There are lots of things we wish we could save our children from and certainly one of them is the pain of teething. Unfortunately, it's something all babies have to go through – how else will they convince you to do anything they want in years to come with just one flash of that dazzlingly cheeky grin?
What is it?
Obviously, teething is the process of your baby's gnashers breaking through the gums into a brilliant white smile. But as simple as that sounds, the process is not only painful, it is long – it could take until your child is two-and-a-half for them to have all their milk teeth.
The good news is, in most cases, it is only the first few teeth that cause babies real jip, although they might have another painful bout later on (between 12 and 18 months), when the molars start breaking through
The common signs of teething include rosy, warm cheeks, endless drooling and a sudden urge to bite and chew things. These symptoms can appear weeks or months before that first tooth emerges (often that will happen at around six months), but as a tooth gets much closer to breaking through, your baby might also develop a bit of a fever, have a bout of diarrhoea, find it difficult to sleep, or go off their feeds (because the sucking causes more pain in the gum). You might also see them rubbing or pulling at their ears and cheeks.
What can I do?
Well, you can't stop the teeth coming, but there is plenty you can do to help your baby through the process.
What seems to help babies most is pressure on their gums, explaining their desire to bite or chew anything they can get their hands on. There are all manner of products on the market designed for little hands and mouths – some are designed to be put in the fridge, and that extra coldness will help to numb your baby's gums as they chew.
That said, you could spend a fortune on products when things you have at home might do just as well. A clean, damp flannel, for example (which could also be placed in the fridge), can be perfect for a chomping baby. Some like nothing better than chewing on mummy's or daddy's finger (just make sure your hands are spotlessly clean!) and babies over six months who have started on solids, might gain enormous comfort from simply chewing on a frozen banana.
If your baby has a fever and you suspect their gums are painful, you can give them the correct dosage of liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen to take the edge off – this might be particularly helpful if they are refusing their feeds.
For more instant pain relief, you could try a teething gel (never give babies adult treatments, such as Bonjela – be sure what you buy is fit for purpose by checking with your pharmacist).
The gel is simply rubbed on to the gums with a clean finger and should relieve their pain for around 20 minutes. It's best not to use this before a milk feed however, because if their tongue has become numb, they might not be able to suck properly.
If your baby has started solids but doesn't fancy eating much, don't worry. Keep giving them their milk, and offer cool, soft foods, such as yogurts or chilled fruit purees.
If all that dribble is making your little one's chin sore, pat it dry regularly and consider using a thin layer of barrier cream to protect the inflamed skin.
It's horrid that you can't explain to your baby that teething is a temporary state and it won't last forever – so sometimes the best treatment of all is the reassurance that comes from a great big cuddle.
What else could it be?
If your baby is crying when breastfeeding, and has white patches on the insides of the cheeks and on the tongue, the pain they are experiencing might be caused by thrush.
If your baby has a fever and cries when feeding, but you don't see the other signs of teething, check their mouth for ulcers as they might be in the early stages of hand, foot and mouth disease.
More on Parentdish: Five ways to ease my baby's teething pain