Before I gave birth, I had visions of a nursery filled with toys that were exclusively produced in Europe (preferably by hand) with nary a Fisher-Price label in sight. I pictured blocks made of unfinished hunks of oak, sheepskins for “activity mats,” faceless woolen gnomes, chunky beeswax crayons, and perhaps a wooden rocking horse and a miniature red wagon for when my young Waldorfian reached his toddler years.
And a Playskool Reality…
Fast forward a year or so and our living room was brimming with beeping, flashing, talking plastic, most of which glistened with saliva from frequent visits to Felix’s curious mouth. While the majority of these eyesores were gifts, I’ll admit to buying more than a few battery-operated plastic diversions, generally with high hopes that they would entertain Felix long enough for me to pluck my eyebrows. And at this point, with Felix now nearly 4 years old, it’s a lost cause–Legos, Transformers, Playmobile…there is more plastic in his room than there is air.
While I’ve strayed pretty far from my prenatal principles in some ways, I did remain vigilant about the safety of those toys meant specifically for chewing: namely, teethers. (I realize the pointlessness of this distinction, since even when he wasn’t cutting any teeth, Felix had a major oral fixation—an unsurprising fact considering I’m one of those people whose desk is littered with masticated pens, some of which may or may not be leaking more saliva than Sophie the Giraffe…but enough about me).
The Importance of Safe Teethers
I spent a lot of time yanking cell phones, sponges, shoes, and chalk out of Felix’s mouth, so it was nice to have something I can encourage him to shove in his maw. While his teeth tended to come in without much drama, some of you probably have kids who experience real teething discomfort, and for you, safe teethers are a must.
- Teethers made in China. Felix has tons of Chinese-made stuff (85% of toys are produced there, so it’s hard to avoid), but painted Chinese teethers could contain lead, and plastic Chinese toys probably contain phthalates.
- Teethers made of PVC. Most of the teethers that can be chilled in the freezer are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is softened with phthalates.
- Plastic teethers of any kind. Even if they say BPA- and phthalate-free, plastic teethers may still be toxic; new evidence suggests that all plastic is hormone disrupting.
- Teething biscuits. I used to give these to Felix in an effort to chill him out in the carseat, but my pediatrician says they pose a choking hazard because they can snap in half in your baby’s mouth.
The Good Stuff
For the absolute safest bet, get a Camden Rose teether or rattle. You’ll pay a reasonable $10-$15, but you’ll probably have to find it online. Waldorf toy stores generally carry Camden Rose products. All rattles and teethers are made in the U.S. of unfinished maple or cherry wood, which can be polished with beeswax (available on the Camden Rose website). One major downside of these teethers: Felix isn’t that into chewing on them! Give him a Made-in-China plastic ducky that smells like baby powder and he’ll go to town on it, but apparently he doesn’t dig maple or beeswax.
If you have a baby, you probably already have Sophie the Giraffe, the ubiquitous and overpriced French squeaky toy. You can find Sophie almost anywhere, where you’ll shell out $25 for her, leaving your surprised and disappointed when your little one doesn’t sit contentedly in the corner for the next week doing nothing but sucking on Sophie’s cute little face. I love that Sophie is old-school (she’s been around almost 50 years), rubber (painted with food-grade paint), and made in Europe instead of China. What I don’t love is that Felix has limited interest in her, for chewing or playing. Sophie is available everywhere, including Amazon.
Under the Nile produces beautiful clothing, linens, and toys. Made of and filled with organic Egyptian cotton, their Ring Bear teethers are dyed with vegetable or “metal-free dyes.” (Apparently, lots of dyes are loaded with heavy metals (like copper and chrome), which can cause various health problems when they accumulate, especially in tiny, developing bodies). I know some readers aren’t so keen on Under the Nile because their products are not American-made, but they are committed to fair trade, pretty easy to find, and reasonably priced (these teethers are about $10 a pop). Chewing on cloth isn’t all that appealing to me (or Felix, I should mention), but I have seen babies who love these. You can get these teething rings on Amazon and in baby boutiques around the country.
If, like mine, your kid isn’t into gnawing on wood, rubber, or cloth, German-produced Natursutten Chill-it Teethers are made of the more appealing plastic-like ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA). I am skeptical of its safety (doesn’t it just SOUND toxic?!), but I can find no evidence that it’s dangerous. In fact, it’s highly touted among natural lifestyle experts as being nontoxic (then again, so were Nalgene bottles a decade ago!). These teethers can even go in the freezer for babies who like something cold on their erupting gums, although one of our readers, Gail, pointed out that you really shouldn’t do this as baby’s tongue can stick to the frozen teether. While availability is somewhat limited in the United States, a fair number of retailers do carry Natursutten products (you should call these stores first, however, as many probably just sell the uber-popular rubber pacifiers). Please note that there was a recall on these teethers back in 2009 because some of the liquid inside them was contaminated with a bacteria that could potentially cause illness in children with immune system disorders (although I don’t think any kids actually got sick).
The Bad Stuff
Felix loves his Eric Carle Crinkly Caterpillar, which has a sweet-smelling, nubby plastic tail perfect for soothing swollen gums. Unfortunately, I’ve recently learned that this toy contains detectable levels of antimony and bromine.
The Sneaky Stuff
Yay! I haven’t been able to find any sneaky teethers.