Is My Baby Teething or Is It Something Else
The day you knew was coming is finally here…your baby's first tooth! OR maybe, you thought you were through the worst of it, and then suddenly, they're starting to drool excessively and sticking anything and everything in their mouths again. I feel like my daughter has been teething since she was seven months old. She just turned 18 months and is getting all 4 of her canine teeth at once! Needless to say, she was a real crank-pot for about a week or so. However, in all her months of teething, even when she was getting multiple teeth at once, her night wakings were slim to none. How do you ask?
First and foremost, I always ensured we stayed consistent in our routine for both naps and bedtime. A well-rested baby or toddler is more likely to handle teething a lot better than an overtired child who is skipping naps and waking often overnight. We also followed our pediatrician's recommendations for day and nighttime pain management.
Signs and Pain Management
Teething is tough on both you and your child. They're in pain, so they're cranky, which often makes you cranky! However, it might not always be teething. Things like trapped gas, hunger, dirty diapers, milestones, leaps, and illnesses are common sleep disruptors as well, but when it comes to teething, there are quite a few tell-tale signs, including:
- Excessive drooling
- Red or irritated gums - often times you can even see where the tooth is coming in because it will be redder than the rest of their gums, and you'll see a small slit or hole where the tooth is forming
- Flushed cheeks
- A slight fever
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Diaper or face rash
- Pulling on their ears
- Chewing on things more often
- Crankier than usual
- Occasional night wakings due to the pain
Now, a few of these symptoms sound similar to cold symptoms, but in the case of teething, the symptoms only last a few days at most and are often accompanied by other symptoms like drooling, red gums, or excessive chewing.
Some ways to help them manage the pain during the day (in addition to whatever your pediatrician recommends) are:
- A cold (but not frozen) teether
- Tie a washcloth in a knot, soak it in breast milk or formula, put it into a storage bag, and keep it in the fridge for a few hours until it gets cold. Then offer it to them to chew.
- Put frozen soft fruit like bananas or blueberries in a mesh or silicone teether.
- MY PERSONAL FAVORITE: Fill a gummy bear mold with breast milk or formula, then freeze it. Once frozen, stuff a few of the milk bears into a mesh or silicone teether for your little one to chomp on. It doubles as a pain reliever and a little extra nutrition!
Each of these methods helps to numb the gums for pain relief and applies pressure to help those little teeth pop through.
If your little one wakes up crying overnight or even wakes up early from a nap, it's best to give them a few minutes to see if they'll settle back down (10 minutes is usually my magic number!) If you believe that they are in pain from teething, go to them, and assess the situation to see what it is they need or, in some cases, want. If you go into their room and/or pick them up and they stop crying, it's likely not teething…they just wanted you. The same would go for something like a pacifier or a feeding; if you offer it to them and they stop crying, then that's what they wanted/needed. Now, I will always advise against props or crutches to get your little one to sleep, but if you attempt to rock, feed, bounce, or "whatever" them to sleep, and they are still fairly irritable and crying, there's a chance it could be teething or another ailment that is causing discomfort.
HOT TIP: If your child is over six months of age and is getting the proper amount of breast milk or formula (24-32oz) during the daytime hours, yet they are still waking to eat, it is likely a habit that needs breaking and not a need.
On the flip side, if you go in and pick them up or offer them a feeding, and they continue crying (plus they've been showing other signs of teething), then it would be time to provide them with some sort of comfort. Always ask your pediatrician what they recommend for overnight pain management. In most cases, they recommend a medicated pain reliever like Infants Tylenol or Motrin (ibuprofen should only be given to children six months and older). In addition to any medication, you can try comforting them for a few minutes until they've calmed (but have not fallen back to sleep). You can try offering them a teether, your finger, a pacifier, or rubbing some teething gel on their gums. Once they've calmed, you'll put them back down for sleep.
With that being said, keeping consistent in your routine will be imperative when managing teething or any other illness, for that matter. You never want to revert to old habits you've worked so hard to break, such as rocking, bouncing, or nursing. Even just one or two nights of this can reverse everything and bring you back to square one; this goes for bed and nap time routines as well. Keep those the same as they've always been while following your pediatrician's recommendations for pain management.
Remember, this is only temporary! As long as you're sticking to your routine and sleep training methods (if you're implementing them) and providing your child with some form of pain management, then you will get by just fine. You got this!
Leanne Pelke wears many hats including Postpartum Doula, Pediatric Sleep Coach, and Full-Time Mom. After getting laid off from her full-time job at 9 months pregnant, and at the height of covid, she decided to stay home with her daughter and make her family her top priority. For someone who felt that they had it all figured out, parenthood was the hardest challenge that she had ever faced, especially the first few weeks. After months of sleepless nights, it was then she decided that she needed to educate herself on all things pediatric sleep in order to support her daughter and restore sleep back into her home. Her studies in pediatric sleep soon turned into a passion, and she is now the owner of her own Pediatric Sleep Coaching company, Moonlit Dreams LLC, as well as a Certified Postpartum and Infant Care Doula. Leanne's mission is to help get families back to sleep and back on track as well as help them overcome similar struggles that she and her husband faced as new parents.