Have you ever heard the story of Catherine O’Leary’s Cow?
Back in 1871, the Chicago Tribune reported that the cause of the Great Chicago Fire was a cow, Catherine O’Leary’s cow to be precise, kicking over a lantern in the barn while it was being milked.
Unfortunately, the Tribune admitted later on that it had completely fabricated the story, but that didn’t stop people from blaming Catherine and her cow from being widely blamed for one of the greatest disasters in US history.
What’s this got to do with teething, you ask?
Nothing really, except that they’re both victims of some unnecessary scapegoating.
Teething gets blamed for just about every ailment imaginable when it comes to babies. Baby’s got a fever? Probably because she’s teething. Baby’s crying more than normal? I bet it’s sore gums from those teeth coming in. Baby’s got runny poop for a couple of days? I’ve heard that diarrhea can be caused by teething.
Now, all of those things are potentially the result of a tooth coming in, that’s true. But most parents are too quick to blame teething for any and all deviations from the norm as soon as they notice that first tooth appearing below the gumline.
And this is especially true when it comes to sleep.
As parents, we’re predisposed to preventing discomfort in our babies, and that’s a good thing, obviously. But the natural reaction when baby starts crying in the night is to go in and do whatever we can to soothe them, which can lead to baby being unable to get to sleep without that comfort.
So let’s say you’ve been sleep training for a couple of weeks, everything’s going well, and then suddenly, you start to see a regression. Baby is suddenly waking up crying two or three times a night. Naturally, you’re going to look for a reason why they’re slipping back into old habits. And if there’s a tooth coming in, that provides a quick and easy answer.
And, of course, it’s not fair to leave baby to cry if they’re actually in pain and not just looking for Mommy to come and nurse them back to sleep, so you give in and decide you’ll get back to sleep training once this whole teething thing is over with.
Cut to a year later, and baby is still getting rocked or soothed to sleep every time they wake up, because hey! I think there’s a tooth coming in!
So… just a couple of things to bear in mind before you give up on your sleep training routine due to incoming choppers.
First of all, teething symptoms last for around eight days, so if you’re looking at two weeks of baby crying through the night, it’s either due to some other ailment, or baby has once again learned that crying when he wakes up will bring his favorite person into the room, and she’ll be helping him get back to sleep.
Second, teething symptoms are not nearly as uncomfortable as parents typically imagine they are. We hear about teeth “breaking” or “erupting” through the gums, which conjures up some cringe-worthy images, but nature is not nearly so heartless in this instance. Baby’s gums move out of the way to allow for incoming teeth.
Long story short, according to many experts, teething doesn’t cause a significant amount of pain.
So, once again, I’m not suggesting that you should ignore the teething thing altogether. Just bear in mind that new teeth are not the villain they’re often made out to be. And remember, baby’s going to be a lot happier while going through the process if he’s getting full nights of uninterrupted sleep.
The same thing goes for his parents.
Sleep can be a challenge and we are always here to help with great free training, downloads, and resources. Join my free Slumber Made Simple Facebook Group, I host monthly free training on Newborn Sleep and for children from 4 months through 5 years in my Save Your Sanity Sleep Bootcamp, and share my secrets to sleep in my 7 Tips for Restful Sleep Guide, which you can access here and start changing your sleep today! Also, check out my Instagram where you can get even more tips and tricks for successful sleep!
My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant from Philadelphia, PA, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Based in Philadelphia, I work in-home and virtually to provide the support families around the globe that need to all be at their best. Join me in my Slumber Made Simple Facebook group, where you can ‘meet’ me in my live weekly Q&As, get valuable free content and build a healthy sleeper for life!