By now you’ve probably heard about the newest crunchy-mamma fad—Baltic Amber teething beads. These child necklaces bracelets, and anklets—said to be more than just a new baby fashion statement—are becoming increasingly popular among celebrities and mothers across the globe. They are flying off the shelves, motherhood testimonials are flooding the Internet, and manufacturers are singing their praises. But what is the hype all about? In this article, I will explore the world of Baltic Amber teething necklaces and tackle some of the claims—are they worth the hype, or very dangerous?
Any mother who has been around a teething baby knows what a challenge it can be. While the age varies, babies typically begin teething around six months old, and can last up to a year. This process is very painful for children, leading to swollen, tender gums, an irritable baby, and a lot of drool. It’s not easy to see your child in pain, but parents today are increasingly weary of medicating their children, and are constantly searching for new alternatives. This is where Baltic Amber’s popularity begins.
What are the claims?
When doing research on the health benefits of Baltic Amber beads, you will certainly come across a wide range of supposed health benefits. Marketed most commonly as a healthy, natural way for the elderly to ease joint pain, or for you to ease your baby’s teething pain, manufacturers also claim that Baltic Amber can…
- Provide natural pain relief to any area of the body
- Reduce inflammation
- Boost the immune system
- Fight irritation
- Improve circulation
- Reduce depression
- Support healing
- Reduce fatigue
- Relieve aching muscles
…the list goes on and on. One mineral that can have all of these health benefits? It sure sounds enticing! But is Baltic Amber the cure-all that we have been looking for? Is it really a safe alternative to more conventional pain relieving strategies, or does this new fad pose hidden risks that families are not considering?
How does it work
Baltic Amber is simply fossilized tree resin, and there are two pervasive theories about why it is so beneficial. First, it has long been rumored that the Amber has electromagnetic properties that can be used to protect us from the harmful effects of electrical equipment such as computers, televisions, and microwaves. It is also said to bring balance to our lives, improving our thoughts and mood. The reality of these claims has long been debated, and the research has been both limited, as well as largely inconclusive. However, it is not the mineral’s electromagnetic properties that have been getting the attention of mothers of teething children.
There is one ingredient found in Baltic Amber that is getting the attention in regards to babies—Succinic Acid is the second theory related to Amber’s health benefits, and the real focus of the hype surrounding the beads. Found naturally in trace amounts in Baltic Amber, it is also naturally occurring in some of the food we eat, and is approved by the FDA for consumption in small amounts. It is also naturally occurring in our bodies. The claim with regards to teething specifically, is that when the Amber beads are worn, the Succinic Acid is absorbed into the body through the skin as the result of a reaction to our normal body heat, and acts as a natural pain reliever, easing baby’s pain without the use of medication or other chemicals. Sounds great, right?
A closer look at Succinic Acid
Based on current FDA regulations, Succinic Acid is safe for human consumption in small doses, and there are no listed dangers related to over consumption. In fact, it is a naturally occurring chemical in many of the foods we eat every day. This means it’s ok for your child to put the beads in his/her mouth, right? However, as I mentioned previously, this is not how Succinic Acid is said to help with teething. In order to the chemical to have the desired effect, it must be absorbed through the skin. This is where all of the claims and testimonials become a bit misleading.
In order for Succinic Acid to be released from the Baltic Amber beads into the skin, the beads would need to reach an extremely high temperature. There is no evidence to suggest that Succinic Acid is released at normal body temperatures, and therefore no current research exists to support the idea that it can be absorbed through the skin in this fashion. And while the FDA does approve small amounts for consumption, it is listed as a skin irritant with potentially harmful effects on the eyes.
Going a step further, even if the Succinic Acid can be absorbed through your child’s skin without causing skin irritation, there is no research to support the claims that it acts as a pain reliever—plenty of internet anecdotes from believing parents, yes, but no randomized controlled trials. The amount of Succinic Acid found in small beads on a single necklace would likely not be absorbed into the skin in the amount required to ease pain. The scientific evidence is just not existent to back the claims of these beads helping with teething, circulation, irritation, or any other related health issues. But when your baby is in pain, you’re willing to try just about anything!
What are the risks?
We all understand what a nightmare it is to struggle with a teething child; we’ve experienced the heartbreak of being unable to sooth a child or ease their pain. So why not give the beads a try? Maybe they will work, right?
There are a few issues with this way of thinking. One problem is locating beads that are genuinely Baltic Amber. Sure, there are plenty of companies out there claiming to have “genuine” Baltic Amber jewelry available, hand crafted by artisans half a world away. But how to you know you’re getting a real product, and not more of the plastic that you were trying to avoid?
