes their behaviour once the beads are put on?
So what can you tell us about amber beads? Have your children even worn a necklace? A bracelet? An anklet? What are your thoughts and what was your experience with it like?