If you’ve entered the teething phase, you might wonder if an Aliens movie is taking place inside of your baby’s face. And really, that’s not far from the truth.
Sharp pieces of bone are working their way up through your baby’s soft, sensitive gum tissue and erupting up into her mouth. And just like the poor suckers in the first Alien movie, babies have no idea why they’re in so much pain.
Since you’re reading this, you’re likely already privy to the pitiful whimpering throughout the day, the drool-induced rash around your baby’s mouth, the heart-wrenching cries as your baby clings to you for comfort, practically begging you to make it stop…but you can’t.
I personally hate this so much, not because it’s a bother to me, but because I can’t take away my baby’s pain. I’m sure you can relate. We parents want to do everything in our power to take away our babies’ discomfort.
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Where Our Good Intentions Get Us into Trouble
In the righteous quest to aid our babies through this process, we wade toward dangerous waters. We buy products that–thought they might seem to help our babies on the outside in the short term–are damaging on the inside in the long term.
While we have our babies’ best interest at heart, manufacturers and sellers do not always. As parents, it is our responsibility to be vigilant to avoid the harmful products made and marketed to go in our babies mouths. We are the last line of defense between our children and many of these threats.
Teething toys (and related products) are no exception; quite the opposite actually. To help you understand why certain materials are dangerous and how to avoid them, I’ve put together this post to steer you toward safe materials and the best teething products to ease your baby’s pain.
Just so you know, I incorporate affiliate links, from which I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, to help showcase products I personally own and love, as well as to illustrate certain points or product features.
Is My Baby Teething?
Trust me, when your baby starts cutting teeth, you won’t even need to ask this question. What you might not realize is your baby can “teethe” for months before the teeth begin erupting. It’s normal, and it may not even affect them very much.
My baby Carrots chewed her fingers and drooled from the time she was only a couple of months old, and shoved everything in her mouth as soon as she learned to use her hands, but no teeth appeared until she was eight months old.
Was she teething all this time? Possibly. We can’t really know. I suspect that she was, at least mildly, because we had no warning that her teeth were coming until they were visible (she popped the two bottom center teeth at the same time, poor babe). THEN the real teething began.
You can easily find lists of teething “symptoms,” but all babies are different. In my opinion, it doesn’t help much to try and predict whether your baby is teething. If your baby is fussy and seems uncomfortable, you comfort them. If your baby likes chewing on things, you give them safe things to chew on.
For the bottom teeth, you can’t usually confirm teething status until the teeth are visible, but the top gums will (probably) swell before the teeth come through. Either way, when your baby is cutting teeth, you’ll know.
Why Not Plastic? Or in Other Words, Why Non-Toxic?
Whether your baby is definitely teething, or just seems to really like chewing on things (potentially pre-teething), it’s very important that the objects you provide for your baby to gnaw are safe. I don’t just mean you should avoid choking hazards, or objects that could disintegrate or break into pieces in your baby’s mouth.
You need to make sure your baby isn’t chewing on something toxic. You wouldn’t give a teething baby a bottle of bleach, or a chunk of lead, would you? Likewise, though the effects might not be as obviously dramatic, you should not give your baby plastic.
Soft plastics (which are the most common material for teething toys) contain chemicals which disrupt the hormonal balance in your baby’s body and may act as carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).
For the in-depth nitty gritty on chemicals in baby products, check out this post I wrote on the terrible ingredients in your children’s products next. For now, I’ll summarize briefly.
- Contain BPA and other derivatives, which act as endocrine disruptors;
- Are softened with phthalates, which damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system;
- Frequently contain PVC (think vinyl), which releases a cancer causing compound into your baby’s developing body;
- When made in China may contain lead paint/colorants.
An endocrine disruptor can block or stimulate the natural hormones your body is already using, or can mimic your natural hormones and confuse your body when it receives messages it never sent. When you hear about endocrine disruptors, they are usually chemicals masquerading as estrogen. Even very small amounts of excess estrogenic activity can be harmful.
If that information doesn’t convince you to be wary of plastic, I don’t know what will. If you’re still unsure, check out my post on chemicals and their effects on your baby’s little body.
Are Silicone Teething Toys Okay?
The answer is probably, but not definitely.
The FDA says silicone is fine, BUT they also said that about BPA in plastic, for instance, and now about BPA alternatives (many of which are worse than BPA). Very rarely, if ever, would I trust my child’s safety to the say-so of bureaucracy.
So what about other literature? Not that much is known about silicone and it’s stability, so the general attitude has been, “Since we don’t know that it’s unsafe, then it must BE safe!” (That was the perspective on mercury, too.)
