Are Amber Teething Necklaces Safe?

Amber teething necklaceAmber teething necklaceMaybe it was Gisele Bundchen's much-talked about photo with her infant daughter wearing one that started the trend, but I can't seem to scroll through my Facebook newsfeed lately without seeing photos of cute babies wearing amber teething necklaces. They're pretty, that's for sure, but what about the safety risks involved with putting a tiny beaded necklace around a baby's neck? And beyond that, do they even work?

According to a recent NY Times' Well blog on the topic of teething necklaces, amber resin contains succinic acid, a substance valued as a natural analgesic pain reliever. In theory, when worn against the skin and warmed by Baby's body temperature, amber releases some of this acid, which is then absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. Eventually, so amber fans claim, it makes its way to sore gums to provide relief.

Is there any science to back this up? No. However, this hasn't stopped the necklaces from becoming popular as an alternative teething remedy across Europe, Australia, New Zealand and, now, the United States. I asked around to find out what moms who had used the necklaces thought about the effectiveness of amber as a teething remedy. I got a few "tried it, didn't work at all" responses.

However, I also heard from Eva L., a mom of a 14-month-old in Richland, Washington. "My baby's teething pain was out of control, and I had tried everything, from Tylenol to frozen washcloths, and nothing helped," she explained. "I knew about Baltic amber teething necklaces but was extremely skeptical, so I resisted for a long time. Then, I saw one for sale at a baby store and after examining it, thought, why not? I know this is going to sound crazy to some people, but within one day, his teething pain was pretty much gone. The only thing that changed was wearing the necklace."

Related: When Do Babies Start Teething?

Okay, so it's always nice to read a success story, and I appreciate Eva's willingness to share. But now let's talk safety. What's got pediatricians concerned about the amber trend is the significant suffocation hazard posed by the teething necklaces particularly if babies and toddlers are left unattended when wearing one.

"The risk is two-fold - strangulation and choking," Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Kansas City, Missouri, told Well blog. "And that's not only for these teething necklaces. In general practice, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend that infants wear any jewelry."

Even necklaces that are made with each bead individually knotted can pose a choking hazard because, well, all it takes is one loose bead for a small child to choke. I've noticed that many amber necklace retailers tout safety clasps that will come apart if the necklace becomes caught on anything. However, pediatricians point out that because teething necklaces tend to be made by individuals or small manufacturers, it's difficult to know if clasp safety standards are truly being met.

These types of concerns are what led Canadian health officials to issue a consumer product safety warning highlighting the strangulation risk of teething necklaces. In other countries, including France and Switzerland, the necklaces have been banned for sale in pharmacies.

I asked Eva if she knew about the safety concerns. She had. "My baby is in my sight at all times when wearing the necklace, and we don't let him sleep with it on. We also have an anklet that he can wear under his socks during the day. He doesn't even know it's there. I know not everyone is going to agree with him wearing this, but it works, and we know enough not to take any chances."

Right or wrong, Dr. Burgert says that what really seems to be in play here is that when moms see their child suffering, "they just want a solution." Even if it's a solution that comes with risks.

What's your opinion on teething necklaces? Helpful or unnecessarily risky?

- By Jacqueline Tourville

For the 9 best teethers for your baby, visit BabyZone!

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