I Believe In The Power Of The Amber 'Teething' Necklaces

by Elizabeth Broadbent
kamata / iStock

As a new mom, I floundered for a while, but eventually, I found my tribe: the babywearers, a subset of the attachment parent clique. We had a breastfeeding rate like a La Leche League meeting. We taught each other to safely co-sleep. We watched each other gently discipline the older, homeschooled kids. This was the attachment fringe, the ones who tie babies to their backs with strips of cloth and nurse each other’s kids. Oddly, most of us vaccinated. But all the kids, and some of the moms, wore amber necklaces.

When baby Blaise started to drool non-stop at 2 months old, they pronounced him teething. I knew what to do. I went online and ordered him a genuine Baltic amber necklace of his own. My husband was skeptical. But Blaise was starting to cry and grab at his face, and we didn’t want to dose with Tylenol on a consistent basis. So even though it sounded about as effective as nailing a goat’s head to the wall, we decided to give it a shot. Thirty minutes after we looped the necklace around his neck, the drooling stopped. It never came back. Hippie magic accomplished.

Baltic amber supposedly works like this: The amber warms when worn against the skin. When it’s warmed up, Baltic amber supposedly releases a chemical called succinic acid, which according to Amber Artisans, acts as an analgesic. Sort of like Oragel, but natural. Baltic Amber is 3-to-8% succinic acid — the highest concentration found in nature. It’s absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. And it worked. My kids, like thousands of other babies, had their teething pain relieved by Baltic amber. They still needed Tylenol on a bad day, of course, but not all the time.

If we left the necklace off after a bath, we knew it. Blaise would start to rub at his cheeks, drool, and generally act like his mouth hurt. The amber really did help.

But there are naysayers. Scepticon says that even if succinic acid can be released by body heat, which it probably can’t, PubMed has zero documentation on its use as an analgesic. Moreover, even if it is releasing acid, Baltic amber is releasing an unknown amount of an unknown chemical into your kid’s body, and just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good. Science or Not notes that, in bulk, succinic acid is regarded as a “a skin and respiratory irritant, with a risk of serious eye damage.” But basically, there’s no peer-reviewed evidence that amber does anything more than look cute.

Also, it can pose a strangulation hazard. The Australian government warned against children wearing the necklaces when they were unsupervised or sleeping. There are knots between the beads, so if the strand breaks, they don’t scatter everywhere. However, that won’t stop a baby from putting it in his mouth. The necklaces are also designed to break easily to prevent them from catching and strangling children. And of course, you never let your kid chew on them. Still, most sites list them as safe only for children 36 months and up, and recommend you never, ever, use them while the child is sleeping or unsupervised. Allegedly, at least one child has died due to wearing a necklace while he slept. His mother, however, denies this.

I know all these things, and my three babies still wore amber. It stopped their drooling, helped with their teething pain, and made them (me?) feel better. It worked much better than the proverbial goat head nailed to the door. My 3- and 5-year-olds still sport amber necklaces. There’s an idea that amber promotes a general sense of well-being. They’re also like an identification thing, a marker for other moms: Look, I’m a hippie. I’m probably still nursing that 3-year-old (I am).

So while PubMed may not have peer-reviewed research behind it, Baltic amber, and its succinic acid, seems to have worked its magic for my kids. I know anecdotal evidence is the worst kind, but with the lack of other kinds of evidence, that’s all we have. Thousands of parents would testify that Baltic amber works. It’s stopped the teething pain of thousands of babies, and it seems to be a growing trend. As long as you follow basic precautions, it’s also safe. No baby yet has overdosed on succinic acid.

So my kids have their necklaces on. And when we have another baby, we’ll use Baltic amber again. Because despite the naysayers, I’m a believer.