The studies I’ve read indicate two primary things:
- Silicone loses its stability above 300 degrees Fahrenheit (increasingly so when heated in contact with fat).
- Not all silicone is created equal.
Let’s skip over the first one, since we’re not going to be cooking meatloaves in our babies’ teething toys.
Not all silicone is created equal.
According to this delightfully dense academic journal article, low molecular weight silicone can permeate skin to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and can even be inhaled into the lungs, where it can accumulate. The silicone used in teething toys is theoretically high weight (polymers), but the study revealed that even polymers can be polluted with low weight particles if not distilled/manufactured properly.
Details like that make me question the safety of materials like silicone. The safety of the silicone is dependent upon the manufacturing process, which you can’t know from the product packaging.
You should also be wary of bright colors, especially if produced in China, because it may contain lead paint or colorants.
Here’s my personal take: It might very well be fine, but until we have better, more definitive information on it, I’d rather avoid synthetic compounds like silicone. It’s not like it’s the only alternative to plastic. As long as there are other options, I won’t be stocking up on silicone teethers.
Can I Give My Baby Teething Biscuits Once He’s Eating Solids?
One alternative to teething toys is teething biscuits. These are basically hard, little cookies for your baby to gnaw on (like Milkbone for dogs). I have seen a lot of differing opinions on these. Many moms swear by them, but others swear them off.
I have not tried them. At the time I’m writing this post, I’m not directly opposed to the idea. If I was going to test teething biscuits, here are the considerations I would take into account:
- What are the ingredients? Are they gluten/grain/allergen free? (We try to be careful what foods we’re introducing in the first year). Are there a lot of fillers or sugars? Processed/refined ingredients?
- How big are they? How hard are they to bite?
- What do other mom’s say about them? (online reviews are an AMAZING resource!)
- Are they a potential choking hazard? Will they dissolve easily over time, or will they break apart into chunks as my baby chews?
- I will need to brush my baby’s teeth anytime she eats one since continual chewing on a starchy food like that will leave residue on her new pearly whites.
- I will need to supervise my baby from start to finish to be sure she doesn’t choke.
It’s totally up to you whether you’re comfortable using biscuits or not. I have not seen any compelling arguments against them in general, only against specific brand products.
DIY Home Remedies for Teething Babies
I am personally very wary of any remedy that uses herbs or essential oils for babies under a year old.
I am still wary of them for babies over a year, but am more open to the idea. If you are comfortable with it, that is totally your prerogative as a parent. However, because my baby is under a year old (at the time I’m writing this) and I have not tried any home remedies of this nature, I will not suggest you test them on your own baby.
The internet is full of them, though, so feel free to find them elsewhere with my blessing.
What I am listing are natural/DIY home remedies and techniques which don’t involve herbs and essential oils. The oldie but goodie tried and true simple tricks that will help to provide just that much more relief to your chomping, drooling munchkin monster.
- Put frozen fruit in a mesh or silicone feeder
- Freeze a damp washcloth
- Massage the gums with a clean finger
- Breastfeed (nursing soothes all owies!)
- Chill a favorite pacifier
- Extra snuggles and baby-wearing (don’t underestimate the comfort a favorite person can provide)
Buying Safe, Non-Toxic Teething Toys
Now on to the fun stuff. TOYS! I don’t know about you, but I have so much fun picking out and ordering anything baby related. Below I’m listing a variety of non-toxic teething toys.
[ We are just getting started with teething, so I have not tried many of them, but as I do, I will update this post. I would not list anything I would not be comfortable ordering for my own baby. Although silicone would not be my top choice, I will list some options if you’re interested. ]
Bear in mind that many of these toys may be above the price point that you’re used to. But if you want cheap, cheap is exactly what you will get. It’s very important that we change our mindset as parents. Every time we choose a non-toxic product over a cheaply manufactured chemical-laden one, we send a message to the baby industry that we don’t want their crap anymore.
We need to let it be known that we have standards for the products we bring into our homes, and if companies want our money, then need to meet (and exceed!) those standards.
This does not mean you can no longer be budget-conscious. You just might have to consider what you really need, and which items might be fun to have, but you could do without. Perhaps instead of ordering ten different plastic toys, you’ll need to pick a couple of your favorite non-toxic toys and start with those. Also, note that a lot of these toys have money-back guarantees if your baby isn’t a fan.
Happy non-toxic shopping!
Natural Rubber Teething Toys
The very first natural rubber teething toy we ordered for Carrots was Mia the Lamb. This little critter is so stinking adorable. As soon as my baby saw it, she didn’t even reach for it; she just opened her mouth wide. It’s like she knew! Mia is great for soothing sore gums when Carrots starts to wind down and doesn’t have as many distractions from her discomfort.
