Amber teething necklaces: a deadly form of maternal micro-branding

baby toddler wearing amber teeth pain relief neckless

Every war requires uniforms so that you can tell ally from enemy. The mommy wars are no exception.

Amber teething necklaces for infants are part of the crunchy mommy “look” that allows self-described natural mothers to signal their allied status to other crunchy moms and to set them apart from the mainstream. Too bad that amber teething necklaces are deadly, but babies must make sacrifices to promote their mother’s brand.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Amber teething necklaces not only AREN’T useful for treating teething pain, they COULDN’T be useful since the active ingredient isn’t released from the beads.[/pullquote]

The FDA has received reports of death and serious injuries to infants and children, including strangulation and choking, caused by necklaces and bracelets often marketed for relieving teething pain… The risks of using teething jewelry include choking, strangulation, injury to the mouth, and infection…

Strangulation can happen if a necklace is wrapped too tightly around the child’s neck or if the necklace catches on an object such as a crib. The FDA received a report of an 18-month old child who was strangled to death by his amber teething necklace during a nap…

This is not rocket science, people! The same babies who should have grapes cut up for them to prevent choking shouldn’t be adorned with small beads that will close off their airways if swallowed. The same babies who shouldn’t be allowed near drapery cords for fear of strangulation shouldn’t have cords draped around their necks.

Why would anyone with a modicum of common sense put an amber teething necklace on a baby?

According to The Natural Mama’s Guide to Amber Teething Necklaces:

Amber teething necklaces are designed to be worn by babies when they are teething. The common belief is that the child’s body heats the amber, causing it to release oils containing succinic acid. The succinic acid, in theory, gets absorbed into the bloodstream, helping to easy baby’s pain…

In theory, when placed around baby’s neck, Baltic amber warms up, causing it to release oils that contain succinic acid. The acid, in turn, gets absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

There’s just two teeny, tiny problems with the theory: Succinic acid ISN’T an effective pain reliever and it ISN’T released from amber beads.

Anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows that there is a tremendous commercial market for pain relievers yet no pharmaceutical company is markets succinic acid as a pain reliever. It is sold for other reasons, however:

Succinic acid is used primarily as an acidity regulator in the food and beverage industry. It is also available as a flavoring agent, contributing a somewhat sour and astringent component to umami taste. As an excipient in pharmaceutical products, it is also used to control acidity or as a counter ion. Drugs involving succinate include metoprolol succinate, sumatriptan succinate, Doxylamine succinate or solifenacin succinate.

So crunchy moms are draping their babies in a choking hazard because it releases a substance used as a food and drug additive. Except that it doesn’t even do that.

According to a scientific abstract looking at release of succinic acid from amber beads.

Infrared spectroscopy was used to confirm that the teething necklaces were made of Baltic amber. The amount of succinic acid contained within the beads was quantified, and succinic acid release from intact beads was measured in phosphate buffered saline (PBS) pH 5.5 or octanol to simulate aqueous or oily skin environments.

RESULTS: Each necklace (33 beads in length) contained 19.17±4.89 mg of succinic acid (mean±se). Over a 6-month period, no succinic acid was detected in PBS, while 0.13±0.09 mg of succinic acid per necklace was released in octanol. Only one replicate of amber beads in octanol released succinic acid, and they had fragmented, with shards free-floating in the solvent.

DISCUSSION: It is likely succinic acid was only detected because the beads were breaking down in octanol, which does not occur when worn around the neck of a child. Furthermore, the hydrophilic properties of succinic acid would not favour its absorption across hydrophobic layers of the skin and into the bloodstream.

CONCLUSION: While the teething necklaces do contain small quantities of succinic acid, it is highly unlikely to be released from intact beads.

So amber teething necklaces not only AREN’T useful for treating teething pain, they COULDN’T be useful for treating teething pain since the active ingredient isn’t released from the beads.

What’s really going on here?

Amber teething necklaces are part of the maternal micro-branding culture. The necklaces offer mothers an opportunity to signal to their allies that they are crunchy and to signal to the mainstream that they are transgressive. They are part of what Alison Phipps calls the “politics of recognition.”

‘Natural’ birth and breastfeeding have become part of an identity package around organic or holistic parenting, while formula feeding and birth interventions (and in particular, caesarean sections) form aspects of a negative Other associated with other practices such as ‘cry-it-out’, vaccination and corporal punishment …

Crunchy mothers may be wrong about the pain relieving properties of deadly amber bead necklaces, but they are correct that such necklaces are a form of micro branding.

Sadly, they brand these mothers as anti-science, gullible and desperate for affirmation.