Who knew choosing a teether for your little one’s aching gums could be so complicated?
Certainly not me. I suppose if I’d given it any thought in the last few years, I assumed one of those plastic water-filled jobbies that you could freeze would do the trick. Ha! I should have known better.
My wife and I are by no means green fanatics, but we do try to choose safe, natural and environmentally responsible when we can. Our daughter is just over two months old and not teething yet but we thought we’d get a jump on things by buying a teething chew now.
I had no idea when I started the search for a teething product that I’d uncover so many options — some green, some not so green and some downright unsafe. Here’s what I found.
Plastic teethers are out
You’ll definitely want to avoid any plastic teethers that contain BPA, PVC or phthalates.
- BPA or bisphenol-A is a plastics chemical that mimics estrogen and disrupts the body’s hormonal systems. It’s particularly harmful for pregnant women, babies and young kids. Though most regulatory bodies, including the FDA, will tell you BPA is safe in the small quantities that appear in plastic products, many companies have chosen to produce and market BPA-free plastics. Excellent! Except for one small detail: Many companies simply replace BPA with BPS — bisphenol-S — which is just as toxic, if not more toxic, than BPA. Bottom line? Just because a product is touted as BPA-free doesn’t mean it’s safe.
- PVC or polyvinyl chloride is the third most common plastic in the world — and also the most toxic. It’s bad stuff, and you definitely don’t want it in something your kids will put in their mouths.
- Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to make them soft and supple. (PVC is actually hard and brittle so to make something like a squeezy toy would require the addition of phthalates.) Phthalates don’t bond to plastic, though, so they leach out over time. Babies who suck on teethers containing phthalates will be ingesting a known carcinogen. Baby Center has an excellent list of phthalate names so you can check labels.
Having uncovered all of that information, I felt I could better assess whether something like this water-filled Chill-It Apple Teether was safe or not. According to the manufacturer, it’s free of BPA, phthalates and other chemical softeners. So far so good.
It’s made of ethylene vinyl acetate, also commonly used to make medical products. Hmmm. After a little digging, I discovered that the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared vinyl acetate as “possibly carcinogenic” in 1995.
With so many other all-natural options to choose from, I’ll pass on this teether. But the risks are low so you might feel differently.
Rubber teethers are in … maybe
In my search for a safe teething chew, I found a lot of products touted as “all natural rubber” or “100% natural rubber.” Natursutten and Hevea are two of the better known companies that make a range of rubber teethers, soothers and bath toys.
They’re not plastic so don’t have all the chemicals that make plastics so problematic — but they do contain latex proteins. A small percentage of the population has an allergy to latex, and latex allergies can develop from frequent and prolonged exposure.
While I didn’t find anyone making a direct link between chewing on a rubber teether and a child later developing a latex allergy, I did find at least one mom who felt the risk was enough for her to avoid rubber teethers for her baby. Whether you consider rubber an acceptable material for a teething chew will depend on your situation, including existing allergies in your household.
By the way, there’s a hypoallergenic type of rubber called guayule, which is just now starting to come into greater production. It’s currently being used to make gloves and other medical products for those with a latex allergy. But as far as I know, there are no baby products made with guayule yet.
Silicone is a type of rubber but one that doesn’t come with concerns about allergies. Medical-grade silicone is considered hypoallergenic and therefore safe for babies. So cute teethers like this silicone chocolate bar from Jellystone? A-OK!
Wooden teethers and natural fabrics are in
If you’re super-concerned about plastics or your baby’s reactions to rubber, then wood and fabric teething toys are the ones for you. There are plenty of good ones to choose from.
Ringley is a Canadian company that manufactures teethers from maple wood and organic cotton. (The founder of the company lives next door to a good friend of mine — true story!)
Little Alouette teethers are handmade in Ohio from locally sourced hardwoods. Some are unfinished and some come with a finish of organic flaxseed oil. The teething toys come in a variety of fun shapes, like the fish and hippo shown below.
The Rainbow Baby teething doll is made in Latvia by German company Kathe Kruse. It has a beechwood ring finished with beeswax that attaches to a soft cotton doll. Babies love the varied textures, including the little feelers on the doll’s head. And how can you not love a toy called Rainbow Baby? The striped one is shown but it also comes in a variety of solid colors.
Update 2015: Kathy Kruse has discontinued manufacture of these teething dolls. 🙁
The award-winning teething bonbon from Dress Me Up is organic cotton sourced in the USA stuffed with lambs’ wool from Alberta, Canada. You dip the twisted ends in water and freeze them to give babies a soothing coolness on their gums while the wool in the middle stays dry to give them an easy way to hold it. Brilliant!
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