These “Friends” are:
- 100% all natural rubber
- Hole free and hermetically sealed (meaning they’re airtight–prevents mold, mildew, or bacteria growing inside)
- Colored with food-grade paint
- Work for all stages of teething since babies can chew any part of the animal
- Easy for little hands to hold
This rubber ball is SUPER easy to grasp and manipulate. In fact, the design reminds me a lot of the plastic O-ball. It looks like it would be most helpful for young infants and front teeth, but I’m not sure it would be as easy to reach molars with it.
If you breastfeed, you might already have some version of a Haakaa breast pump. I do, so I thought it was pretty cool when I found that they also have natural rubber teethers!
- Has a variety of textures that are good for sensory exploration, besides soothing painful gums
- Is one single piece with no seams
- Is easy to grip.
However, be advised: I did see a review cautioning that her baby chewed some of the textured bumps off of the owl and swallowed them. Since it’s non-toxic natural rubber and the bumps are very small, this wouldn’t necessarily dissuade me from ordering it, especially since it appears to be an isolated experience, but just know it has happened.
If I was a betting woman, I’d bet money you’ve seen this before, whether in a “Baby Must-Haves” blog post or Youtube video… Sophie la Girafe is iconic.
- 100% natural rubber
- The long legs and neck are easy to grip
- Has a squeaker (so if your baby doesn’t like it, your dog will)
- Should have an authentication code on the box
This might sound dramatic and scandalous, but people sometimes receive knock-off Sophies. Many of the reviews for a similar Sophie product, the “So Pure Giraffe Teether,” complain that they received fakes made in China that fall to pieces easily, come apart in their babies mouths, and even cut their babies faces. If you order Sophie, make sure the box doesn’t say “Made in PRC,” and if you doubt the quality or authenticity, it can’t hurt to return it.
I linked the product from Target rather than Amazon to help you (hopefully) avoid this problem.
Also, another note of interest, a study on children’s products in Europe found that Sophie contains a small amount of nitrosamines (bad). While the amount fell below the limit for children’s toys, it did not meet Europe’s standard for teetes and teethers. The company responded by swearing the toy is safe and non-toxic. Supposedly, since the time of the study, they have changed the formulation to bring down the nitrosamine levels.
My take: you’re never going to find an absolutely perfect product. Sophie is still a way better option than plastic. Just make sure you get a genuine Sophie and not a knock-off.
Even though toys are less regulated by the EU, Naturesutten crafted this teether toy based on the more stringent standard for pacifiers. This little textured teether is one solid piece of rubber crafted in Italy, and is next on my list of teething toys to try for Carrots.
- Single piece design
- 100% natural rubber
Silicone Teething Toys
- 100% food grade silicone
- Comes in a variety of colors and styles (there’s even a dragon version)
- Helps babies get used to the feel of bristles while helping keep new teeth clean
- Easy to grip
- Freezer safe
- Super cute textured cacti
- Small & easy to hold
- Multiple designs/shapes
- Manufactured in Taiwan
- 100% food-grade silicone
- I count at least 5 textures on this little teether
- Good shape for reaching different teeth and different teething stages
- Company claims no pieces will break off
- Can be chilled in the refrigerator
- Guaranteed easy to hold
Wooden Teething Toys
- Sanded and sealed with organic coconut oil and beeswax
- Handmade in the USA
- Made in the USA
- Sanded single piece of maple wood
- Untreated, free of chemicals and dyes
- Based on reviews, better for front teeth than back
- Designed to attach easily to a pacifier tether (good for teething in the car!)
- Untreated maple, but you can easily seal/treat yourself with coconut oil or the beeswax kit that’s included
- Can be paired with essential oils for teething (please do your research first!)
- Four pack
- Combination of 100% beechwood and cotton thread
- Variety of textures for sensory development and teething relief
- 4.8 stars on Amazon!
Final Thoughts on Teething Solutions
Teething is not fun for anyone within a half mile radius. There’s no magic cure, and you should get far, far away from anything that claims to be.
When deciding on objects to give babies to put in their mouths, be picky.
That’s your job (and your right) as a parent! This is not the time to buy the cutest and trendiest stuff. Trust your instincts, especially regarding somewhat controversial solutions like teething biscuits and DIY recipes.
Anytime you feel even the slightest twinge of uncertainty, listen to it. There are always more options out there.
Is your baby teething right now? How old is your baby, and which tooth/teeth are coming through? Tell me in the comments below!
If you found this post helpful, you might also like:
- Minimalist Diaper Bag Essentials
- Colicky vs. Fussy Baby: How to Tell the Difference
- Staying Sane as a Stay At Home Mama