The real answer? You don’t. Not unless you test the mineral yourself. And let’s be honest, if you have a teething baby at home, you likely do not have time for this.
The other issues behind Baltic Amber jewelry are even more serious and dangerous. Despite the lack of research to support the beads’ health benefits, there are a couple strongly documented health risks associated with taking a chance on these beads.
- Choking – Despite the fact that the Amber in the beads supposedly poses no threat to your child, the threat of choking remains very real. Many companies have tried to ease this fear by knotting the thread or ribbon between each bead—arguing that if the baby breaks the necklace, only one bead will fall off rather than a whole strand, therefore reducing the choking risk. While this would reduce the risk of a child swallowing multiple beads, a single bead can be enough to choke a child. It is also worth noting (if you read the very fine print) that many of these manufacturers do not recommend these products for children under the age of three years…and what good would that do for a six month old, teething child?
- Strangulation – This is a huge risk, and it can happen so fast! While many companies offer warnings on their products alerting parents to remove the necklaces, bracelets, or anklets before the child falls asleep or during times of limited supervision, we all know how quickly things can happen. Pediatricians do not recommend jewelry for young children for any reason, citing the strangulation dangers that most often outweigh the potential benefits. Several countries including Ireland, Canada and the United States have released official warnings from their respective pediatric health departments regarding the use of this jewelry for children.
Already, children have died as a result of strangulation due to wearing Baltic Amber necklaces specifically, and numerous others have lost their lives as a consequence of wearing other jewelry at too young an age. It is easy for children to get the jewelry caught on their own limbs, foreign objects, or get a necklace twisted in the wrong way. The risk is just not worth it.
What are the alternatives?
Are you struggling with a teething, temperamental baby? Trying to avoid medications or other common over the counter treatments? There are a variety of safe, healthy alternatives that do not impose the same choking or strangulation hazards as these Amber necklaces.
- Gum Massage: This one is easy, and super cheap! All this requires is a clean finger and a parent willing to massage baby’s gums. The pressure and release can help ease the pain of intermittent teething pain. It can also be effective to massage the outside of the baby’s mouth, around the gum area as a way to change the pressure put on the gums.
- Distraction: What is the best way to get a baby to think about something other than painful gums? Distraction. Offer up a toy that squeaks, pops, or plays music. Sing, make faces, or bounce your baby. This may only work for a short while, but it can be a powerful tool!
- Wooden Teething Toys: Wooden teething toys are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to more traditional plastic toys. There is a wide range of shapes and styles available, so finding one that your child loves is easy!
- Cold Spoon: Put a metal spoon in the refrigerator long enough for it to get cold. It won’t break in your child’s mouth, and the cold works to numb those aching gums. You’ll want to avoid putting the spoon in the freezer, as it will stick to their gums and cause more pain!
- Cold Washcloth: Run a clean washcloth under some cold water and let your baby chew away. Washcloths can also be placed in the refrigerator to be sure that they are nice and cold!
- Breast milk: This can take a couple different forms. For some babies, breast-feeding is a comfort, and the act of feeding alone can be soothing. For other children, breast-feeding is more painful for the gums. In this instance, breast milk can be pumped and poured into ice cube trays, and frozen. Break the pieces apart and let baby chew on the frozen breast milk pieces. Just be sure pieces aren’t too large; baby could still choke on pieces of frozen breast milk that are too large.
- Cold foods: If your child is eating solid foods, this would be a great time to offer up some cold options! Cold applesauce, ground pineapple, pears—anything that your baby has successfully eaten before can be a pain reliever to swollen gums.
- Chamomile Tea Cubes: Chamomile is thought to have a calming, relaxing effect on adults. Make a weak chamomile tea, and freeze it into ice cubes. Wrap the cubes tightly in a cloth, and secure so baby cannot get into it (again, we don’t want anyone swallowing ice cubes that are too big). Let baby chew away!
Are you starting to see a pattern with regards to “cold” options for teething babies? This is certainly not an exhaustive list of options, as there are so many teething toys, and other options out there. As you choose a remedy for your baby, just keep in mind that very baby teethes differently, and it may take a while to find just the right strategy to help your child.
The popularity of Baltic Amber jewelry for teething children has increased steadily over the last couple of years, despite warnings and a lack of definitive scientific evidence determining its effectiveness. If you are set on trying Baltic Amber beads for your child, you may want to consider having your child wear the beads on a wrist or ankle, as this reduces the strangulation risk. I encourage you to use the beads with caution and plenty of adult supervision.