When that first tooth emerges, it’s pretty cute. But getting to that point can be rough on babies (and their parents) because the discomfort can disrupt sleep. Knowing how to be ready can help you relieve sore little gums—and stick to your sleep routine.
Meet our expert
Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Owner, Sweet Pea Sleep
When do babies start teething?
Between 6 months and 2 years, babies grow 20 teeth, starting with the bottom two. However, some babies can start teething as early as 2 to 3-months-old.
How to tell if it’s teething
If your baby is unusually fussy, drooling, has tender or swollen gums, and is constantly putting little fingers or objects in her mouth, she’s probably got a tooth on the way. Here’s some other teething symptoms to look out for:
- Diarrhea (all that excess saliva can make baby’s poop runnier than normal)
- Refusal to feed (nursing and eating can be uncomfortable for a baby with tender gums)
- Biting—in their hands, toys, or you (while you’re breastfeeding)
- Rashes around the mouth or chin from drool
- Rubbing or pulling of ears and/or cheeks
Ear rubbing and pulling can also be a sign of an ear infection—so be sure to check with your pediatrician if you're unsure.
How to avoid a teething nightmare
Studies show that less sleep heightens a child's sensitivity to pain, so it's for your sweet baby's sake to be getting as much sleep as possible while going through the ups and downs of teething.
If your baby has a little trouble with bedtime already, teething will make a exacerbate sleep in a more dramatic way. Work on good independent sleep habits with your baby before teething strikes. That way you'll have a good foundation of sleep to work from if teething does throw an occasional snag into your habits and routines!
How to get a jump on bedtime
Easing the pain soon after it begins can help reduce discomfort at nighttime.
Keep it chill
Treat swollen gums with a cool washcloth or give your baby a chilled (not frozen) teething ring to provide relief.
Apply a little pressure
Massaging your baby’s gums with your finger, or giving her hard foods (if your baby is eating solids) may feel soothing.
Use an-over-the-counter remedy
If your baby is extremely fussy, you may want to call your pediatrician. He or she may recommend children’s pain meds like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If using any type of pain relief on the advice of your pediatrician, give it to baby about 45 minutes before bedtime so they're comfortable while falling asleep.
Consider natural remedies
Many moms swear by the naturally calming properties of chamomile tea for teething babies. For babies 6 months or older, 1 tsp of concentrated tea mixed with warm 30ml water can do the trick*. Other moms diffuse essential oils in the nursery or try amber teething necklaces to help with teething pain. When considering a natural remedy, be sure to do your research, and run it by your pediatrician—just to be sure.
How to maintain progress
Addressing teething pain before bedtime can help—but if your baby wakes at night in discomfort, try these nighttime tips to keep your baby’s bedtime on track.
Put in the paci
Many babies find a lot of relief using their pacifiers to suck and chew while teething. You can even throw your handy dandy paci in the fridge to give your baby a cool treat.
Try a teething ring or mitt
A chilled teething ring may do the trick—try giving this to your baby before picking her up, so she can continue learning to self-soothe. Alternatively, teething mitts go right over your baby’s hands—great for younger babies who can’t hold onto rings or toys. Just remember that your baby should be supervised while chewing on any teething rings, toys, or mitts.
Stick to your routine
When babies have a set pattern of sleep, their body adjusts to it, and they become sleepy as bedtime approaches. Foregoing sleep training during teething will actually make it harder for your baby to get to sleep. Maintain a routine that includes: a warm bath, a massage, a feeding and soothing, gently weighted Zen Sleepwear.™
Give extra comfort for acute teething
Acute teething is when your baby has red, swollen gums with the tooth visible clearly about to poke through the gum. If you're considering starting a new routine, it's best to wait 2-3 days for the acute teething to pass, but if you're just trying to make it through the night, providing a little extra comfort can go a long way. Feed or rock your baby to help soothe them, but try to allow your baby to ultimately fall asleep independently.
Remember, your baby will teethe for 2 years—so you don’t want to stop sleep training now! Your best bet during these years is to help your baby learn to self-soothe, so she can fall back asleep on her own.
*Chamomile tea can trigger allergic reactions in some babies. It's always a safe bet to discuss with your pediatrician before introducing any type of oral remedy.