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Doctors say teething symptoms are far less common than parents think

This exact conversation has occurred between me and my husband no less than 100 times after having two babies: “What do you think is wrong with him? He’s really fussy, he’s waking up all the time and I can’t make him happy.” “He’s probably teething.”

Because of our investment in the teething theory, my husband and I bought up an entire drugstore shelf of natural teething aids. Something mysterious was wrong with our new baby, and we figured it out all by ourselves! We should get some kind of new parent door prize, right? But not so fast.

Doctors say parents like us who put all of our eggs in the teething basket are sadly misinformed. I can’t tell you how depressed this news makes me. I literally spent years of my life examining my infant sons’ vague symptoms, googling and hypothesizing how teething was to blame. My husband and I even joked that our interpretation of “teething” lasted until our kids were 3 years old — because that was easier than facing the terrible twos.

In Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article for Slate, she busts a few common teething myths that most new parents buy into hook, line and sinker. No, teething is not likely to cause a baby a significant amount of pain, according to pediatrician Clay Jones. Researchers discovered that teething was associated with a number of unpleasant symptoms, like irritability, diarrhea, drooling and runny nose, though these symptoms only occurred on the day a tooth came through and one day after, not leading up to the big tooth event.

Interestingly enough, researchers also noticed popular teething symptoms in nonteething babies, though these symptoms were more likely to occur while teething. As Moyer sums up, “In other words, nonteething kids often seem like they’re teething, and teething kids don’t all have the same symptoms. What a nightmare for parents.”

Ack. Teething is the fall guy for almost every new parent I know because new parenting is, at best, a guessing game. Every time I got freaked out by my new baby’s ever-changing and unpredictable behavior, the teething blame game calmed my frazzled nerves. In most cases, pegging weird baby behavior on teething is benign, but, as Moyer points out, ignoring more pressing symptoms in favor of a teething ring can actually be dangerous. If a baby has had “teething symptoms” like fever and diarrhea for weeks on end without a tooth in sight, it’s time to see a doctor, not to grab the Orajel.

This information is great for new parents to have, but I don’t see the villainization of teething ending any time soon. The first year of my baby’s life was a blur trying to keep up with constant developmental changes every few weeks. Blaming strange baby behaviors and the stuff I didn’t understand on teething soothed me, not my baby. When my sons start acting like moody teenage jerks in a few years, I’m going to assume they’re still teething.

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